Parshas Noach: Animal Rights

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

In בראשית א’:כט-ל, Genesis Chapter 1:29-30, it states: Hashem said, “I have given you (humankind) all herbage yielding fruit… And to every beast… and bird… and all that moves on the earth… every green herb for food.”

The Ramban teaches, “Hashem did not permit Adam and his wife to kill any creature and eat its meat, but all alike were to eat herbs. But when the era of “the sons of Noach” came, He permitted them to eat meat, as it is said, “every moving thing that live shall be for food for you; as the green herb have I given you all; even as the green herb that I permitted to the first man, so do I permit you everything.” This is the opinion of Rashi. But this is not so. Rather, He gave to Adam and his wife every herb yielding seed and all fruit of the trees (as mentioned in Verse 29], and to the beasts of the earth and the fowl of the heaven He gave all green herb [as mentioned in Verse 30] but neither the fruit of the tree nor the seeds. The food of all of them was thus not the same.”
The opinion of the Ramban is that animals and humans ate distinctly different growth from the ground in order for humankind to understand their superiority to animals. This is due to their נשמה, soul; and for their intellectual ability, to articulate their thoughts.

The Ramban continues: “However, meat was not permitted to them until the time of the “sons of Noah,” as is the opinion of our Rabbis. The reason for this was that creatures possessing a moving soul have a certain superiority as regards their soul, resembling in a way those who possess the rational soul: they have the power of choice affecting their welfare and their food, and they flee from pain and death.”

Despite the fact that before the Flood it was prohibited for a human to eat meat of an animal, due to the similarity of instincts and understanding, thereby enabling the human to ennoble themselves due to their superior intellect; after the Flood it became permissible.

This idea of the distinction between the human and animal had to be inculcated in the human race. Let us examine why it was vital.

Rav Yosef Albo in his classic, “Sefer HaIkarim”, teaches that the first two born men, קין והבל, Cain and Abel, both promoted a philosophy – ideology – that humans and animals are equal in stature; both are creatures that possess qualities above the inanimate kingdom. They both believed that G-d created them but there was no interplay between G-d and His world. Consequently they developed an ideology that animals must be treated with the greatest respect. Cain was of the opinion that animals can’t be used by humans for any purpose whatsoever and therefore he would have to “till the ground”. Abel, on the other hand, had argued that though one can’t kill an animal for food; one can utilize the animal to enable one to facilitate the growth of the necessary food or to sacrifice an animal to G-d as an exercise of thanking Him for His beneficence.

Due to their belief, that G-d was not involved whatsoever with the world. Abel maintained that the human is in charge and therefore can utilize animals due to one’s superiority. Though Abel’s sacrifice is accepted by G-d, he is not protected when Cain, קין kills him. Why not? He had correctly thanked Hashem!

Rav Albo explains that a natural segue from domination of animals is to dominate fellow humans; for if one considers oneself the “center of the universe” and has dominion over animals, it will subsequently lead one to dominate others. Without one’s belief that Hashem is involved with the world, one’s opinions are totally self-centered.

The אזנים לתורה, Rav Zalman Sorotzkin זצ”ל explains this is why after the Flood, מבול, we were allowed to eat meat.

The terrible crimes and sins of the generations before the Flood – 1) adultery 2) abuse of women 3) idolatry and 4) theft – were all a direct consequence of losing one’s nobility due to equating humans with animals. This led to duplicating their actions; after all, if animals have no commitment to a “partner”, if they take from one another, we humans can also. To inculcate the human with the acute understanding of their superiority due to one’s נשמה, soul and in turn connection to Hashem, we were instructed to eat meat.

The Torah is very strict regarding the way one treats animals. צער בעלי חיים, the unnecessary affliction of an animal and the requirement to even spend money to ease the pain that an animal endures is a מצוה דאורייתא, a Torah law. It is for us to train ourselves to be merciful and tolerant – not to equate animals with humans!

Many world leaders, notably Hitler ימח שמו – promoted that the purpose of life is like הבל, Abel – to dominate and be superior to others. In Nazi Germany when rounding up the Jews to slaughter them; they would send trucks to make sure that their dogs were taken care of. A great rabbi visiting Germany in the 1920s sadly predicted that due to the reverence extended to animals that one day, humans would perish at the hands of others. To truly lead a life of human dignity and development necessitates that one constantly focus on the superiority of the human!

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