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Comments by Yonassan Gershom - 4 May 2010

In Reference to: Say No to Sanctified Animal Abuse

Professor Schwartz’s wife is going into the hospital tomorrow, so he may not reply right away. I tell you this so, if he does not reply today or tomorrow, you do not think he is ignoring you.

But please note that Professor Schwartz is a vegan. He would agree that, in an ideal world, everyone should be a vegan. But he is also pointing out that, in an imperfect world where, until recently, veganism would have been impossible for reasons of climate and such (as I also said above), Judaism did try to put limits on how animals were treated, whereas many other religions did not.

During the 12th century when Maimonides wrote what you quote, the Gentile world around him practiced bear-baiting, pig sticking, cat burning and other cruelties that were never, ever part of Jewish culture. And while you might quote Jainism as the ideal, the vast majority of Hindus are not Jains, and I have seen many a photo of gurus sitting on tiger skins, etc. So even India is not perfect. (The word “thug,” BTW, comes from “Thugee,” which was a form of Kali worship involving human sacrifice as late as the mid-1800s.

Animals are still sacrificed at the temples dedicated to Kali.)
Judaism limited the permitted species that could be eaten, and this means Jews do not eat or hunt wild or endangered species. No “Great White Hunter” safaris just for sport, either.

The Torah recognized that a mother animal should have time with her young after birth, etc. Allowing a calf to have AT LEAST eight days with its mother certainly is better than what the modern dairy industry does today, which is to take the calf away immediately. And prohibiting the slaughter of the calf on the same day as its mother meant you COULD NOT EVER kill the calf in front of the mother. Again, not perfect, not the ideal — but at least recognizing that animals do have feelings.

As Professor Schwartz pointed out above, the Garden of Eden was vegetarian and that is the ideal. But as I point out, humanity would not have survived in harsher climates as vegans in past centuries. The Torah takes a middle road. Ideally you should not eat meat but if you do, then you must remember that animals are living things and you must place limits of what meats you eat and bec aware that the meat you eat comes form a living animal. Not ideal, but then, this world is not ideal. If you were an Eskimo living in the Arctic, would you let your childrten starve to death before your eyes, rather than eat meat or fish, which until modern times was the only food available there? Or would you do, as Native peoples did do: Treat the meat with respect, thank the animal for providing it for you, and honor its spirit?

And we should note, BTW, that even PETA has acknowledged that kosher slaughter, if done properly, is humane. During the recent scandal about the Agriprocessors plant in Iowa, PETA was concerned with improving conditions there and tried to work with the company to correct USDA animal cruelty violations, etc. But PETA was also very clear throughout that they were NOT trying to shut down kosher slaughtering per se, only stop some very un-kosher practices going on at that particular plant.

And now I must go take care of my own animals.


Rabbi Yonassan Gershom