Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Judaism and Vegetarianism and Jewish Life in Poland

Judaism and Vegetarianism

By Baruch S. Davidson


How does Judaism view vegetarianism? Is it favored or discouraged by the Torah?


The kosher dietary rules do rule out shrimp, lard, cheeseburgers, and lobster, but plain old beef is not on the Torah’s “don’t” list—if prepared following certain guidelines. For better or for worse, meat is an undeniable favorite on the kosher menu. Is this good? Let’s have a look.

The History

Upon his creation, Adam, the first man, is taught by G-d the ways of the world: “Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing herb which is upon the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; it will be yours for food.”1 Seed, herb, tree, and fruit—yes; anything else—no.

Several chapters (and over 1600 years) later, upon surviving the devastation of the great flood, Noah leaves the ark and is told by the Almighty, “Every moving thing that lives shall be yours to eat; like the green vegetation, I have given you everything.” 2 His diet now includes meat as well.

It would seem that G-d’s original (and ideal) plan was that we should not eat meat.3 One problem with this approach is that many statements in the Torah imply that meat-eating is ideal and encouraged, for example, to honor Shabbat and the holidays.4

So what is the deal? Would G-d rather we be vegetarians like Adam, or meat-eaters like Noah?

The Philosophical Approach—Distinction of Responsibility

The fifteenth-century philosopher Rabbi Yosef Albo, author of Sefer ha-Ikkarim (“The Book of Principles”), understands G‑d’s instructions to Adam as an implication that the original G-dly plan was that man should refrain from killing and eating meat. In his view, the killing of animals is a cruel and furious act, ingraining these negative traits in the human character; in addition, the meat of certain animals coarsens the heart and deadens its spiritual sensitivity.

The people of the first generations mistook this, however, to mean that human and animal were equal, with equal expectations and standards. This led to the degeneration of society into violence and corruption—for if the human being is but another beast, then killing a man is the equivalent of killing an animal. It was this attitude and behavior which prompted G-d to cleanse the world with the great flood.

After the flood, G-d laid down a new world order. People needed to recognize the moral obligations and divine purpose entrusted to humankind. To make this clear, G-d told Noah that humankind can—indeed, must—eat the flesh of animals. Our dominion over animals highlights our superiority, and reminds us that we are charged with divine responsibility to perfect the world. To minimize its negative effects on the human being, when the Torah was given, G-d forbade the flesh of those animals that have a coarsening influence on the soul.

(Is man really greater than animal? If so, how is he infused with energy by eating it? See footnote 5.)

According to this approach, meat-eating is not good, but it does serve a very important function.

The Kabbalistic Approach—Cosmic Perfection

While some question the right of man to kill an animal to fill his belly, the great sixteenth-century mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria questions the right of man to consume any organism for his own self-preservation. If everything in this word was created deliberately by G-d, why is your blood redder than the purposeful existence of a tomato? And he answers that . . . it’s not. One who eats solely for his own selfish desires has swallowed the meaningful life of a vegetable with no excuse. “It’s not fair!” cries the helpless plant.

On the other hand, when we eat with the intention to use the energy to further our uniquely human service of G-d, we have lifted the food up. When a person performs a G-dly deed—a deed which transcends his natural self—the food he eats is elevated along with him, and is reunited with its G-dly source.5

But there’s a difference between animal-based and vegetation-based foods. For starters, you can’t live without bread. If you’d eat bread only when you’re ready to elevate it, you might starve to death and never get a chance to try again. So we can’t restrict bread-eating to the spiritual-minded. Moreover, when eating simple, necessary foods like bread, it is easier to maintain a purposeful perspective. But meat is a luxury. And indulgence in this luxury makes one more materialistic than he was before eating. Therefore, one should only eat meat if one will be able to accomplish more with the meat than he would be able to with vegetation. One way to make your meat-eating worthwhile is to elevate not only its physical components, but its pleasure factor as well. If you can do that, you have brought yourself and your lunch to greater spiritual heights and sensitivity than you can achieve by eating sprouts. On the other hand, if you don’t, you drag yourself—and the animal—to a more materialistic plane.6

Why is it that only the post-flood world can take the beef challenge?

The human race from Adam until Noah had the potential and charge to eat that which is indispensable to basic survival, with the intent to live a life of purpose; in this way, the man and food would have achieved their purpose. But eating meat requires much more than this. Meat, with its pleasure-inducing properties, naturally draws one towards materialistic lust. Elevating meat requires the ability to rise above the natural order, to bring new and altruistic life into something which is naturally the embodiment of materialism and self-indulgence. Pre-flood humanity and pre-flood meat didn’t allow for this.

Noah emerged from the ark to a changed world, a world where everything has the creative ability to go beyond its natural state of being and to assume a much greater identity. A new era of earthly potential was born.7 The world was now a place where man could elevate the very nature of earth’s components to supernatural heights—and even elevate their power of enticement and pleasure as well. Now man was given the ability to eat even meat and elevate its energy.8

Even for us, rarefied by the flood, eating meat is no simple feat. Before you sink your teeth in to that pastrami burger, here are a couple of things to keep in mind.

The sages declared that an empty-minded person has no right to eat meat.9 They also taught never to eat meat out of hunger; first satisfy your hunger with bread.10 (On an empty stomach, it is very difficult to keep focus on anything other than stuffing your face.) Only when “eating mindfully,” focusing on our divine mission, are we doing more for the animal than the animal is doing for us.

According to this approach, it may be cruel to not eat meat, because doing so robs the animal of its chance to serve a higher purpose.

Don’t be scared off. Get your act together and focus; the completion of G-d’s universal plan is at “steak.”

Bon appetit!

Baruch S. Davidson

Author’s disclaimer: If for health purposes you do not eat meat, or you are absolutely repulsed by it, the above ideas are not meant to compel you to do so in disregard of your health or the like. Under such circumstances, the pleasure factor can be elevated through ice cream, soda, potato chips, etc. For alternative resources of the passionate love for G-d which is fueled by meat, see your local Kabbalist.

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Genesis 1:29.


Genesis 9:3.


In his writings, the late Chief Rabbi A. I. Kook (1865–1935) takes this approach, but insists that this ideal is not to be assumed as the norm until the coming of Moshiach, when human nature will be completely refined. Until then, he warns, such restrictions may have detrimental effects on man’s moral behavior. (Chazon ha-Tzimchonut veha-Shalom)


See Deuteronomy 27:7 and Nehemiah 8:10.


Lurianic Kabbalah teaches that creatures which are lower on the food chain originate on a level that is in fact higher. Their lofty origins enable them to journey forth to low and distant states, because a stronger source is capable of sending its offspring much further than a weaker source.
When we view the hierarchy from this perspective, we discover that the origin of the animals and vegetation is in fact higher then that of man. Man is not sustained by the food’s substance, but by G‑d’s energy within it, the spiritual origins contained within, which are indeed higher than he. To paraphrase the Psalmist (139:5), “You formed me before and—yet—after the rest of creation.”


According to the Kabbalah, the characteristics of physical objects are a result of their source in the spiritual realms. Red meat, once a home to warm blood, is a mirror of its source in the spiritual element of fire—leaping flames, which correspond to a passionate yearning for a higher existence. In a realm where the primary dimension is a yearning for a truth beyond its current state, there is less focus on illuminating the current reality, which leaves much room for the failings of those standing on the sidelines. Therefore, the meat of luxury, standing on the periphery of mindful and focused eating, is much more likely to fail and drag down its consumer, instead of being elevated by him or her.
If, however, when eating the meat one maintains focus, and succeeds at converting and harnessing the meat to further his or her uniquely human service of G‑d, than the leaping flames inherent in the meat translate into a passionate love of G‑d, a much greater love than one could achieve through harnessing “cold” vegetation-based foods. See R. Schneur Zalman of Liad, Likkutei Torah, Behaalotecha 31d and Vezot Haberachah 97d.


Alternatively, some explain that the animals became more refined, making possible their elevation. See R. Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (Tzemach Tzedek), Ohr Hatorah, Bereishit 3:1270.


The change of potential which the flood brought about is expressed in the rainbow, the sign of G-d’s covenant to never again destroy the world (Genesis 9:15). The spiritual density of the pre-flood matter was reflected in its physical properties. Pre-flood water vapor was too coarse to allow the light to sift through it and create a rainbow. Only after the refining effects of the flood could the moisture in the atmosphere refract the sunlight to make a rainbow.
The rainbow also symbolizes the new humanity. Moisture rises from the earth, catches the light of the sun, and creates a rainbow. This represents man’s ability to contribute to creation beyond its natural state, to produce new vistas of beauty and color.


Talmud, Pesachim 49b.


Ibid., Chullin 84a.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Jay Leno's Garage and Natan Sharansky on Zionism and Judaism

Love yehuda

by Natan Sharansky

If we cut ourselves off from 3,000 years of Judaism, we will lose the right to our existence in our historic homeland.

A.B. Yehoshua's remarks at the recent conference of the American Jewish Committee predictably kicked up a storm on both sides of the ocean. In Israel people charged that it is not true that Israelis are indifferent to the fate of Diaspora Jewry, and in the United States they said that were it not for their continuous aid and staunch support on behalf of Israel, the country would not have survived. On both sides, again and as always, this was the usual paternalistic reaction. We know what is good for you, we help you. Without us you will not survive.

But Yehoshua's remarks about the relations between Israel and the Diaspora, as infuriating as they may be, disturb me less than the way he described his own identity: My identity is Israeli, he said. The Jewish religion does not play a role in my life; it is the territory and the language that build my identity.

This definition of identity grants a bill of divorcement to the Jewish people, to the Jewish heritage, to 3,000 years of culture, creativity, prayer, rituals, tradition and everything that is subsumed in the term Judaism, and shows a preference for the Israeli "nation," which "arose from the sea" 100 years ago. For Yehoshua -- and many, many others in Israel -- the only thing that is important, existential and relevant from the Jewish perspective is what happens here, in Israel; everything outside Israel is obsolete and its fate is to be lost. In making this claim, Yehoshua undermines and weakens the justification for the State of Israel.

The internal debate among us here on the question of the country's borders, and the discussion of the correct way to achieve peace in our region, derive entirely from the assumption that the State of Israel has a right to exist - morally, legally and historically. This assumption faces constant questioning. The Hamas people try to undermine it, as do many other leaders in the Palestinian and Arab world. And many intellectuals in the Western world, who have adopted the Arab narrative that sees in us an anachronistic remnant of old colonialism, also try to undermine this assumption. Facing these debilitating forces is the belief held by many others in the world in the Jewish people's right to a national state in its historical homeland. We can win the struggle between these two approaches only if we ourselves, those of us who live in Zion, believe this and feel this way.

Ultra-Orthodox disciples of the Gaon from Vilna who immigrated to the Land of Israel in the 18th century, Zionist socialists at the end of the 19th century, and assimilated Jews from Soviet Russia who fought for their right to immigrate at the end of the 20th century -- they had nothing in common with regard to their perception of the Jewish tradition. However, all of them saw themselves as partners in the realization of the same ancient dream, the ancient Jewish prayer to return to the Land of Israel. All of them saw themselves as part of a special people and of the unique historical process of the return to Zion. This belief was the source of their strength and the only guarantee of their success.

There is no Zionism without Judaism and there never has been. Just as the Israeli people has never had a right to the Land of Israel. Only the Jewish people. It was the Jewish people that received the Balfour Declaration, and it was they who were granted by the United Nations the legal right to establish a state. It was the Jewish people that returned to its ancient homeland, for which it had prayed and longed for, for 2,000 years. For if we are talking about the Israeli "people" -- how is the right of a "people" that has existed for about 100 years greater than or equal to that of the Palestinians, who have been living on their land for about 300 years? What really distinguishes it from other colonial projects that have vanished from the earth?

The discussion of our right to the land and the war between our narrative and theirs is not a purely philosophical discussion. At least not in the eyes of the Palestinian leaders. When the leaders of Hamas, like Yasser Arafat in his day, were or are prepared to consider recognition of the fact of Israel's existence, but not its right to existence, they are not playing word games. That is why Arafat reiterated over and over again his supposedly historical claims with regard to the absence of the connection between the Temple Mount and the Jewish people. It was clear to him that the historical connection that is anchored and based in Jewish tradition is the basis for the existence of the State of Israel, and without it, the state will disappear, just as it "appeared from the sea."

The difference between Israeli identity according to Yehoshua and Jewish identity is exactly the difference between the fact of existence and the right to exist. The difference is between a group of people that lives on a piece of land and speaks the Hebrew language, and the descendants of a people that is scattered throughout the world, who have returned to their historic homeland.

If, heaven forbid, we cut ourselves off from the chain that links us to the Jewish people, if we cut ourselves off from 3,000 years of Judaism, if we cut ourselves off from being the realization of 2,000 years of Jewish hope -- for next year in Jerusalem -- then we will lose the right to our existence. And in losing that right, we will be lost.

Perhaps the Jews of the Diaspora were insulted by Yehoshua's blunt remarks, but we, the Jews of the Land of Israel, we must rise up against them, for this is a matter of the very fact of our existence.

This article originally appeared in Haaretz.

Author Biography:
The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Shalem Center.



Jay Leno's garage
--And they say he has never spent a penny of the money he earns for doing the Tonight show!  He is said to live entirely on the income from sidelines: giving speeches, making appearances, etc.

An unbelievable peek into Jay Leno's garage. 62 pix

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