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October 12, 1990 - Image 71

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-10-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

OCTOBER 12, 1990

THE JEWISH NEWS

A Toast
To Jewish Living

Noah's Covenant And Animal Rights

By DR. MARK SMILEY

Dr. Mark Smiley is headmaster
of Hillel Day School and the author
of this month's To Our Readers. For
each issue of L'Chayim, a rabbi,
Jewish educator or other notable
will present an overview of the
month's theme.

The Noah story ends with a
special blessing, a lasting covenant
with Noah and his family. "I will
maintain my covenant with you.
Never again shall all flesh be cut off
from the waters of a flood and never
again shall there be a flood to
destroy the earth." (Genesis 9:11)
After the destruction of the flood
God promises mankind a feeling of
security and a feeling of stability.

Here, the Noah story develops
an important relationship between
man, animals and God. This
covenant includes animals ("all
living creatures"), for they, too, in
the story of the flood, were put in a
precarious position of potential
extinction, of being required to go
out after the flood to replenish the
earth. The animals in the Noah
story are not to be understood as
insignificant stage props or a
portable food chain, but rather as
recipients of the everlasting
covenant with God.

This covenant with Noah
develops a paradoxical relationship
between man and animal. On one
hand God permits man to eat
animals. On the other hand while
animals were not equal to mankind,
they were not to be understood as
valueless.
While the story of the Garden
of Eden suggests a vegetarian
world, Noah's generation is
permitted the eating of animals with
a number of restrictions. These
restrictions include not eating the
blood of animals, not eating the
limb of an animal while the animal

is alive. Tzar Baalei Haim, the
prohibition of cruelty to animals, is a
fundamental Jewish value which
permeates our talmudic and later
rabbinic writing. Not only is eating
of animals restricted to us by the
laws of kashrut, we are prevented
from inflicting any unnecessary pain
on the animal world.
Indeed, Jews are supposed to
show compassion for animals. As
Maimonides wrote in his Guide to

the Perplexed, "We should not learn
cruelty and should not cause
unnecessary pain to animals"; the
goal is to lean towards compassion
and mercy. In addition, the great
nineteenth century scholar, Samson
Raphael Hirsch points out that Tzar
Baalei Haim is an opportunity to
teach our children a sense of
compassion for the entire world.
The biblical tradition is replete
with verses limiting our burden to

animals and requiriing us to help
the animal of your enemy if you find
him in distress. Jewish law and lore
has a wonderful example that
underscores the unique relationship
of mankind and the animal world.
When Jews wear a garment for the
first time they recite a blessing, the
Shecheyanu. However, if the new
garment is a pair of leather shoes,
the blessing is not recited. The
tradition teaches us to be sensitive
to the fact that animal life had to
perish in order for us to enjoy this
comfort.
While there are conflicting
opinions of the desirability of
animals as household pets, there
are two guidelines that appear in
rabbinic literature that reinforce our
responsibility to the animal world.
The first states a man is forbidden
to eat before his beast, since it
says, "I will give grass in thy fields
for thy cattle and then thou will eat
and be satisfied." And in the
second, Rabbi Lazer said, "A man
is not permitted to take for himself a
beast unless he is prepared to feed
the animal himself." These talmudic
statements reinforce that man has
an obligation to treat the animal
kingdom with responsibility and
care.
Animals are put in our world to
serve us. Yet, we need to live lives
of sanctity, of Kedusha, with respect
to the animal world. Our laws of
kashrut, ritual slaughter (Sheitah),
(Bal Tascheet), not wasting matter,
are all directed at insuring that
mankind is sensitive to our taking of
animal life. Rabbi Abraham Kook,
chief rabbi of pre-Israel, and a
vegetarian, considered the change
after Noah and the flood to be
evidence of humanity's moral
deterioration and felt it constituted
"an estrangement from the world of
animals that would be repaired in
the messianic era." If we search the
Books of the Prophets we find that
we all look forward to a time when
man and wild beasts would be
vegetarian.

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