• Home
  • Parashah
  • Ask the Rabbi
  • Festivals
  • Freemasonry
  • Articles
  • About
  • Books
  • Media

    Chewed or eschewed

    The following letter by Rabbi Raymond Apple appeared in The Jerusalem Report on 26 June, 2023.

    In my family, there is a good-natured tug of war between the carnivores who can’t manage without meat and those (like my wife and myself) who can’t manage with it and follow a non-meat diet.

    The carnivores say it’s not a meal without meat; we say it’s not a meal with meat. Some of my grandchildren say, “You can’t have cholent without meat!” We say you can.

    Both groups are Orthodox Jews who live by the halachah. The Torah certainly permits meat-eating.

    According to Deuteronomy 12:20, it is permissible for people to choose to eat meat because they “have the urge to eat meat.” It depends on appetites. The Torah says, “You may eat meat as you wish.” It’s not that meat-eating is a requirement, but it is an option for those who are that way inclined.

    This all takes for granted, of course, that the meat they are eating is kosher and there is no mixing of milk and meat.

    A halachic authority who writes regularly in Tradition, Rabbi J David Bleich (no vegetarian himself), says, “Meat may be consumed when there is desire and appetite for it as food but may be eschewed when there is no desire and, a fortiori, when it is found to be repugnant.” So meat may legitimately be eschewed – or chewed!

    Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Horeb 68) says that if the body wants to be carnivorous, it is permissible even if it affects one’s soul. From the spiritual point of view, vegetarianism is a superior option; the beginning of Genesis clearly implies this. Biblical thinking values a vegetable diet: In Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs), God’s blessing is bestowed on fruit, vegetables and nuts – the staples of the vegetarian diet. Unlike meat and fish, fruit and vegetables and their derivatives have their own b’rachot (blessings).

    There is a much-quoted Talmudic passage which says there is no joy without meat (Pesachim 109a), though – despite its many interpretations – this passage does not actually require meat-eating, even on Sabbaths and festivals. At most, it indicates that meat-eating gives some people a feeling of fullness and satisfaction; but if people find flesh-eating distasteful or unethical, no one can force them to eat meat.

    Theologically, vegetarianism is an ultimate ideal, even for the animals. In messianic times, even the lion will eat straw like an ox (Isaiah 11:7). In those days, humans will return to the pristine state of creation (Genesis 1:29-30) in which meat did not figure.

    Rav Kook, for whom vegetarianism was an ultimate vision, ate meat, but sparingly. He wrote a book titled A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace, edited by his close friend the Nazir (Rabbi David Cohen), who was a strict vegetarian.

    Comments are closed.