Thursday, October 7, 2010

Parsha Noach: Enter Omnivore, Stage Left

In last week's Torah portion, G-d gives us the ideal of the vegetarian diet in commandment form: "Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed--to you it shall be for food (Genesis 1:29)."  Famous rabbis such as Nachmanides, Maimonides, Abraham Ibn Ezra, and Joseph Albo all agree with this reading of Genesis 1:29.  Genesis 2:16 and 3:18 continue to support this ideal.  It is only when we reach the pre-Flood era when we run into problems. 

Yesterday, I had postulated that the Flood had been brought about by people's proclivity towards theft.  I would now like to offer a different insight:

 וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְהִנֵּה נִשְׁחָתָה:  כִּי-הִשְׁחִית כָּל-בָּשָׂר אֶת-דַּרְכּוֹ, עַל-הָאָרֶץ.

And God saw the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. -Genesis 6:12

This time, I am going to put the emphasis on בָּשָׂר (flesh).  The word בָּשָׂר literally refers to meat.  During this period, man was so uncivilized that he would tear the limb of a live animal, which is why one of the Seven Noachide laws, laws which both Jews and non-Jews are supposed to obey, is a prohibition thereof (Genesis 9:4, Sanhedrin 58a). 

As a seemingly concessionary measure, G-d grants us the permission to consume meat: "Every moving thing that lives shall be for food for you; as the green herb have I given you all (Genesis 9:3)."  Although this seems like a slam dunk for meat-eaters, it might be prudent to take a look at the surrounding verses before celebrating. 

 וּמוֹרַאֲכֶם וְחִתְּכֶם, יִהְיֶה, עַל כָּל-חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ, וְעַל כָּל-עוֹף הַשָּׁמָיִם; בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תִּרְמֹשׂ הָאֲדָמָה וּבְכָל-דְּגֵי הַיָּם, בְּיֶדְכֶם נִתָּנוּ.

"And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, and upon all wherewith the ground teems, and upon all the fishes of the sea: into your hand are they delivered. " -Genesis 9:2

Yes, we are given the license to eat meat, but as Rabbi Samson Hirsch points out in his commentary on this verse, the dynamic between animal and man has changed where a rift was caused in the previously benign relationship between the two.  The verse immediately after is also telling because in Genesis 9:4, there already is a limitation on whatwe can do with meat consumption: no eating of the animal's blood. 

As we ponder this week's Torah portion and having this insight in mind, let me present two questions to you:

1) As you read Torah and read the Jewish dietary laws throughout history, why is it that just about every single dietary law has to do with meat consumption?  Is it possible that G-d, in His infinite wisdom, gave us these nuanced laws so that we would be detered from eating meat?

2) If eating meat is such a mitzvah, like many of my traditional-minded Jewish friends opine, where is the special blessing for meat?  In terms of the hierarchy, meat falls under "Shehakol," which is the lowest blessing on the proverbial totem pole.  Only grains, fruits, and vegetables have special blessings, whereas everything else is covered by Shehakol. 

Some food for thought this weekend.......

שבת שלום! 

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