Menachem's Writings

Noachide Meat
Have we overstepped our dominion?

The Holy One, Blessed be He, created the universe, the world and everything in it. The pinacle of creation was the creation of Man.

Human beings are complex organisms. A large part of this complexity is in the human brain. Man is born with many innate abilities, some of which we share with other higher level creatures and others in which we demonstrate a marked superiority.

We call some of these characteristics instinct when they appear in animals. Not every aspect of the human behaviour is learned. We are produced prewired. We are not able to speak at birth, but we are certainly born with a brain that is primed to easily learn language.

Similarly we are not born with a legal system within our being, but like animal instincts, humans have an ability to differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong. In recent years pseudo science has distorted this. We no longer have real criminals; everything can be explained by some psychological factor, chemical reaction in the brain or something in her upbringing: the poor child was continuously abused by her stepfather. Or he was brought up only by a mother.

This built-in ability to differentiate right from wrong is variously labelled "natural law" or "natural justice". It would appear that at Creation, God deemed this natural ability sufficient to maintain world order, to allow His desired development of the world through the actions of his creations. How else could God expect Cain to have known that he was not allowed to murder Abel? He had only given Man one commandment at that stage in history, namely not to eat from an indicated couple of trees. Nothing about homicide, robbery or rape.

However a lack of formal rules did not prove to be a viable system for maintaining a humane society. Humanity needed to guided by more than just natural law. After only some 1,500 since Creation, antediluvian society had degraded to such a low, that the Lord decided to destroy it all. And, applying anthropomorphism, God cursed the day He had decided to create the world. Under what legal system did He judged the earth?

And, according to a midrash not just Man, but the entire creation, was corrupt. Animals too needed to be eliminated. Under what law were they judged. Or was the corruption of man so severe that it somehow rubbed off onto the animal kingdom?

God modified His earlier creative decision and destroyed all complex living things on the world, with the exception of a very small fraction of life: eight humans, seven individuals of some species of animals, merely two of others, just enough to allow the world to be repopulated. We cannot even guess which species were totally annihilated and their genome wiped off the face of the earth.

God realised that He could not depend on the hardwiring [firmware] he had placed into the human brain (though He seems to have continued to trust animal instinct — was this another form of hardwiring?). He introduced an external legal system which, though it was not formulated to replace the natural system, came to augment it, to provide it some direction and to set limits.

Today we refer to this order as the "Seven Laws of the Sons of Noah", or the Noachide Legal System (cf the Book of Jubilees which extended these laws). As all postdiluvian humanity descended from Noah, this God-given institution applies to all humanity, in all places, at all times — whether or not they accept it. It is only via this Godly order that the non-Jewish world can be judged.

Things changed further when God delivered the Children of Israel out of Egypt, creating a new nation. To this sovereignty He added many, positive and negative, commandments. Non-Jews are not required to fulfill any of this supplementary system. While their divine system is based purely on the seven laws, they can, under certain circumstances, join the Israelite national order. The seven laws are:

  1. Prohibition of Idolatry
  2. Prohibition of Murder
  3. Prohibition of Theft
  4. Prohibition of Sexual promiscuity, the committing any of a series of sexual prohibitions, including adultery, incest, bestiality and homosexual acts
  5. Prohibition of Blasphemy, profaning haShem's name
  6. Dietary Law, often defined as not eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive, though I believe it applies to all cruelty to animals
  7. Requirement to enforce just laws including the requirement to set up a governing body to enforce society's legal system.

On a simple level, I think the first five are easy to understand — though of course nothing is trivial.

Our tradition relates the existence, in ancient times, of the school of Shem [Noah's son] and Eber [Shem's great-grandson], where our father Ya'akov studied for fourteen years. While it is not important whether Ya'akov actually spent this interval at this school of higher learning, the rabbis of the midrash considered it important to inform us that mankind, at that time, considered it important to study and teach these seven laws as the Divine Word.

The seventh and final law, the setting up of a legal system, coupled with its enforcement, is an extension of our innate natural system. Man was required to set up additional rules to allow the smooth functioning of society. A representative group could add any rules deemed necessary for the continuation of a productive society. (There have been many aberrations along the way, e.g. S'dom.)

I wish to concentrate on the sixth law. Perhaps giving in to human frailty and lust for consuming meat (meat consumption was prohibited to the early generations — they were supposed to be vegans) haShem now decided to permit meat eating.

Only after the flood was humanity permitted to freely eat lower level creatures, including fish, worms, frogs, locusts and other delectables. One may chop them, hack them and fry them, dead or alive. Bring a pot of water to boil and drop in your squirming lobster — all OK.

If I must hazard a guess at the Lord's logic, I would say cold-blooded animals do not really feel pain. The Rambam, after writing a book postulating reasons for Divine commandments, tells us that any reason we may give as the Godly rationale is no more than just an assumption by we lower level, though free thinking, creatures. In fact, a survey of rabbinic literature reveals that sometimes these reasons alter from generation to generation, tied to changing social and scientific circumstance.

But warm blooded creatures do feel pain. So what is this sixth prohibition forbidding? Many people assume that it is a enjoinment against dismembering a living creature for ingestion. You may not walk up to a baby sheep, hack off one leg, throw it onto your barbecue with a few spices, and sit back to enjoy a sizzling leg of lamb!

Which normal human would carry out such an act? Please do not assume that today's cultured man could not. Romans* loved this. Many societies, well after Noaḥ's time, including the cultured early Greeks, performed human sacrifice (including of live victims). No, God's law is universal and everlasting, even when not enforced.

Restated in today's vernacular, man is prohibited from cruelty against animals. We are not allowed to consume animal products produced from beasts which were mistreated, which were abused. Our God-granted, absolute dominion over the animal kingdom, bestowed to Adam, was modified ten generations later, becoming conditional on our humane treatment of our mammalian cousins.

For generations, cowboys, gauchos, buckaroos and jackaroos grazed and cared for our fury friends, untimately delivering them to market. King David is presented as the model shepherd, a man chosen for the monarchy because of his merciful behaviour to each and every one of his flock.

Until our generation, Man had respect for animals.

Today's chase for the next dollar has brought the animal industry to factory farming. The animal is just another industrial component. Animals are cruelly filled with chemicals; veal is raised in the dark in order to keep it anaemic — nobody wants red veal; animals are not allowed to move — nobody wants to eat chewy, muscley steaks. There's even a research group in the U.S. developing legless, thus immobile, farm animals!

The Torah gives Jews additional dietary restrictions over the Noachides. Initially, during their forty years wandering in the desert, the Children of Israel were limited from eating meat outside of a sacrificial setting. In other words, a desert dwelling family desiring to dine on steak and sherry, took their prey to the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, and shared their meat with the priests and with the altar.

Before entering the Promised Land, God gives the Israelites a concession. Realising that once the Beth haMikdash was built in a fixed location, and distances were now great, mere Jewish mortals would find it difficult to hold back their desire to consume meat in an only sacrificial environment. So when the craving is unsurmountable, Jews are permitted, after fulfilling certain constraints, to consume meat. (Karaites initially only allowed meat to be consumed in a non-Temple setting withing the bounders of the Land of Yisrael. With the exile they modified this ruling.)

Torah laws do not negate the Noachide laws. They extend them. Each of the seven laws is inside the 613 commandments of the Jews. Cruel factory farming is allowed to Jews no more than it is to the general population.

Sadly, if you look around the world's kosher food industries, this seems to have been forgotten.

* In fact the Talmud, written in the Roman times, does claim that the prohibition is of yanking a piece off a live animal and eating it (raw?). So I guess our rabbis may have witnessed or heard of such behaviour.

Menachem Kuchar, 14th April, 2010    
30th Nisan, 5770    


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