“The fat, the kidneys, and the protuberance of the liver from the sin offering he turned into smoke on the altar — as the Eternal had commanded Moses” Leviticus 9:10


It’s about this point in the annual Torah cycle that, as a long-term vegetarian, I become increasingly uncomfortable. It is not just the laws in this week’s parashah concerning the consumption of meat and which species are permitted but also the gory Temple rituals involving flesh, blood, entrails and animal sacrifices.

While I fully support the rights of others to consume meat, and feel troubled by recent attacks on shechitah, when it comes to animal cruelty and the use of animals for ritual sacrifices, I am unwavering.

One way that I protest is through the use of a toy sheep instead of the traditional shankbone on my Seder plate.

Vegetarianism has its place, although not always alongside our Jewish culture; could we dispense with our weekly Shabbat roast dinner, Jewish-penicillin-laced bowls of chicken soup and mountains of fishballs at every kiddush? Probably not, yet I take comfort in remembering that the Torah records a time when humanity was not carnivorous.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were permitted to eat vegetation but not consume the animals. After the Flood, God permitted Noah and his family to kill and eat some of the livestock that they had carefully nurtured (as long as they avoided consuming blood.

The commentators identify this new allowance as a concession. Before the Flood, humans were forbidden from killing each other and the animals; after the Flood, animals were devalued in order to distinguish between murder and meat.

So whether you’re an ardent vegetarian or even a passionate carnivore, the concession to Noah and his descendants should remind us that we are equally privileged and responsible.

If, for one designated weekend a year, the wider Jewish community were to consider going vegetarian, the environmental benefits would be enormous. Yet, even more importantly, we would renew our appreciation for the food that we consume.

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