Once, during my more foolish and perhaps idealistic youth, I decided to be a vegetarian. There were the purported health reasons. There was also a slight vague sense of guilt for the butchering of harmless, innocent creatures to merely satisfy my gastronomic urges. I was spending the summer in the Far East and kosher meat would be hard to come by in any case. It seemed like a good and noble idea.
As fate would have it however, the day following my momentous decision, there was a kosher community barbecue at the Hong Kong Jewish Center. The smell of roasting meat, of hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken wings, cutlets, shish-kebab and steak was more than I could handle. I attacked the meat with renewed gusto, questioning my sanity with each sumptuous bite in giving up such God-given (and permitted) delicacies.
I have good friends who are devoted vegetarians and I have tremendous respect for their dedication and persistence in keeping true to their diet. However, according to Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni), ever since Noah’s Ark, there is no ethical reason to avoid eating animals.
Shortly after Noah exits the Ark, God commands Noah that all animals are fair game (pun intended):
“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; like the green herbage I have given you everything.”
Hizkuni explains that because animals are in existence thanks to human efforts (i.e. Noah), they owe humanity an eternal debt that is payable in at least “a pound of flesh”. Hizkuni goes even further in saying we can make any use of animals, not only for food, but in any fashion that we deem fit. Pharmaceutical and drug companies would also seem to be permitted to perform animals testing according to Hizkuni.
I’m not sure where Hizkuni would draw the line between practical uses of animals and frivolous mistreatment or cruelty, but in the meantime, I will keep on enjoying my steaks.
May we partake of meat for joyous and celebratory occasions and enjoy the sacrifice that these animals are making for our nourishment, health and contentment.
In memory of my childhood pet, Kiki. Kiki was a beautiful, loving, Golden Labrador Retriever, who was our regular companion at our home in Rio de Janeiro. To this day we still mourn her untimely death.
I’m grateful that Noah rescued Kiki’s ancestors, as well of those of chickens, turkeys, cows and the occasional lamb descendant that we partake of.