Permission to Eat Meat
After God destroyed His world by water, making a fresh start with Noah
and his family, God told Noah,
Every moving thing that lives shall be food for
you. Like plant vegetation [which I permitted to
Adam], I have now given you everything.... Only of
the blood of your own lives will I demand an
account. (Gen. 9:3, 5)
Up until this point, humanity was expected to be vegetarian. But
after Noah and his family left the ark, God allowed them to eat
everything – except other people. Why was permission to eat animals
given at this time.
Temporary Allowance
Given the violence and depravity of the generation of the Flood, it was
necessary to make allowances for humanity’s moral frailty. If mankind was
still struggling with basic moral issues – such as not murdering his fellow
human – why frustrate him with additional prohibitions on less self-
evident issues.
After the Flood, God lowered the standards of morality and
justice He expected of humanity. We would no longer be culpable for
slaughtering animals; we would only be held accountable for harming
Adapted from Talelei Orot, ch. 8 (quoted by Nechama Leibowitz, Iyunim Besefer
Bereishit, pp. 55–6). See also Otzerot HaRe’iyah vol. II, pp. 88–92.
other human beings. Then our moral sensibilities, which had become cold
and insensitive in the confusion of life, could once again warm the heart.
If the original prohibition against meat had remained in force,
then, when the desire to eat meat became overpowering, there would be
little distinction between feasting on man, beast, or fowl. The knife, the
axe, the guillotine, and the electric pulse would cut them all down, in order
to satiate the gluttonous stomach of “cultured" man. This is the advantage
of morality when it is connected to its Divine Source: it knows the proper
time for each objective, and on occasion will restrain itself in order to
conserve strength for the future.
In the future, this suppressed concern for the rights of animals will
be restored. A time of moral perfection will come, when “No one will
teach his neighbor or his brother to know God – for all will know Me,
small and great alike" (Jeremiah 31:33). In that era of heightened ethical
awareness, concern for the welfare of animals will be renewed.
Preparing for the Future
In the interim, the mitzvot of the Torah prepare us for this eventuality.
The Torah alludes to the moral concession involved in eating
meat, and places limits on the killing of animals. If “you desire to eat
meat," only then may you slaughter and eat (Deut. 12:20). Why mention
the “desire to eat meat". The Torah is hinting: if you are unable to
naturally overcome your desire to eat meat, and the time for moral
interdiction has not yet arrived – i.e., you still grapple with not harming
those even closer to you (fellow human beings) – then you may slaughter
and eat animals.
Nonetheless, the Torah limits which animals we are allowed to eat,
only permitting those most suitable to human nature.
The laws of
According to Maimonides (Guide for the Perplexed III: 48), the animals permitted
for food are those most suitable for the human body, and “no doctor will doubt
this." Nachmanides disagreed, explaining that the permitted animals are the ones
shechitah (ritual slaughtering) restrict the manner of killing animals to the
quickest and most humane. With these laws, the Torah impresses upon us
that we are dealing with a living creature, not some automaton devoid of
life. And after slaughtering, we are commanded to cover the blood, as if to
say, “Cover up the blood! Hide your crime!"
These restrictions will achieve their effect as they educate the
generations over time. The silent protest against animal slaughter will
become a deafening outcry, and its path will triumph.
most suitable for the human soul. On Lev. 11:13, he wrote that “birds of prey will
always be impure, for the Torah distanced them [from us as food] since their
blood is warm in their cruelty… and they put cruelty in the heart [of those who
eat them].... It is likely that the animals are similarly [prohibited], since those that
chew their cud and have split hooves do not prey."