Plant-Based Torah – Parashat Shemini: Holy Eating

April 17th, 2020


Parashat Shemini features an entire chapter dedicated to the animals permissible for consumption by the Israelites. Throughout the 47 verses of Leviticus 11, the Israelites are introduced to the general guidelines for which land animals, birds, fish, and bugs are fit for consumption, as well as specific species that are explicitly permitted or forbidden to eat. In general, some common themes exist – the approved animals are generally not predators or scavengers. The copious details laid out in this chapter make one thing abundantly clear – the Torah does not approve of indiscriminate consumption of animals. As far as Leviticus is concerned, far more animals are unfit for consumption than allowed, and if they are not slaughtered properly, they are not permitted at all. Initially taught to Noah, the prohibition of consuming blood is reiterated here. Once again, the Torah is extremely restrictive of what animals may be consumed, as most animals are not fit for consumption. This is a reflection of the Rabbinic understanding of who is a glutton – one who consumes far too much meat. 

Though here the Torah conditionally permits certain animals for human consumption, by no means is it required for Jews to eat meat, nor does it approve of the sheer volume of wasteful, cruel exploitation of the factory farming industry. Though Leviticus 11 permits the consumption of animals, its numerous conditions and stipulations make it abundantly clear that the gruesome levels of meat consumption seen today in the standard American diet are contrary to the sensitivity to life in which these conditions were intended. American culture, in some way resembles, the wicked ways of Sodom –  not because of its increased social tolerance over the last half century; rather, because of its capacity for cruelty, idolatrous levels of self-interest, and materialism. This is to be rejected by Bā€™Nai Yisrael, including the indiscriminate cruelty perpetrated on animals – our Holy Torah teaches sensitivity towards all of Creation. 

The chapter concludes with an explanation from The Compassionate One: ā€œI am The Lord, Your God; you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holyā€ (Leviticus 11:44). By only allowing a small minority of animals to be eaten, the Torah seeks to prevent the Jewish people from being tempted towards cruelty and destruction of other living beings in the name of our appetites. Sadly, our lusts have overtaken us, and the kosher meat industry has fallen to its knees to worship and extoll the Idols of Profit and Capital. As Maimonides taught, one can be a scoundrel within the boundaries of the Torah, by manipulating its laws and regulations for nefarious reasons. Heaven forbid I slander those who seek to earnestly provide a service to the Jewish people – nevertheless, those who blaspheme our Holy Torah by using it as a vehicle for money-making and mass-produced cruelty profane the name of Heaven and diminish the Divine Presence in our world, as it was taught by our Sages (Pirkei Avot 4:7): ā€œDo not make the Torah a crown with which to aggrandize yourself, nor use it as a spade with which to dig…One who makes worldly use of the Crown of Torah shall perish.ā€ Factories with multiple conveyor belts flinging hundreds of dangling animals an hour towards slaughter is not any less abhorrent because a blessing is recited by a rabbi – rather, the repeated recitation of The Divine Name over this grotesque scene is a rapid-fire desecration of The Merciful One in Heaven. 

The Jewish people yearn for the World-to-Come, during which (Isaiah 66:25): ā€œThe wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox: and dust shall be the serpentā€™s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord.ā€ In the Messianic Era, all will return to the consumption of plants for food, and there shall be peace between all people and all species. We are partners in Creation with Divinity, and our actions in this world can bring forth the World-to-Come, by modeling the compassion that must be shown not only to our fellow humans, but to animals as well. This is how the practical steps to mitigating the worst effects of the Climate Crisis intersects with the spiritual awakening that will bring about the World-to-Come – by being gentle and just to all people, to all species, and to our world. 

These principles are what make us a holy people, reflecting Divine Light in this world back to its Source in the higher worlds. 

Shabbat Shalom.

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