Lecture #214: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XXIII) – The History of Slaughtering Non-consecrated Animals and Eating Meat (XII)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

In this shiur, we will summarize the Torah's attitude regarding eating animals and blood. First, however, I wish to complete the discussion that we began in the previous shiur. The verse in the book of Devarim emphasizes:

You shall not eat it; that it may go well with you and with your children after you, when you do that which is right in the sight of the Lord. (Devarim 12:25)

What does the Torah mean when it emphasizes "That it may go well with you"? R. Tz. D. Hoffmann proposes an interesting explanation:

Based on what the Torah promises as a reward for the mitzva in verse 25, "that it may go well with you," we should explain as follows: The formulation, "that it may go well with you," is used in the Torah in connection with a mitzva that involves kindness and humanity. Thus we find in the case of honoring one's father and mother and in the case of sending away the mother bird before taking her young. It may be proposed that the prohibition of eating blood is included in this category.

Prior to the Flood, it was absolutely forbidden to kill and eat any animal. Only after the Flood was the eating of meat permitted, but it was stated in this regard (Bereishit 9:4): "But flesh with its life, which is its blood, you shall not eat." Though according to the tradition of Chazal this verse only prohibits the limb of a living animal and the blood of a living animal, nevertheless we must see in this mitzva the trait of kindness. At Sinai, Israel was once again warned that it is forbidden to spill the blood of an animal unless it is offered to God. In Vayikra (17:4), this matter is considered bloodshed. Though Scripture permits the slaughter of an animal as an offering, nevertheless one must treat as forbidden the blood, which is the life of the animal, and not eat it. This prohibition continued afterwards, when Scripture permitted the slaughter of non-consecrated animals. Eating the blood, which is the life of the animal, together with the flesh, brings a person to cruelty. Even though Scripture gives man unlimited dominion over the animals, nevertheless he must abstain from eating the animal's life-force. But since the slaughter itself is permitted in all places, special strength and abstinence is required.

R. Hoffman points out that the formulation, "that it may go well with you," appears in the Torah also in connection with the mitzvot of honoring one's parents and sending away the mother bird before taking her young. The common denominator between these commandments and the prohibition against eating blood is the quality of kindness and humanity. He reviews the history of eating animals and concludes that the Torah's tendency at all stages, even when the eating of meat is permitted, is to prevent cruelty. It is in this context that the Torah commands that one strengthen himself and refrain from eating blood, "that it may go well with you."

In this year's shiurim, we began to examine the issue of the allowance of bamot. This issue is to a certain extent connected to the issue of eating animal meat and the Torah's attitude toward the eating of blood. We reviewed the Torah's attitude toward animal blood and the eating of meat as it is manifested in the book of Bereishit, starting with the earliest generations following Creation, through the period following the Flood (at which time a dramatic change went into effect concerning the relationship between man and animals), and concluding with the account of Israel's future entry into Eretz Yisrael as it is described in Parashat Re'eh (which involves a significant change in the Torah's attitude toward the eating of animals when most of the people live at a great distance from the Temple).

The Torah's attitude toward the eating of meat can be divided into four different time periods:

1. From the beginning of Creation and the reality of the Garden of Eden until the Flood.

2. From after the Flood until the building of the Mishkan in the wilderness after the Revelation at Mount Sinai.

3. During the period of Israel's encampment in the wilderness, when all the tribes camped around the Mishkan in their separate camps.

4. From the period of Israel's entry into the land and each tribe's settlement in its own tribal territory.

We will now offer an overview in which we will try to weave together all of the various stages. In the earlier shiurim, different opinions were brought about each of the stages. Here we will try to offer a general overview; it is not our intention to summarize all of the opinions.

 

1. From Creation to the Flood

At the beginning of Creation in the Garden of Eden, man was not permitted to eat animals in any way. Man lived together with animals in harmonious coexistence, as described by R. Avraham Yitzchak Kook in his "Chazon Ha-Tzimchonut Ve-Ha-Shalom":

There was no domination of a tyrannous ruler who abuses his nation and his slaves merely in order to satisfy his personal desires and whims. God forbid that ugly slavery like this should bear an eternal seal in the world of God, who is good to all and whose mercies are over all His works, as it is stated: "The world is built by kindness" (Tehillim 89:3).

According to this understanding, the ideal situation is one in which man does not rule over animals to the extent that he eats them. Man can attain perfection on a vegetarian diet. An animal's life has value in its own right, and it is inappropriate that an animal should come to any harm whatsoever even for the benefit of man.

The Torah seems to be presenting the ideal situation that existed at the beginning of Creation and to which mankind is supposed to return in the end, when human beings reach perfection.

 

2. From after the Flood to the building of the Mishkan in the wilderness

In the wake of the Flood, and as a direct result of mankind's deficient spiritual level, the harmonious relationship between man and beast ended. From then on, man cast his fear on the animal kingdom. In this framework, man was granted an allowance to kill animals and eat their meat.

The Torah qualifies this allowance and prohibits the eating of a limb or blood from a living animal. Man's moral fall demanded that man's superiority to animals be sharpened, and thus he was granted an allowance to eat meat. The Torah's qualification regarding blood teaches that animal blood was meant to be offered to God; while an allowance was granted to eat the meat of animals, eating the blood of an animal is an act of special cruelty, as the blood is the animal's life and the animal's life belongs not to man, but to God.

Precisely at the time that an allowance was granted to slaughter animals and eat their meat, the Torah prohibits the eating of blood. Man was not permitted to defile the sanctity of life itself. As long as there is life, the animal's blood and meat are forbidden for benefit. This is a barrier against cruelty in light of the destruction of the world through the Flood. It was necessary to renew man's connection to the idea of life.

The Torah establishes a connection between the blood of an animal, which is forbidden to man to eat, and the prohibition against the shedding of human blood. This is a revised attitude to life itself and its sanctity. It is precisely in the wake of man's drastic moral decline that led to the Flood that the Torah comes to educate, together with the allowance to eat animals, about the supreme value of life, represented by the blood that one is forbidden to eat.

 

3. From the building of the Mishkan to Israel's entry into the land

 

With the building of the Mishkan, the slaughter of non-consecrated animals is forbidden and treated as bloodshed. The only meat that may now be eaten is the meat of peace-offerings. This marks a certain return to the reality of the Garden of Eden, as the slaughter and eating of non-consecrated animals is forbidden. Only meat that was brought to the altar may be eaten, “eating from the table of the Most High.” On the one hand, the Torah wishes to prevent slaughtering animals to the demons in the wilderness; on the other hand, the Torah wishes to concentrate all of the sacrificial service in the Mishkan, in the heart of the camp before God, while all of the people of Israel camp by tribe around it.

With the building of the Mishkan, a new stage of the Shekhina's resting in the world begins, in which all of Israel is camped around the Mishkan. This new beginning renews in a certain sense the reality in the Garden of Eden, where man had been forbidden to slaughter and eat non-consecrated animals. A new understanding is introduced – one is permitted to eat the meat of peace-offerings because one who eats such meat eats from God's table. Since the animals were offered to God, their meat is permitted to man as well.

In this context, and together with the allowance to eat peace-offerings, the eating of blood is once again prohibited, this time with even greater force, and a violation of the prohibition is punishable with karet. Just as man is permitted to eat from a peace-offering, the blood of the animal, which represents its life, is meant for the altar to achieve atonement for the offering's owner.

Earlier, we saw that an animal's blood, which represents its life, was forbidden because it belongs to God and not to man. With the building of the Mishkan, the blood's belonging to God is reflected in its being sprinkled upon the altar in order to achieve atonement. Thus, everything is offered to God - the meat of the peace-offering, which is eaten by man from God's table, and the blood of the animal, which is sprinkled on the altar for the purpose of atonement.

With the construction of the Mishkan, everything once again rose one step upward. The entire world began a new phase. At the beginning of Creation, man began his life in the Garden of Eden, where he was not permitted to eat meat, but rather was obligated to live with animals in full harmony. After the giving of the Torah and the building of the Mishkan, the people of Israel began its life as a nation by raising the entire world upward. The Mishkan serves as a continuation and a substitute for the Garden of Eden.[1] God's governance of His people is miraculous: the manna, the well, the quails, the pillars of fire and cloud, etc. Therefore, the eating of animal meat is once again prohibited. The only meat that may be eaten is the meat of peace-offerings, the blood of which is meant to be sprinkled on the altar for the purpose of atonement.

In this context, the Torah relates also to birds and undomesticated animals, whose blood must be covered with dust. On the one hand, these animals are not offered on the altar; on the other hand, we cannot ignore the shedding of their blood while they are being killed, just as human blood that was shed and remains uncovered cries out from the ground and demands to be covered (as is evident from the blood of Hevel, from the blood of the sons of Shaul, from the blood of Zekharya ben Yehoyada, and from the blood that was shed in Jerusalem but not covered and it cries out for revenge).

The Torah commands that we cover the blood of birds and undomesticated animals so that we should not cruelly eat the meat while the blood, which represents the animal's life, lies spilled before us. Covering the blood with dust highlights man's superiority over the animal, which was created from the dust and is now covered with dust.

In the case of animals, both body and soul come from the dust, as opposed to man, whose body comes from the dust but whose soul was breathed into his nostrils by God. This is what we saw in the commentary of R. Samson R. Hirsch. But the primary reason for the obligation to cover the blood of birds and undomesticated animals is found in R. Kook's "Chazon Ha-Tzimchonut Ve-Ha-Shalom." Even though man is not currently at the level that he is forbidden to kill an animal to satisfy his desires, the Torah educates man toward this reality and demands of him that he conceal his shame and moral deficiency by concealing the blood of the bird or animal with dust. Eating meat is a manifestation of man's lust. The mitzva to cover the blood is intended to educate man and to plant within him the sensitivity and proper attitude toward the very killing of animals in order to satisfy his own needs.

The obligation to prepare the materials with which to cover the blood will intensify the person's shame and prepare him psychologically for the reality in which it will be inappropriate to cause any harm whatsoever to any living thing, because God is good to all and His mercies are over all his works.


4. From the time of Israel's entry into the land

 

With Israel's entry into Eretz Yisrael, the Torah introduces the idea of God's choosing a place to which all sacrifices offered to Him must be brought.

Together with the selection of this one place, the Torah introduces a new allowance. In contrast to the wilderness, where all of Israel camped around the Mishkan, in Eretz Yisrael, where most of the people live at a great distance from the place chosen by God, one is permitted to eat the meat of non-consecrated animals in all places.

From the comprehensive perspective which we have attempted to present thus far, this stage parallels the allowance granted by the Torah to eat meat in the wake of man's moral decline following the Flood. Entry into Eretz Yisrael reflects distance from the Mishkan, from Israel's Garden of Eden in the wilderness, and, owing to the circumstances, abandonment of the miraculous nature of the wilderness to the mundane entry into Eretz Yisrael. Therefore: "Because you long to eat meat; you may eat to your heart's desire." Desire, on the one hand, and distance from the place chosen by God, on the other, lead to an allowance to eat the meat of non-consecrated animals in all places.

How is it possible to see in Israel's entry into Eretz Yisrael a lower phase than the reality of the wilderness? Is it possible to say that the cancellation of the prohibition against killing animals in the wilderness and the allowance to slaughter non-consecrated animals and eat their meat in Eretz Yisrael are merely the result of the people's physical distance from the place chosen by God?[2]

One of the reasons that the Torah gives for the prohibition to slaughter animals and eat their meat that was in force throughout the period of Israel's wanderings in the wilderness is the concern about slaughtering animals to the demons of the wilderness. This concern did not exist in Eretz Yisrael. However, beyond this, the practical significance of Israel's entry into Eretz Yisrael was that the Divine presence was less visible. In addition to life void of miracles, it was necessary to confront enemies in worldly battles and to settle the land and develop its agriculture.

This new reality meant greater independence, but at the same time it meant a less visible Divine presence, less proximity of God, and fewer miracles. In the wilderness, when the heart of the camp was the Mishkan and all of Israel's life centered around it, it is very understandable that no animal was to be slaughtered unless it is was being offered to God. Acting otherwise could have been interpreted as a sign of detachment from God. With Israel's entry into Eretz Yisrael, when the Mishkan was no longer the focus of Israel's life, there was no problem with slaughtering non-consecrated animals.

Thus, the transition from the wilderness to Eretz Yisrael was a transition from life whose primary focus was the Mishkan and the visible presence of God to a more worldly life in Eretz Yisrael, where God's presence was more concealed; from total, direct, and visible dependency on God in all aspects of life to a situation in which the people of Israel live independently in their land and are supposed to fashion their lives without God's direct revelation and providence.

The Torah emphatically repeats: "Only be strong that you eat not the blood, for the blood is the life; and you may not eat the life with the meat." At every stage that the Torah permits the eating of meat, it qualifies the allowance and prohibits the eating of blood, as we saw in the Torah's prohibition of blood in the aftermath of the Flood. In this new reality, since it was possible to eat meat without bringing the animal as a peace-offering, the Torah states regarding the blood: "You shall pour it upon the earth like water."

Pouring the blood of a domesticated animal upon the earth like water is the opposite of covering the blood of a bird or undomesticated animal. Birds and undomesticated animals grow in the wild, whereas domesticated animals are raised and fed by their owners. Only when the animal is no longer fit for work does it fall upon its owner as a burden. Therefore, it is impossible that the obligation to cover the animal's blood should apply to a domesticated animal in the same way that it applies to a non-domesticated animal.

The Torah promises that the fulfillment of these commands is "that it may go well with you and with your children after you, when you shall do that which is right in the sight of the Lord." The purpose of these laws is to prevent cruelty and to intensify kindness and humanity.

 

Summary

We have reviewed the history of eating animals and the prohibition of blood from the beginning of Creation until Israel's entry into Eretz Yisrael. We attempted to point out the similarities between two stages: On the individual level, there is the stage of the Garden of Eden, during which time Adam was forbidden to eat animals. This was followed by the great moral decline that led to the Flood, in the wake of which the eating of animals was permitted, although eating a limb or the blood of a living animal was prohibited. On the collective level, we find that the Mishkan in the wilderness and the miraculous life around it parallel Adam's life in the Garden of Eden. The entry into Eretz Yisrael was not a moral fall like in the generation of the Flood, but rather a transition to mundane life, in which God's providence is less visible, and therefore an allowance was granted to slaughter non-consecrated animals and to pour the animal's blood on the ground like water.

At the same time, we saw over the various time periods the Torah's attitude toward the issue of blood. Whenever the Torah permitted the eating of animals – both after the flood and after Israel's entry into Eretz Yisrael – the Torah once again emphasized the prohibition against eating blood in order to remind us of the vitality of the animal's soul together with the allowance to eat its flesh.

Parallel to the Torah's distinction between the eating of peace-offerings and the eating of non-consecrated animals (according to one opinion also at the time of Creation and explicitly according to R. Yishmael when Israel was in the wilderness camped around the Mishkan), the Torah also distinguishes between the obligation to cover the blood of birds and undomesticated animals, which are not raised by human beings (a covering that, according to R. Kook, expresses the concealment of shame), and the pouring of the blood of domesticated animals on the ground and the allowance to eat the meat of non-consecrated animals that was granted when Israel entered Eretz Yisrael. The fact that these animals are raised and fed by human beings is what allows them to be slaughtered and to be eaten without covering their blood.

With this we conclude our examination of the Torah's attitude toward the slaughter of non-consecrated animals, the eating of the meat of animals, and the eating of blood. In the next shiur, we will return to the issue of the allowance of bamot across the various different periods.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 


[1] We noted in the past the many parallels between the Garden of Eden and the Mishkan and Mikdash (e.g., the keruvim and the voice of God walking in the garden in the breeze of the day).

[2] R. Itamar Eldar writes in similar fashion in "Ki Yirchak Mimkha Ha-Makom," Makor Rishon 768 (27.4.2012), "Shabbat."