The Jewish Perspective on Being a Vegetarian

5 05 2010

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on Naaleh.com

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Question:
I would like to know if being vegetarian is acceptable for an observant Jew.

Answer:
There are basically two reasons why people become vegetarians.  One is related to health and the other is a feeling of repulsion at the concept of consuming animal flesh.

If you think eating meat is not optimal for your health, by all means be a vegetarian. However, if you have difficulties understanding how the Torah can permit the slaughter of animals, or you don’t want an animal in you because you see yourself as a spiritual being, or you assume all animal consumption is a product of animal pain, those are different issues.

The Torah not only permits eating meat, but in a certain way encourages it. During the Temple era, there were some sacrifices that were offered in their entirety on the altar. Other animal sacrifices had specific portions of meat that were given as gifts to a kohen to eat. Some of these sacrifices would not be valid offering unless the kohen ate the meat.

Korban comes from the root word karev, to draw near. A person can come closer to Hashem when he eats an animal sacrifice, which is a symbol of the animal self in its elevated state.  If a person eats with the proper intentions, thinking how he will positively use the strength drawn from a meat meal, he sanctifies both himself and the animal. There is tikun atzmi and tikun olam.

The Torah states that shechita is acceptable and appropriate. Hashem permits it and He does not allow brutal treatment of animals. Therefore, shechita is not considered cruel. Hashem says animals should not be tortured, but they are in no way like humans.

You may feel that you want to overcome the animal in you. Because of this, you may maintain that eating an animal draws you down. As proof some people note that Adam before the sin was not allowed to eat meat. However, the Torah view allows, and in many instances condones, the consumption of animals. Therefore, proper consumption of meat cannot cause you a negative spiritual affect.

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