Each week Orthodox Jews read one segment of the Five Books of Moses so that they can complete the entire Five Books within the course of a year. In this week’s Eco-Rabbi post I discuss a Jewish approach to meat.
I’m a vegatarian… sympathizer. (Seriously, could you really eat lamb after looking at that picture?) Yeah, I couldn’t go without eating meat. But I understand the importance of respecting the animal that gave up its life to be eaten.
Down the block from where I live there are regular hafganot, demonstrations, against the slaughter of innocent animals so that us evil meat eaters can have an unhealthily full stomach.
Personally, I think that they’d do a lot more for the well-being of animals if they would protest the mistreating of animals, and not the eating of them. Sure, the mistreating is addressed at the demonstrations, but I think the message is lost in the presentation. I would certainly sign a petition to that extent, instead of what happens now, where I just get hungry for a burger when I see them there…
Coming from this perspective, the idea of sacrificing is not an easy one to wrap my head around. The way the sacrifices are presented in the bible it sounds like needless slaughter.
A friend of mine is a vegetarian, and a Cohen, priestly descent. He was talking with a friend of his who does eat meat and that friend asked if he would fulfill the priestly obligations of sacrificing and eating if the temple were to be built in his lifetime. When my friend answered that he would his friend asked how he could be a vegetarian but be willing to sacrifice animals?
In response my friend asked how his friend was willing to sacrifice an animal’s life for his own pleasure but not in honor of the One who created him, and the animal for that matter…
Interestingly, the bulk of sacrifices during the time of the temple were eaten. People could not afford to eat meat on a regular basis. But a few times a year people were commanded to bring a sacrifice. Most of the meat went to them and their family. A portion went to the priest who sacrificed it. And a small portion went to God.
A person ate their sacrifice with friends and family because the law is that you had to finish it before the end of the day – a good thing in pre-refrigeration days. And it was probably the most meat that they would have eaten all that year.
In days when buying a cow was the equivalent to buying a car today (see our post on Whole Animal Cooking for a modern version of this), it’s hard for me to imagine that people were as wasteful with meat as they are today. The few sacrifices that were totally burnt were done so so that the person bringing the sacrifice would feel as if it was supposed to be them in the animal’s place. A sacrifice to God. And when you raise the animal and bring it on foot across the country I can imagine that you truly felt it.
Consequently, the laws sound so gruesome because they cover every detail of how to sacrifice the animal, so that nothing goes to waste.
I wish that today people would think twice before they cook, eat and dispose of their meat. As I said, I could not give up meat. But I think that there is something special about dedicating the meat that you eat to God, the creator of it all.
More on vegetarianism and meat-eating debate:
Vegewarianism and Vegaware Dinner
Barcode Your Organic Beef With Bactochem DNA Database
Whole Animal Cooking