Thursday, May 22, 2014 | return to: views, opinions


Conscientious meat eating isn’t an oxymoron

by gabriel greenberg

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It is an incontrovertible truth that the industrialized system of meat consumption in this country is broken, immoral and cruel. Additionally, this corruption has spread into the kosher meat industry, as has been proven over the last years in various ways.

9_Vgreenberg_avatar_withnameAnyone who chooses, as a response either to these facts or from a more generalized moral stance against meat consumption, has my wholehearted respect. My family, and many other Jewish families in the Bay Area and nationally, choose a different response. Namely: to eat less meat, and for that meat to be raised and slaughtered in manners consistent with the highest standards of Jewish law and ethical treatment of farm-raised animals.

Throughout the ages, Jewish law has consistently spoken to numerous values relating to the eating of animals. They include the proper treatment of animals while alive (tza’ar ba’alei chaim), sensitivity to the familial relationships of animals (shiluach ha-ken), reverence for and awe of the act of killing itself (kisuy ha-dam, birkat ha-shechita and hilchot shechita). One of the more striking aspects of shechita, Jewish ritual slaughter, is the demand that the humans confront, face-to-face, the enormity of what they are tasked with. A shochet, as well as those who witness the shechita, who can truly witness the reality of taking an animal life, are left with a deeper appreciation of the I-thou relationship we are commanded to have with God’s creatures.

The Jewish tradition insists upon the fact that cautious, respectful and occasional taking of animal life for human sustenance can and should be a holy part of our circle of life. Initially, however, the Torah did not grant meat-eating to be part of the purview of human diet. In fact, the text indicates that humans-as-carnivores is a lamentable concession granted us in early human history. This has led some Jews to argue for a return to vegetarianism in the modern day as the ideal state (this argument is bolstered by Maimonides’ view in “Guide for the Perplexed” that the future Temple will no longer feature animal sacrifice).

I am quite sympathetic to this view. However, there is a central point wherein I differ. We live in a current world that is marked by a wide-scale industrial meat industry, a situation I needn’t argue is both wrong and unsustainable. The question is — how do we get from here to there? For we must do something: “The job is not yours to finish, yet neither are you free to desist from trying” (Pirkei Avot, chapter 2). How then do we move to a more redeemed, holy state? From the real, to the ideal?

I believe the way forward is through education toward, and modeling of, a more sustainable vision. Events like the one planned — and then canceled — by Urban Adamah are of critical importance to move us forward to a redeemed state. In a world where most American meat-eaters only know of a cheap-meat, fast-food, obesity-inducing food system, it is critical for our community to model alternate approaches to land stewardship and food. Our wisdom tradition contains crucial, and often radical, insights about the interrelationship between humanity, land, animal and the holy. It is a tradition that has thought about these issues over thousands of years, and over dozens of different cultural contexts. It is what we, uniquely, can contribute to the world conversation.

Those who choose to work toward a redeemed world through veganism have my utmost respect. Strategically, I doubt that resources of time and energy are best spent protesting a community farm, when animal slaughter is happening on a scale tens-of-thousands-times larger all over the country.

But as a Jew and a conscientious meat-eater, what truly disturbs me is that Urban Adamah wasn’t able to give voice to our distinctly and powerfully Jewish message of conscientious meat eating. The beautiful synthesis that groups like Urban Adamah are trying to demonstrate — rediscovering the Torah’s ground between old and new, making the mundane holy — is surely one of our last and best hopes for humanity’s living gracefully and peacefully on this earth.

Gabriel Greenberg is the Rabbi Martin Ballonoff Memorial Jewish educator at Berkeley Hillel and an alumnus of the Adamah Fellowship in Connecticut.


For an opposing view on this issue, read "Vegetarians ready to dialogue on 'humane' meat practices"


Posted by Veggie18
05/22/2014  at  02:29 PM
Scary people Adamah turns out!

So glad I’m already a graduate of UC Berkeley and no longer attending Hillel.  You people scare me.  Adamah fellows all tote the party line of how holy and peaceful it is to kill animals, even after you admit veganism is best. Shame on you for being so lazy and arrogant, giving in to your lust for flesh, & and justifying it as if you have a right to harm God’s creatures.  And, you call yourself a rabbi!  Shame on you.  You and Urban Adamah are a shonda to the Jewish community and our values.

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Posted by robertgrillo
05/22/2014  at  02:49 PM

Mr. Goldberg, you use classic prejudice in your analysis of this issue: “Conscious” slavery is not an oxymoron. It’s good for those who are enslaved. The same argument was used to defend the institution of slavery. Your argument will appear as ludicrous to future generations who will look upon this age of “happy” death and “happy” animal exploitation fantasies as we now view the same defenses for human slavery. Both are based on the same prejudicial principle, just the victims are different. “You are another color or race or species and therefore you are an inferior to us and we get to treat you however we want, as long as we give thanks to your sacrifice before we slash your throat.” As Voltaire famously wrote, “If we believe in absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.”

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Posted by LindaMid
05/22/2014  at  03:07 PM
Holocaust for Animals

It is especially sad and horrifying to see that a Jewish sponsored site promotes the animal holocaust. You would think you know the difference between compassion and cruelty. Since there is zero nutritional reason to ingest animal flesh or secretions, then you are choosing to be violent to other beings just because of habit and cultural bias. There was a bias against Jewish person, black persons too and we could do whatever we wanted to do to them in those holocausts. Black and Jews they said had no souls and they now say that about animals….please STOP your violence and go vegan and become compassionate. Your blind idealogue is scary and beyond ignorant.

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Posted by Veggie18
05/22/2014  at  04:29 PM
From Enemies: A Love Story

As often as Herman had witnessed the slaughter of animals and fish, he always had the same thought: in their behavior toward creatures, all men were Nazis. The smugness with which man could do with other species as he pleased exemplified the most extreme racist theories, the principle that might is right.
Isaac Bashevis Singer, Enemies: A Love Story

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Posted by Veggie18
05/22/2014  at  04:31 PM
These famous rabbis strongly disagree w/ you!

Sacks says no to chicken soup

Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Lord Professor (etc) Jonathan Sacks, is a vegetarian!

He says so in this interview with Cambridge University’s VarsiTV, before adding:

I don’t miss the Chicken soup, and life is short enough without my inflicting pain on innocent chickens.

From Yeshiva University’s student magazine:

R. Soloveitchik takes a very strong position regarding carnivorous practices. He calls it “ta’avah” (lust)[xxi] and an “illicit demand.”[xxii] “The insistence upon flesh, his [man’s] lusty carnal desire,” R. Soloveitchik says, “arouses the divine wrath.” [xxiii] Those who choose to eat meat, the “animal hunters and flesh-eaters” are “people that lust.” [xxiv] 

R. Soloveitchik’s severe stance is based on the story of Kivrot ha-Ta’avah (the graves of those who craved [meat]), the tragic account of Benei Yisrael’s lust for animal flesh.[xxv] In the story of Kivrot ha-Ta’avah, Benei Yisrael protest to God and Moshe, demanding meat instead of the manna that God had been supplying. Moshe prays to God and, although God is angry with the people, He gives them the meat. Once satiated, the people die as a result of a plague that God sends. In his explanation of this story, R. Soloveitchik says that God admonished Israel for their dissatisfaction with their vegetarian diet of manna and their need to have meat. Deuteronomy 12:20, in discussing God’s commandments for when Benei Yisrael will live in the land of Israel, supports this point: “And you shall say: ‘I will eat flesh’, because your soul desires to eat flesh; you may eat flesh, after all the desire of your soul.”[xxvi]  The Torah uses the word “desire” to characterize man’s hunger for meat; it is the dominating physical desire. Hence, according to R. Soloveitchik, vegetarianism should be practiced, yet man, too desirous for meat, refuses to stop eating animal flesh.

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Posted by Veggie18
05/22/2014  at  04:48 PM
Hardest part of being vegan:

The real struggle in being vegan doesn’t involve food. The hardest part about being vegan is coming face-to-face with the darker side of humanity and trying to remain hopeful. It’s trying to understand why otherwise good and caring people continue to participate in needless violence against animals - Just for the sake of their own pleasure or convenience. Jo Tyler

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Posted by Veggie18
05/22/2014  at  04:50 PM
Animal-lover/animal-killer: with friends like these...

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