Posts filed under ‘Food’

‘Animal Welfare’ v. ‘Agricultural Needs’: Which Comes First?

Jewish Law in Our Times

by Simon M. Jackson, Adv., Legal Advisor to Torah MiTzion

2 – 

Last year, Israel’s High Court of Justice was petitioned by “Noah – The Israeli Federation of Animal Protection Organizations,” anumbrella organization for animal rights organizations in Israel, to declare illegal the force-feeding of geese for the production of foie gras (fatty liver, considered to be a gastronomic delicacy), in light of the “unnecessary suffering” caused to the geese during their feeding.

How did the Court rule on the issue of the delicate balance between ‘cruelty to animals’ and ‘agricultural needs’?


During the force-feeding period the goose is forcibly fed by the insertion of a tube into its esophagus. This process is repeated several times daily. The geese are fed high-caloric food in order to make their liver especially fatty. The amount of food they are forced to digest is much greater than the amount they require. The process lasts several weeks, until the liver reaches its optimal size. At optimal size the liver is several times the size of a normal liver. During the force-feeding period, the goose is fed exclusively by this method, though it continues to drink normally.

Section 2(a) of the Protection of Animals Law, 1994, prohibits torture, cruelty or abuse to animals. The Minister of Agriculture issued regulations in 2001 pursuant to this section, the purpose of which was “to prevent the suffering of geese caused by feeding with the aim of producing foie gras, and to freeze the foie grasindustry in Israel. This is in the spirit of the Recommendations of the Standing Committee working under the European Council’s Convention for Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes.”

The regulations regulated the force-feeding of geese, providing, for example, that force-feeding may only be carried out with a pneumatic machine. The regulations also set a maximum limit for the length and diameter of the feeding tube, and for the amount the geese are fed daily. In addition, in regulation 7, the Minister of Agriculture ordered thefoie gras industry to be frozen, i.e. no new farms for force-feeding geese would be established, and the existing ones would not be expanded.

“Noah” petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to declare the above regulations unlawful, mainly because the process of force-feeding, even within the limitations set out by the regulations, caused cruelty to animals under section 2(a) of the Protection of Animals Law, 1994.

The respondents to the petition included the Minister of Agriculture (which supported and encouraged the development of this industry), the Egg and Poultry Board and 32 farm owners involved in the industry. These countered that, were the petition to be accepted, it would bring an end to the entire industry since, without force-feeding, the liver is not a marketable product. Israelproduces over 500 tons of foie gras annually, half of which goes to the local market, while the rest is exported. The annual turnover of the industry reaches tens of millions of shekels. In addition to those who raise the geese, there are businesses that provide secondary services. Thus, the livelihood of several hundred families depends on this industry, which has been active in Israelfor about 40 years. Furthermore they argued that the method of force-feeding does not constitute cruel treatment of animals, and that the purpose of the regulations was to reduce their suffering during feeding. Respondents pointed out that the European Council and the European Union did not outlaw force-feeding, and that the Israeli regulations followed those created in Europe.

The Supreme Court Justices found that “the tendency is to balance the interest of protecting animals against man’s right to use animals for his sustenance” and the question was whether this delicate balance had been breached. It was agreed, however, that the interest of animal protection could be superseded by “agricultural needs.”

After the Court reviewed legal systems from many different countries – from the U.S.A. to India, and including Europe and New Zealand – the Court concluded that “overall the regulations do not stand up to the ‘prohibition of abuse’ test of the law.” It reached this conclusion based on the distinction it decided to make between those food items which are necessary for human existence, and those which are mere luxuries. To the extent that the food item is less essential and necessary to human existence, the less the weight that will be given to the consideration of “agricultural needs” where their production inflicts grave suffering on animals. And because the regulations did not meet the prevailing standards in Europe, the balance had been overstepped:

“We have carefully examined all the facts before us. The subject is complex, and we have considered the opinions of experts in several fields, the legal situation in various countries and in the international community, the domestic legal situation, and the extra-legal questions raised by this issue. We have reached the conclusion that the regulations deviate significantly from the purpose of the law, and thus they should be annulled.”

At the same time, the Court added, “The decision regarding the annulment of the regulations and the prohibition of the said practice will be suspended until March 31, 2005… During this suspension period those involved will contend with the problem and consider the appropriate policy regarding force-feeding geese. The developments in the field in Israeland abroad will be examined… If it is decided to allow the foie gras industry to continue, the legislature will have to issue regulations that will assure the use of means that will significantly reduce the suffering of the geese.”


Regrettably, the Supreme Court did not see fit to delve into the age-old provisions of the Halacha, when arriving at its decision to outlaw the force feeding of geese (even though it was presented with a detailed breakdown of these by the Department for Jewish Law (Mishpat Ivri) in the Ministry of Justice. The Court took into consideration the approaches developed by legal systems all over the world, and yet did not deem it appropriate to include even one Jewish source that related to the issue (save for a passing reference to the phrase tza’ar ba’alei haim as being the ancient equivalent to what is currently referred to as ‘animal welfare’). This contrasts with the Hamat Gader judgment, detailed in our last column, which was replete with references to Halachic and Talmudic principles.

In our next column, we shall examine the balance between ‘cruelty to animals’ and ‘human needs’ from the Halachic perspective, and assess whether the Halacha would have arrived at the same conclusion as the Supreme Court on the issue of force-feeding geese.


Other articles in the series:

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5


August 11, 2011 at 6:46 pm Leave a comment

‘Agricultural Need’ v. ‘Hunting for Sport’

Jewish Law in Our Times

by Simon M. Jackson, Adv., Legal Advisor to Torah MiTzion


We ended our last column by concluding that the majority of Halachic codifiers permit tza’ar ba’alei haim for monetary gain, albeit that they all recoil morally from benefiting in this manner.

What is the scope of the permit of “financial gain”? Can it justify the practice of force-feeding geese – all in the name of creating luxuries and gastronomic delicacies for human beings? Can the financial benefits obtained justify the suffering caused to animals in the course of bull or cock fights, or hunting as a sport?


 It is very clear that the Halacha’s concession of allowing suffering to animals for financial gain does not imply any permit to derive benefit from the suffering per se. Bull fights, cock fights and similar shows and tournaments are therefore clearly forbidden by Halacha. Moreover, all authorities agree that hunting as a sport is forbidden, even though the organizers of the fight undoubtedly profit from their enterprise.

From this perspective, the Supreme Court ruling in Let the Animals Live v. Chamat Gader Recreation Enterprises[1] , which outlawed battles between man and alligator at the northern town of Chamat Gader, accorded perfectly with the principles of Jewish Law, and these principles were indeed cited extensively in the judgment.

The permit applies only where the suffering caused is merely a means for obtaining a product or a benefit, and even then, only where there is no possibility of obtaining these without causing the suffering. In other words, in the same manner as one may not obtain sadistic benefitfrom causing suffering to animals, so too it is forbidden to market such benefit, and evenif hundreds of households rely on this benefit for their livelihood, such invalid means of earning a living should cease immediately.

However, in the case of force-feeding geese, the situation is different: those involved in the industry are not interested in causing suffering to the geese, merely in their livers, and were alternative means available to achieve this purpose they would certainly adopt it!

Especially instructive in this regard is a response by Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igrot Moshe, Even Haezer IV:92), one of the greatest Poskim of the last generation, which deals expressly with a similar situation – the raising of calves for veal. This practice is mentioned several times in the Noah[2] judgment. Calf meat (veal), like goose liver, is a culinary delicacy. In order to get high quality veal, calves are raised under special conditions. The calves are kept in narrow stalls, which do not allow them room to move. They are also fed special food that does not contain iron. This is intended to make the meat as light colored as possible. This is done despite the fact that the calves need iron and, as a result of the lack of this necessary dietary element, they become anemic.

Rav Feinstein does, indeed, prohibit the raising of calves for veal. He rules that one who engages in this practice transgresses the prohibition of tza’ar ba’alei haimHowever, from his reasoning, it is doubtful whether he would have reached the same conclusion with respect to the force-feeding of geese. On the contrary, it is logical to assume that Rav Feinstein would permit the practice, because his reasoning to forbid the raising of calves for veal is that the latter does not improve the meat, but merely changes its color to white, which thus appears more impressive than it actually is. In his opinion, the “gain” obtained by those who raise the calves from improving the appearance of the meat (and which in effect deceives purchasers of the meat) does not constitute a benefit which justifies the infliction of suffering on animals. The situation is very different in the case of force-feeding geese, which does in fact cause the liver to improve.

It should also be noted that Rav Feinstein emphasizes in his responsum that tza’ar ba’alei haim is permitted “in cases where people generally allow this,” i.e. specifically wherea commonly accepted benefit results. It would follow, therefore, that if it were not accepted practice to force-feed geese, the practice would be forbidden, but since the industry exists – darkan be’kach (“it is generally allowed”) – there is no Halachic basis to stop its practice, save where alternative means exist to obtain the same result without causing tza’ar ba’alei haim[3] or where such suffering can be minimized.

From the above it follows that, had the Supreme Court taken into consideration the principles of Jewish Law over the ages as to the appropriate balance between human needs and animal welfare, it may well have reached a different conclusion from one which outlawed the practice of force-feeding geese.

Hunting for Sport in the Modern State of Israel

In Israel, the issue of hunting for sport is regulated in the Wildlife Protection Law, 5715 (1955).

This law authorizes the Minister of the Environment to restrict the hunting of wild animals, to issue hunting permits and to appoint inspectors to enforce the law. It prohibits trading, possessing or transporting protected species without a permit. It requires a hunting license for game hunting (hare, wild boar, partridge and some duck species) or for the extermination of pests, and prohibits the hunting of protected species, except by special permit and for specific purposes listed in the law.

However, while the law does restrict the hunting season and hunting areas, and also prohibits certain methods of hunting (traps, explosives, poisoning), hunting of mammals per se is thus still permitted in Israel!

Final Column: Knesset attempts to change the law on hunting for sport! 

[1] Cited extensively in our first column on this subject – see Issue No. 58 of this publication. To read an English translation of this judgment, see – English Courtdecisions – LCA 1684/96.

[2] Noah – The Israeli Federation of Animal Protection Organizations;discussed at length in Issue No. 58 of this publication. To read an English translation of this judgment, see – English Courtdecisions – HCJ 9232/01.

[3] It follows that scientific experiments upon laboratory animals during the course of medical research designed to yield information that might lead to cure of disease will only be sanctioned by Jewish law provided alternative means of obtaining the same information are unavailable (e.g. tissue culture studies). Where alternative means do exist, animal experimentation might be considered to fall under the category of unnecessary cruelty to animals and be prohibited.


Other articles in the series:

Part 1 

Part 2

Part 3

Part 5







August 11, 2011 at 3:40 pm Leave a comment

Veal and Foie Gras

Veal, the flesh of young cattle, is commonly produced (at least until recently) via methods that are shockingly cruel. The goal is to make the veal as pale in color as possible, and several means are utilized to this end. The calves are raised in pens that are too cramped for them to move, so that they should not be able to develop their muscles. They are fed a special iron-free food, which causes them to become anemic and to develop a craving for iron so strong that they will lick anything made of metal.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986), the great halachic authority of the United States, ruled that raising calves in this way transgresses the Biblical prohibition against cruelty to animals. He explains that although cruelty to animals is permitted for human needs, this is only for genuine needs of real importance:

“…Man is not permitted to do anything and everything that hurts animals, even if it is in order to profit from it; only something that is of genuine benefit to man, such as slaughtering animals for food, using them for labor, and suchlike.” (Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer vol. 4 responsa 92 part II)

Even financial benefits, argues Rabbi Feinstein, do not justify every case of inflicting suffering upon animals – only where the ultimate purpose of the animal’s death is an important one. In the case of veal, where the benefit is solely cosmetic, the cruelty involved is not justified.[1]

The production of foie gras, the French name for the liver of fattened geese and ducks, involves force–feeding the birds until their liver becomes grossly enlarged – up to eight times its natural size. Lately, there has been a strong outcry over the cruelty involved in force-feeding geese, with the Israeli Knesset prohibiting its production. Even though it is permitted to cause suffering to animals for human benefits, it would seem that such a horrendously cruel practice that is of such little benefit should not be permitted. Yet foie gras has long been a traditional Jewish food, as we shall later explore. How are to view this from a Torah perspective?

The practice of force-feeding geese is discussed in the Shulchan Aruch, the primary code of Jewish law, but this is not related to the issue of cruelty involved. Instead, it is due to the fact that force-feeding geese may damage the esophagus in such a way as to render the bird a nevelah, an animal that possess a fatal defect and is non-kosher.[2] This caused heated controversy over the permissibility of force-feeding geese,[3] but the discussion did not raise any considerations of tzaar baalei chayim. Still, ultimately the “technical” issues of kashrus and slaughtering a creature that has been rendered a nevelah may themselves relate to the cruelty involved in treating an animal in this way.[4]

Yet the bottom line is that force-feeding geese was done in Jewish communities for hundreds of years without anyone explicitly objecting to the cruelty involved. In order to understand why, we must take a closer look at the history of foie gras and how it differs from foie gras production today.

The production of foie gras started thousands of years ago with the ancient Egyptians.[5] Wild geese gorge themselves before migrating, and the Egyptians noticed that the livers of these birds were exceptionally tender and tasty. The Egyptians developed a process of force-feeding called gavage, in which they restrained the bird by the neck and pushed moistened balls of grain down its throat. They repeated this process several times a day for several weeks, until the bird’s liver was greatly enlarged.

Although this procedure was carried out by many people in ancient times, it was amongst the Jews of Europe that foie gras became especially popular. One of the reasons for this was that it was an especially healthy food:

“For people who subsisted on a diet of noodles, cabbage, and potatoes, fattened goose liver was a precious source of nutrients. The Jews regarded it as a health food and dutifully fed it to growing children, since they would benefit most from the additional calories.” (Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe, “A Goose for all Seasons,” Moment Magazine, June 2001)

Another reason for fattening geese was that, aside from the liver, there would be plenty of fat. This was important, as Jews did not have many options for cooking fat. Suet is prohibited, and butter cannot be used for cooking meat. Jews in Israel had used olive oil, but this was scarce in Europe. The solution was poultry fat, called schmaltz in Yiddish, which could be obtained in large quantities by force-feeding the birds. The fat was strained and stored for all kinds of uses, including frying, basting, moistening, seasoning, as well as an addition to cholent.

In the twentieth century, when foie gras production moved to the United States, Israel and other countries, its method of production became more industrialized. Geese were now kept in crowded and tiny pens, and the force-feeding was done with a metal tube which was attached to a pressurized pump and shoved down the bird’s throat. The pre-slaughter mortality rate for foie gras production in Europe has been discovered to be fifteen times the average rate on other duck factory farms.[6] The precise causes of these deaths have not been documented but are likely to be due to physical injury and liver failure.[7] Controversies rage over how much pain and harm is inflicted upon geese and ducks in foie gras production today.[8]

Having better understood the history of foie gras, let us now explore why, in all the halachic discussions of the topic, nobody ever objected on the grounds of tzaar baalei chayim. First, let us look at whether the process in Europe was less cruel than that of today. One might argue that the current method of feeding with a pressurized pump is more cruel, but this would not appear to be the case – the food is a soft mush that is squirted down in seconds, whereas in past times the food was harder and would often be pushed down with a stick.

But there is a highly significant difference between the foie gras of Europe in the past and the foie gras of today. In past eras, foie gras was not a luxury, but rather was a fundamental part of the diet and provided valuable nutritional and practical benefits. Today, on the other hand, there are no signifi cant nutritional benefits from foie gras that are not already obtained from other sources, and it is a delicacy rather than a staple. But since the concept of foie gras had long been accepted, this is probably why rabbinical authorities were not alert to the new problem.[9]

Today, some are of the opinion that causing pain to animals is permitted for any human benefit and that fois gras is therefore permissible.[10] Yet many authorities prohibit excessive cruelty to animals in cases where there is only trivial benefit to man, and there is a widespread custom to refrain from doing so even where it is technically permissible. Thus, it would seem that the reality today of foie gras production, where it is produced as a delicacy rather than being an important part of the diet, is not consistent with the Torah principles of how man should treat animals.[11]


[1] Unfortunately, because Rabbi Feinstein is contrasting the two extremes of using an animal to work in a field (a substantial benefit) and raising calves to produce pale meat (a trivial benefit), this leaves the gray areas in between as undetermined. This is further complicated by his apparent belief that milk-fed veal has no only cosmetic advantages, whereas there is actually a minor improvement in taste. Some have attempted to argue from Rabbi Feinstein’s prohibition of veal on the grounds that “there is no real benefit” that in a case of any tangible benefit at all, he would permit cruelty to animals. But one could just as easily argue from his statement that causing suffering to animals is only permitted in cases such as agriculture that it is not permitted for any lesser needs. [2] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, Hilchos Treifos 33. The Rema in 33:9 notes that “it is the custom in our city (Krakow) to be lenient in the case of geese that are being fed by hand for increasing their fat, because there is an ordinance in the city which requires that geese be examined for perforations of the esophagus…” The Taz there recommends that one only feed the goose gently, using finely-ground food, to prevent any damage to the esophagus. [3] For further discussion, see Darkei Teshuvah ad loc.; Rabbi Binyomin Adler, Kashrus U’Tereifos B’Ohf 33:98-129; and Shailos U’Teshuvos Shevet HaLevi 9:153. [4] Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Chazon HaTzimchanus VeHaShalom. See too Ritva to Avodah Zarah 11a. [5] A statuette of a fattened goose, dated to more than 4500 years old from the Ancient Egyptian Empire, is exhibited at the Louvre. [6] Welfare Aspects of the Production of Foie Gras in Ducks and Geese, European Union’s Scienti?c Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare, December 16, 1998, section 5.4.7. [7] Ibid. section 8.1. [8] See Guemene D, Guy G, et al., “Force-feeding procedure and physiological indicators of stress in male mule ducks,” in British Poultry Science 2001 Dec. 42(5):650-7. The paper concluded that “we observed no significant indication that force-feeding is perceived as an acute or chronic stress by male mule ducks, in our experimental conditions.” [9] It seems likely that this distinction has been unnoticed by many who have assumed that since the rabbis of Europe did not mention the problem of cruelty to animals, there is no need for us to raise it. [10] Rabbi Itai Elitzur, Tzaar Baalei Chayim bePitum Avazim, Techumin vol. 24 p 110-112. [11] See Rabbi Dr. Itamar Warhaftig, response to Rabbi Elitzur in Techumin ibid. Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef in Yabia Omer vol. 9 Yoreh De’ah 3 prohibits foie gras production due to problems with both kashrus and tzaar baalei chayim.

=============== (c) Copyright by Rabbi Natan Slifkin 2007, All rights reserved. This essay may be further distributed free of charge, provided that the header and footer information is preserved intact.


August 11, 2011 at 3:03 pm Leave a comment

Shemirath Shabbath- A Guide to the Practical Observance of Shabbath

The following are quotes from the English translation of Rav Yehoshua Y. Neuwirth’s book:

12.20. In regard to ants and other insects which one finds, for example, on the kitchen floor, in the sink, or on the dishes,

a. one should not wash them away in a manner that will cause them to die,

b. not put down poison with the object of exterminating them,

c. nor deliberately tread on them, even in the process of walking.

20.9 One is allowed to move a keli she-melachto le-issur [an object which is used for performing an activity that is forbidden on Shabbath]

b. if one needs to use it (in a permitted manner) for an animal.

20.27. a. Peels, seeds (pips) and bones are not muktzeh and may be moved, if

1) they are fit for human consumption or

2) they are fit for animal consumption and there is an animal in the vicinity to whom they could be given.

20.33. a. 1) Food which is forbidden to eat both during and after Shabbath, but which is fit for a non-Jew to eat, is not muktzeh mei-chamath gufo.

2) Consequently one may move a piece of cooked meat which does not comply with the halachic requirements for consumption by a Jew, since it is fit to be eaten by a non-Jew.

b. 1) The same applies to non-kosher food which is fit to be fed only to an animal (if there is an animal in the vicinity to whom it could be given).

2) One may, therefore, move a piece of meat which is unfit for human consumpton, but which is fit to be given to an animal, even if the meat is uncooked.

20.40. a. Animals are muktzeh.

b. See Chapter 27, paragraphs 21 to 30, for the care of animals on Shabbath and Yom Tov.

21.2 a. Although, as we have seen in Chapter 20, paragraph 27, peels and bones which could be fed to an animal are not muktzeh on Shabbath, on Yom Tov one should adopt a stricter approach and treat as muktzeh

1) peels of this kind which have been separated from fruits or vegetables on Yom Tov and

2) bones of this kind from which the meat has been removed on Yom Tov…

c. 1) Furthermore, food which is fit for human consumption, but spoils on Yom Tov to the extent that it becomes fit only for animals, is muktzeh.

21.3. b. 2) one may not

a) eat an egg which was laid on Yom Tov,…or

d) move something which is muktzeh in order to feed it to an animal.

22.6. a. An animal which is alive at the commencement of Shabbath is muktzeh because of its inherent state as a live animal and not because of an act performed by any person.

b. Consequently, if the animal dies on Shabbath, it ceases to be muktzeh and one may cut up its carcass to feed to a dog.

c. 1) As can be seen from Chapter 21, paragraphs 1 and 2, a stricter attitude is taken on Yom Tov to the rules of muktzeh than on Shabbath.

2) Thus, an animal which has died that day should not be handled on Yom Tov, unless it was fataly ill when Yom Tov began.

22.42. Matters of a Repulsive Nature

a) Anything which one finds offensive because of its repulsive nature may be removed on Shabbath, even with one’s hand-despite the fact that it is muktzeh-from a place where it disturbs one and thrown in the garbage or down the toilet.

b) Instances of items which could fall within this category are excrement, refuse, bones (including those which are not fit even for animal consumption), a dead mouse and the carcass of a cat.

c) Items of this kind ay be removed not only from the house, but also if they are, for example,

1) in such a position in the street (in a place where there is an eiruv) that they disturb passers-by, or

2) in a place where their smell is a nuisance to people in the vicinity.

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August 10, 2011 at 5:04 pm Leave a comment

The Vegetarian Teachings of Rav Kook

by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D.

with the editorial assistance of Rabbi David Sears

Some of the strongest support for vegetarianism as a positive ideal in Torah literature may be found in the writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook (1865-1935). An outstanding student of the Netziv of Volozhin and other Lithuanian Gedolim, Rav Kook was first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel and a revolutionary Orthodox Jewish thinker in the early 20th century. He was a profound mystic, innovative halakhist, prolific writer and poet, and one of the foremost Torah scholars of modern times.

Rav Kook saw himself as a bridge between two worlds: the old world of the Europeanshtetl and the new world in which once-rigid religious, intellectual, and cultural boundaries were rapidly dissolving. Thus, he addressed the diverse questions of Jewish intellectuals torn between tradition and modernism, and inspired many people to pursue spiritual, rather than materialistic goals. He also urged the religious community to become more involved in social questions and efforts to improve the world. And he championed the return of the Jewish people to Israel, not only to escape persecution, like the proponents of secular Zionism, but to fulfill our religious destiny as individuals and a nation. His boldly stated teachings on ethical vegetarianism are found primarily in Chazon ha-Tzimchonut vi-ha-Shalom (“A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace”), edited by his saintly disciple Rabbi David Cohen (1887-1973), “The Nazir of Jerusalem.”

Based on careful scriptural analysis, Rav Kook contended that the Torah’s permission to eat meat was only a temporary concession; it was patently unthinkable to him that a Merciful God would forever impose a natural order by which animals would be killed for food. [i] He stated:

It is impossible to imagine that the Master of all that transpires, Who has mercy upon all His creatures, would establish an eternal decree such as this in the creation that He pronounced “exceedingly good,” that it should be impossible for the human race to exist without violating its own moral instincts by shedding blood, be it even the blood of animals. [ii]

Rav Kook inferred that the Torah’s phraseology – “after all the desire of your soul you may eat meat” – contained a concealed reproach. [iii] He predicted that a day would come when people will detest eating the flesh of animals because of a moral loathing -“and then it shall be said that ‘because your soul does not long to eat meat, you will not eat meat.'” [iv]

Along with permission to eat meat, Judaism mandates many laws and restrictions concerning the slaughter of animals and preparation of meat, which make up the bulk of the kosher laws. Rabbi Kook explained that the reprimand implied by these elaborate regulations is meant to raise the consciousness of the Jewish people, to get us to think about what we are eating and how we are eating, with the aim of eventually leading us back to God’s initial vegetarian regimen (Genesis 1:29). [v]

This echoes the words of the illustrious Torah commentator Rabbi Solomon Ephraim Lunchitz of Prague (d. 1619), author of K’li Yakar (“A Precious Vessel”):

What was the necessity for the entire procedure of ritual slaughter? For the sake of self-discipline. It is far more appropriate for man not to eat meat. Only if he has a strong desire for meat does the Torah permit it, and even this only after the trouble and inconvenience necessary to satisfy his desire. Perhaps because of the bother and annoyance of the whole procedure, he will be restrained from such a strong and uncontrollable desire for meat. [vi]

Rav Kook saw the craving for meat as a manifestation of spiritual decline, rather than an inherent need. Like medieval authorities Rabbi Isaac Arama, author of Akeidat Yitzchak(“Binding of Isaac”), and Rabbi Joseph Albo (1380-1444), author of Sefer ha-Ikkarim(“Book of Fundamentals”), he believed that in the days of the Messiah, all humanity would return to a vegetarian diet. [vii] Rav Kook stated that in the Messianic Epoch, “higher knowledge (da’at) will spread even to animals.” [viii] This echoes Isaiah’s prophecy: “And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox . . . They shall neither hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain (Isaiah 11:6-9).

According to the preeminent kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572), this may be taken literally: animals, too, will attain levels of wisdom and understanding that are now exclusively associated with humans, and they will return to the Edenic vegetarian diet. [ix]Rabbi Kook believed that the vegetarianism of the generations before Noah represented a high moral level, and that a virtue so precious could not be lost forever. [x] Therefore, in the Messianic Age, as in the beginning of creation, humans and animals will no longer eat flesh. [xi] Just as men will cease exploiting one another, the predatory instinct will be removed from the animal kingdom, and creatures will no longer kill one another to live.

Indeed, in another of his philosophical works, Rav Kook asserted that during the Messianic Age, the sacrificial offerings in the Third Holy Temple in Jerusalem will consist of vegetation alone. [xii]

Rav Kook’s Critique of Vegetarianism

Yet despite Rav Kook’s sympathy toward vegetarianism, he did not take an unequivocal position. He understood vegetarianism as representing a higher level of piety for those inclined toward it on ascetic grounds, and because it is associated with the peace and harmony of the Messianic Age. However, he regarded the widespread adoption of vegetarianism with caution. Rav Kook’s vegetarian ideal is primarily associated with the “End of Days.” Therefore, recent critics of vegetarianism have used some of Rav Kook’s other teachings and personal practices to oppose this diet. Below are some examples, with responses from a pro-vegetarian point of view following in each case.

1. Rav Kook was not a vegetarian.

Response: While Rav Kook ate a small amount of chicken on Shabbat as a symbolic reminder that the Messianic Age had not yet arrived, his diet was primarily vegetarian, and he felt that vegetarianism represented a Jewish ideal. Moreover, his leading disciple Rabbi David Cohen, the “Nazir,” was a devout vegetarian, with his master’s blessing. (As mentioned above, the Nazir compiled and edited Rav Kook’s “Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace,” based on two earlier essays.) According to all authorities, we are now much closer to the Messianic Age; what the world is going through is only the “darkness before the dawn.” Therefore, if personal practice were the only problem with enlisting Rav Kook in the vegetarian camp, this would not constitute an insurmountable problem. Given all that has happened in the last one hundred years, we cannot state with certainty that Rav Kook would still hesitate to fully embrace vegetarianism if he were alive today.

2. Rav Kook did not allow his son Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook to become a vegetarian, and even encouraged him to study ritual slaughter.

A leading authority on Rav Kook’s thought, Rabbi Bezalel Naor, has recently mustered evidence that Rav Kook did not approve of his son’s youthful desire to become a vegetarian, objecting that just such “poetic souls” are obliged to eat at least a modicum of meat in these times. [xiii] This appears to be consistent with Rav Kook’s personal custom (although one letter indicates that he also was concerned for his son’s health). [xiv] The reason for this attitude apparently reflects the kabbalistic doctrine of the “elevation of the holy sparks” present in such foods. Their ascent is only accomplished when those of high spiritual attainments consume them and then use the energy derived from the food to study the Torah and perform the mitzvot.

Being central to Jewish mysticism, the argument of “elevating the holy sparks” is an unassailable one. However, its “flip side” is that most of us lack the qualifications to bring about this tikkun (spiritual rectification). The kabbalists warn that the entire enterprise of eating is a risky business. If one fails to elevate the transmigrated souls and holy sparks trapped in food, one may be harmed by them. This is especially true of meat. Therefore, many great Jewish mystics minimized or entirely avoided eating meat, as Rabbi Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini (1833-1903) states in his masterwork, S’dei Chemed (“A Desirable Field”). [xv] This caution would seem to apply particularly to an ordinary person, lacking the requisite attainments to elevate the holy sparks in meat.

What complicates things is that Rav Kook seems to have taken contradictory positions. On the one hand, he understood vegetarianism as befitting those more highly evolved individuals who are closer to the Messianic ideal. (This view is reflected in the works of the medieval sages Rabbi Isaac Arama and Rabbi Joseph Albo, mentioned above.) An example that immediately comes to mind is his disciple, the Nazir. Just to double-check, we recently called the Nazir’s son, Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa and president of Ariel Institute. He informed us that Rav Kook was entirely approving of his father’s vegetarianism, since he knew the Nazir to be a spiritually refined person and an accomplished Torah scholar. At the same time, though, Rav Kook apparently considered eating meat to be the spiritual responsibility of individuals of this caliber – for example, his son, Rabbi Zvi Yehudah. (This view represents many kabbalists and Chassidim, theschool of Chabad in particular.)

Rav Kook’s self-contradiction is not lost on Rabbi Naor, although he does not attempt to resolve it. The sources Rabbi Naor presents overtly address the issue of shechitah, but they go hand in hand with Rav Kook’s views on the spiritual and ethical aspects of eating meat. In a letter dated Jaffa, 1909, Rav Kook writes to his disciple, Benjamin Menashe Levin:

It goes against the clear emotions of the heart that a talmid chakham(Torah scholar), a spiritual man, should be permanently engaged in the taking of animals’ lives. Though shechitah (ritual slaughter)—and in general the consumption of animals—remains a necessity in this world, nevertheless, it would be fitting that this work be done by men who have not yet evolved to the level of refinement of feeling. Educated ethicists, on the other hand, should be supervisors (pekidim) to insure that the killing of the animals be not barbaric, and that there enter into this entire area of meat consumption an ethereal light which might one day illumine the world. This [light] is truly contained in the laws of shechitah and tereifot(unfit animals), as is well known to us. (Igrot Rayah, vol. I, p. 230)

This clearly indicates that the shechitah inevitably goes against the grain of a spiritually evolved person’s sensibilities. However, in a series of letters written between 1916-1917 to his son studying in Switzerland, he states:

“I am pleased that you agree to study shechitah. I accept that you delay the study until after the holidays of Tishrei. These days do not afford the tranquility necessary for one starting this expertise, especially if he be a poetic soul…” (Ibid. p. 53)

“It is several letters now that I have forgotten to inquire whether you are practicing shechitah. How does the matter appear to you? How do you relate to this holy work? For sensitive, thinking people, it requires will power, strength of character blessed with patience.” (Ibid. p. 79)

One might speculate that Rav Kook may have felt that to become an “educated ethicist,” his son needed to gain hands-on knowledge of shechitah. Or perhaps he was being disingenuous. The elder Kook may have felt that for religious or emotional reasons, his son needed to engage in such tasks. In addition, he may have felt that the young man could not be relied upon to practice vegetarianism responsibly, especially while living away from home.

Whatever the case, it must be acknowledged that despite these ambiguous remarks aboutshechitah, Rav Kook clearly sees animal slaughter and the consumption of meat as moral concessions. Consider his concluding words in “A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace”(italics added):

At that time [i.e. the Messianic Age] human beings will recognize their companions in creation: all the animals. They will understand how it is fitting from the standpoint of the purest ethical standard not to resort to moral concessions, to compromise the divine attribute of justice with that of mercy [by permitting mankind’s exploitation of animals]  for they will no longer need extenuating concessions, as in those matters of which the Talmud states: “The Torah speaks only of the evil inclination” (TBKiddushin 21b). Rather they will walk the path of absolute good. As the prophet declares: “I will make a covenant for them with the animals of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; I also will banish the bow and sword, and war from the land” (Hosea 2:20).

3. Rav Kook considered vegetarianism as an ideal for the Messianic Age when people will have a heightened spiritual awareness, but he argued that vegetarianism should not be widely adopted as a norm of human conduct before that time.

Response: A pragmatic reply would be that as we become increasingly aware of the devastating effects of animal-based diets and animal agriculture on human health and environmental sustainability, waiting for the Messianic Age to shift toward vegetarianism appears to be something that the world can no longer afford to do.

Many of the problems related to modern intensive livestock agriculture have become far worse since Rav Kook died in 1935. One can only wonder what his views would be today if he were aware of the diseases, soaring medical costs, increasing environmental threats, widespread hunger, cruel treatment of animals, and other negative effects of animal-centered diets and agriculture. Rav Kook did not address these practical issues, which no doubt seemed less urgent one hundred years ago.

There is a spiritual reply, as well. In a booklet that summarizes many of Rav Kook’s teachings, the late Joe Green, a Jewish vegetarian writer, concluded that by adopting the vegetarian diet that will be practiced during the Messianic Age, Jewish religious vegetarians are “pioneers” of that long-awaited time. They are leading lives that reflect some of our loftiest religious ideals, and thus hasten the coming of the Messiah. [xvi]

More decisively, in recent times there have been a number of vegetarian Chief Rabbis, all of whom have ties to Rav Kook’s school of thought – including the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel; Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Haifa; Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of England; and Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland. None of them have advised “ordinary” Jews not to be vegetarians. On the contrary, by their word and example they have shown that vegetarianism is a legitimate Jewish option, even today.

4. Rav Kook asserted that at present, other societal issues such as the enmity between nations and racial discrimination should be of greater moral concern to humanity than the well being of animals. Hence, he advocated that people first work on such societal issues rather than on improving the lives of animals.

Response: Vegetarian diets are not beneficial only to animals. They also improve human health, help the hungry through better sharing of food and other resources, put less stress on endangered ecosystems, conserve valuable resources, and in so doing reduce the potential for war and violence. As Chassidic master Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) wryly observes, “The fighting doesn’t begin until the food runs out!” [xvii] In view of the many global threats related to today’s livestock agriculture, involving the raising of 50 billion farmed animals worldwide annually, working to promote vegetarianism may be one of the most important actions one could take for the benefit of humanity and our imperiled planet.

Without a doubt, Rav Kook is correct is stating that there is a hierarchy of moral concern. Judaism clearly rejects the moral equivalence of animals and humans. However, it could be argued on firm rabbinic grounds that the two spheres of concern are not mutually exclusive. Compassion is “contagious.” Showing kindness and sympathy toward anyone or anything tends to increase similar sentiments toward other living things.

This concept is implied by Maimonides in Moreh Nevuchim (“Guide of the Perplexed”), where he discusses the Noachide Commandment of eiver min ha-chai, the prohibition of eating the limb of a living animal. He says this is prohibited “because such an act would produce cruelty and develop it.” [xviii] The same idea is reiterated by the author of Sefer ha-Chinnuch (“Book of Instruction”). [xix] This reflects the interpretation of the Midrash Tanchuma that Israel was given the laws of shechitah (ritual slaughter) in order to refine their moral sensitivities. [xx] Some authorities also understand this to be among the reasons for the scriptural prohibition of tzaar baalei chaim (cruelty to animals). [xxi] This assumption is supported by scientific studies showing that those who abuse animals as children often go on to commit violent crimes as adults. [xxii] The converse is also true: compassion toward animals leads to compassion toward other humans. This is stated by the Sefer ha-Chinnuch concerning the law of not muzzling an ox while it is treading grain and elsewhere. [xxiii]

Often one hears comments that the Nazis were kind to their animals, yet were cruel to humans. The implication is that for some reason, those who are kind to animals lose all compassion for humans. This is the antithesis of the principle espoused by Maimonides and other authorities above. However, even if there were cases in which a Nazi was nice to his dog or cow, this would not invalidate compassion to animals as a moral virtue. Rav Kook himself said that even in the worst of people one could find some admirable traits. The claim that Hitler was a vegetarian happens to be spurious: his biographers have pointed out that he enjoyed Bavarian sausages, and ate pork, liver, and the flesh of animals taken in hunting. [xxiv] Hitler was the antithesis of an ethical vegetarian. But even if we should find that certain cruel and deluded people nevertheless have felt sympathy toward animals, what would this prove?

If critics of vegetarianism must resort to “character assassination,” no doubt it is possible to find some immoral or wrong-headed people who are also vegetarians. Let us say it openly: vegetarianism does not validate all of the opinions and habits of its adherents – nor is it the solution to all of the world’s problems! However, when judged on its own merits, vegetarianism may rightfully be perceived as an important part of that solution.

5. Rav Kook criticized people who promote vegetarianism these days, in our imperfect world, fearing they might use vegetarianism as an excuse not to be involved in other important societal issues.

Response: Certainly Rav Kook was right in criticizing anyone so deluded as to think such a thing. However, in fact, many famous vegetarians have also been great humanitarians, concerned about improving conditions for people as well as animals. Some examples are Leo Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw, Mahatma Gandhi, Leonardo da Vinci, Plutarch, Franz Kafka, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and S. Y. Agnon. One would assume that without exception this includes Orthodox Jewish vegetarians, who are dedicated to upholding all of the Torah’s commandments, whether they apply to our relationship with God, our fellow men, or animals and nature.

Vegetarianism need not be a retreat from our responsibilities toward humanity. Rather, it is an important way to improve the lot of the world’s population. Moreover, what ethical vegetarian claims that issues affecting the well being of people should be ignored so that greater attention can be given to improving conditions for animals? If such individuals exist, they are few and far between. Indeed, their main claim to fame would be in providing an “easy target” for those who seek to delegitimize ethical vegetarianism.

In reality, animal activists tend to be deeply concerned about the problems of their fellow humans. One example immediately comes to mind: for most of history there has been a prevailing attitude that children do not have “rights,” just as many people feel that way today about animals. Yet, it was the animal welfare people who spearheaded the drive to institute child labor laws and avoid the shameful exploitation of poor children in the United States, all this at a time when others saw nothing wrong with the way children were being treated. [xxv] If we look at the human plight in the world today, no reasonable person, vegetarian or otherwise, could possibly think that all of the problems affecting us have been solved.

6. Despite his strongly pro-vegetarian stance, Rav Kook considered this diet to represent a spiritual rung that is presently too difficult for most human beings to attain.

Response: As we have mentioned, there is a time-honored tradition of ascetic vegetarianism in Judaism, particularly among the kabbalists. Certainly this type of vegetarianism is appropriate only to a spiritual elite. However, the vegetarian of today is not so restricted as his forebears (at least not in modern western societies). Virtually every supermarket offers an increasingly varied selection of vegetarian foods, some with the texture and taste of animal products. Most of these products have a hechsher (kosher supervisory symbol). Therefore, it does not require such a great sacrifice for a person to switch to a vegetarian diet today.

Yet even if a person felt that a completely vegetarian regime would be too restrictive, it would be beneficial to reduce the amount of meat in one’s diet, perhaps limiting it to the Shabbat, Yom Tov, and special festive occasions. The health benefits alone of such “semi-vegetarianism” would still be significant. Moreover, this is consistent with the practice of many devout Jews even today, who consider indulgence in meat during ordinary weekdays to be a form of gluttony.

Several authorities, including Don Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1509), Rabbi Ovadia Sforno (1470-1550), and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888), point out that the Torah’s concession for humans to slaughter animals for food is dictated by need. [xxvi] Since the biblical Flood, the world’s climate has been radically altered, as well as man’s physical constitution. Therefore, indigenous populations of places like the Himalayas or the Andesthat have short growing seasons may have no recourse but to raise animals for food. Let us concede this. Yet what percentage of the world’s population lives under such extreme conditions? According to the Worldwatch Institute:

Global meat consumption is highly concentrated, dominated by only a few nations. The United States and China , which contain 25% of the world’s population, combine to consume 35% of the world’s beef, over half of the world’s poultry, and 65% of the world’s pork. If Brazil and the European Union are included, this group consumes over 60% of the world’s beef, over 70% of the world’s poultry, and over 80% of the world’s pork. [xxvii]

Most of us eat meat not because we must, but because we desire it, we’re used to it, and despite the annual warnings of the American Dietetic Association, we don’t know better.

7. Rav Kook believed that when people take on austerities for which they are insufficiently prepared, their uncorrected evil traits inevitably will manifest themselves in other, possibly more harmful ways. He also observed that a common psychological strategy for a corrupt person is to whitewash his self-image by finding an extremely idealistic cause to champion. He felt that these dangers apply to ethical vegetarianism. If the premature embrace of this lofty expression of compassion for animals should fail, Rav Kook warned, it could lead to moral regression — even to cannibalism. [xxviii]

Response: One would be hard pressed to find any religious Jewish vegetarians who advocate that the consumption of animal products be banned, based on halachah (Torah law). The law is clear that animals may be slaughtered to serve any legitimate human need, that of food in particular. Jewish vegetarians fully acknowledge that we have a choice -but this choice should not be made on the basis of desire alone, but only after considering modern-day realities of the production and consumption of meat, and how such procedures too often impinge on basic Jewish teachings. Ethical vegetarianism belongs to the category of lifnim meshurat ha-din – going beyond the “letter of the law” in order to emulate the divine attribute of mercy and compassion. However, should a person feel unable to remain on a vegetarian diet, he or she certainly has the option of returning to the former meat-based diet.

As for the assertion that people deprived of the ability to eat meat might become cannibals, it has not been demonstrated that there have ever been cannibals who were formerly vegetarians. If anything, the opposite is true: carnivores deprived of meat have been known to become cannibalistic. [xxix]

In fact, as Rav Kook acknowledges, humans have a deeply ingrained ambivalence toward eating meat. We try to suppress our awareness of everything that went into the production of that meat — suffering on factory farms and during transport, pain of slaughtering, etc. This is one of the reasons why meat products are packaged and served the way they are. When one stops eating meat, such thoughts no longer have to be suppressed.

Yet there is something to Rav Kook’s equivocation. It must be admitted that vegetarianism may be used for self-serving psychological ends. Some may even use vegetarianism an outlet for their anger at social convention, or even the human condition as a whole. However, here, too, one must acknowledge that this can be true of any worthy cause – and often is. It is unfair to single out vegetarianism for such criticism.

8. According to Rav Kook, because people had fallen to an extremely low spiritual level, it was necessary that they be given an elevated image of themselves as compared to animals. He feared that vegetarians might forget their human superiority and come to think of themselves as beasts. [xxx]

Response: This argument was previously made by 14th century Jewish philosopher, Rabbi Joseph Albo. Yet he acknowledges that once a person has come to realize and embrace the higher spiritual calling of human beings, the need to consume meat as a reminder of that higher calling falls away. [xxxi]

The reason why we should concern ourselves with the plight of animals is precisely because we are human. If Jewish teachings regarding both people and animals were more widely known and put into practice, people would become aware of both the sanctity of every person, created in the image of God, and the fact that our mandate to imitate God’s attributes of compassion and justice dictates that we improve conditions for animals. A vegetarian diet should only reinforce our humanness, and thus elevate our moral sensitivities and standards.

Moreover, if we look at the behavior of most animals and compare it with the behavior of mankind, animals might not fare so badly. Many years ago (and perhaps today), the Bronx Zoo had a cage labeled “the world’s most dangerous animal.” Looking between the bars, all you could see was your reflection in a mirror! Animals kill for food and for reasons of survival, whereas humans also kill for power and even pleasure. Humans have the faculty of speech, but it is often used for evil, be it slander, lashon hara(badmouthing), profanity, or just plain humiliation. This echoes the words of our sages in the Talmudic discussion of the laws of damages: “A human being is always considered dangerous (mu’ad, literally “forewarned”), whether inadvertently or intentionally, whether asleep or awake.” [xxxii]

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat, Israel, infers the human potential for great good or great evil in the biblical command that human beings have “dominion” over other creatures (Genesis 1:26). [xxxiii] He points out that vi’yirdu, the Hebrew word for “have dominion,” can also mean “to descend.” Thus, he observes, “The very ability to rise above our animal instincts can also cause us to sink to levels of depravity far below an animal’s capacity.” It may be argued that one of the ways we may affirm our human moral superiority is by showing greater compassion toward animals, rather than by yielding to our own base instincts in wantonly and heartlessly exploiting the animal kingdom.

In conclusion, the present state of animal agriculture and the excessive consumption of meat in our society lead to the violation of basic Jewish values, and have disastrous consequences for human health and environmental sustainability. Rav Kook believed that vegetarianism is the diet most consistent with Jewish teachings, and none of his secondary concerns – expressed before the widespread expansion of factory farming with all its attendant problems, as well as animal slaughter by mass production – should prevent Jews from electing to follow vegetarian diets, in anticipation of that time when “none shall hurt nor destroy in all of God’s holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:9).


[i] Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace, sec. 1, 4; in English translation, see David Sears, The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism (Orot 3003), pp. 338-339; also Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Deuteronomy, (Jerusalem: World Zionist Organization 1980), pp. 135-142.

[ii] A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace, sec. 1.

[iii] Ibid. sec. 4; also see the discussion in Joe Green, “Chalutzim of the Messiah: The Religious Vegetarian Concept as Expounded by Rabbi Kook,” p. 2.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] “Fragments of Light” in Ben Zion Bokser, trans., Abraham Isaac Kook (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), pp. 316-321.

[vi] Cited in Abraham Chill, The Commandments and Their Rationale (New York, 1974), p. 400; also cf. The Vision of Eden, idem, pp. 184-185, citing Kli Yakar, Deut. 12:20.

[vii] A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace, sec. 6, 32; also see “Vegetarianism From a Jewish Perspective”, Rabbi Alfred Cohen. Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Vol. 1, No. 2, (Fall, 1981).

[viii] Olat Rayah, Vol. 1, p. 292.

[ix] Rabbi Chaim Vital, Sha’ar ha-Mitzvot, Ekev, 42a.

[x] A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace, sec. 6, 32.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Olat Rayah, I, p. 292, based on the Midrashic teaching that all of the sacrifices are destined to be abolished except for the Thanksgiving Offering.

[xiii] Zemach Zvi: Letters of Rav Zvi Yehudah Hakohen Kook (Jerusalem 1991), pp. 110, 138-139; Bezalel Naor, “Rav Kook on Shehitah Versus Vegetarianism: Selected Letters of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook,” formerly posted on

[xiv] Igrot Rayah I, p. 82.

[xv] Sdei Chemed, Inyan “Achilah,” translated in The Vision of Eden, op cit., pp. 327-329.

[xvi] Green, “Chalutzim of the Messiah,” p. 1.

[xvii] Sefer ha-Middot, Inyan “Merivah” I, 60; cf. TB Bava Metzia 59a.

[xviii] Moreh Nevukhim (Guide of the Perplexed) 3:48.

[xix] Sefer ha-Chinnuch, Mitzvah 452.

[xx] Tanchuma, Shemini, 7.

[xxi] E.g. Sefer ha-Chinnuch, idem; also see The Vision of Eden, pp. 65-66.

[xxii] Clifton P. Flynn, “Animal Abuse in Childhood and Later Support for Interpersonal Violence in Families,” Society and Animals, vol. 7, no. 2, 1999; journal digest version available online at

[xxiii] Sefer ha-Chinnuch, Mitzvah 596.

[xxiv] See Rynn Berry, Hitler: Neither Vegetarian Nor Animal Lover (New York/Los Angeles: Pythagorean Publishers, 2004).

[xxv] The first anti-cruelty laws in the United States were enacted on behalf of animals. However, within four years of the ASPCA’s establishment in 1866, the organization’s founder Henry Bergh had enlisted Elbridge Gerry as the ASPCA’s counsel. The two men soon began to protest the maltreatment of children, leading to reform in this area, as well. Online see (“The Catalyst”). For ongoing attempts to redress these abuses, see (Howard Davidson, “The Link Between Animal Abuse and Child Maltreatment”).

[xxvi] The Vision of Eden, idem, pp. 188-190.

[xxvii] Statistics cited in 7.2.98 Worldwatch Institute press release: “United States Leads World Meat Stampede,” available online at

[xxviii] A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace, sec. 6; 9, 11; Ein Ayah, Berachot, Vol. II, 7:41.

[xxix] In The Vision of Eden, idem, pp. 160-161, note 7, the author states: “This apprehension is not borne out by studies of vegetarian societies or communities, such as those in the Far East. If anything, it appears that vegetarian societies are less prone to moral regression (much less cannibalism) than others. However, there are numerous precedents for societies with meat-based diets turning to cannibalism when unable to obtain sufficient meat from animals; see Louis Berman, Vegetarianism and the Jewish Tradition (1982), pp. 19-20, citing Reay Tannahill, Flesh and Blood: A History of the Cannibal Complex (1975) and other sources.”

[xxx] Ibid. sec. 8 (end).

[xxxi] Sefer ha-Ikkarim 3:15.

[xxxii] Mishnah: Bava Kamma 2:6.

[xxxiii] Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, “We Can Master Sin,” Jewish News of Greater Phoenix, 10.16.98, Vol. 51, No. 4.


August 10, 2011 at 3:56 pm Leave a comment

Pets & Halacha-The Yeshiva World News

Here is a link to the Pets & Halacha discussion in The Yeshiva World News Coffee Room Bais Medrash.


August 8, 2011 at 6:55 am Leave a comment

Milk from a Possibly Treif Cow

Milk from a Possibly Treif Cow

 Halacha states that milk from a tereifah animal – meaning an animal which suffers from a mortal wound, as understood by Chazal – is non-kosher. (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 81:1) This prompts a good question: How can one know whether or not the milk he consumes is from a tereifah cow?

There is another halachic axiom that “Rov beheimos kesheiros”- “Most animals are presumed to be kosher” (and one need not suspect that they are tereifos – Chulin 12a [v.Rashi d.h. Pesach] and Shach s.k. 2 on YD 39:1). Thus, one can safely assume that the milk from a randomly-selected cow is kosher, unless data to the contrary is provided.

In contemporary times, when dairy farms and milk processing have become industrialized and are subject to the demands of a mass-production society, there may be additional factors to consider. Let’s take a look.

As a result of a diet that is heavy in grain, dairy cows sometimes suffer from displaced abomasum (hereafter referred to as “DA” ). This condition signifies that the fourth stomach section – the abomasum – has moved out of position, due to built-up gas or fluid. DA impedes a dairy cow’s maximum functionality, and it is often addressed by veterinary intervention. (See Metabolic Diseases of Dairy Cattle-Displaced Abomasum, BJ Harris and JK Shearer – University of Florida-IFAS Extension.)

Although there are several treatments available to rectify DA, one common treatment involves piercing the three walls of the abomasum by making three unaligned holes, allowing for the release of excess gas when the holes are momentarily aligned. Some poskim have questioned this procedure, suggesting that it might render a cow a tereifah (as a punctured abomasum, or keivah, makes an animal a tereifah – YD 48:1). Other recognized poskim, including those whose opinions are consulted by the accepted national kashrus agencies, have ruled that as a practical matter, there is no concern. Among the arguments for this latter position is that the incisions in the three layers of the abomasum are not aligned, such that there is not a direct puncture flush through the abomasum. Furthermore, the Shach (YD 57:48) rules that an animal of questionable tereifah status can be proven and established to not be a tereifah if it lives for 12 months subsequent to the condition that may render it a tereifah. This may well apply to DA cows, whose halachic status is at worst a questionable one. Some poskim additionally argue for leniency regarding DA cows’ kosher status because the puncture for treatment of DA is totally sealed upon completion of the treatment. (For a complete discussion of the halachic implications of DA treatments, see Rabbi Y. Belsky and Rabbi M. Heinemann in Mesorah v. 10 pp.62-78, Rabbi M. Genack in Tradition 29:2, and Rabbi J.D. Bleich in Contemporary Halachic Problems vol. 5.)

Producers of cholov Yisroel milk are also exposed to the problem of DA cows. Segregating non-DA cows from a herd is an arduous task that requires a large measure of diligence. Mashgichim, veterinarians, farm managers and workers must all be vigilant and cooperate in order to effectively segregate non-DA cows from a large heard.

It must be noted that the halachic status of DA cows is not a very new issue. Surgery on DA cows has been performed for many decades, and prominent poskim (see above) have addressed the issue over the years.

Irrespective of the status of an animal which underwent surgical correction of DA, there is a broader halachic consideration, for an unknown, widely-varying minority ratio of cows in grain-fed herds develops DA, and one needs to question whether or not this divergent minority of DA cows impacts the larger milk supply.

Statistics indicate that 1-9% of cows in a random herd are affected by DA. (Documented mean DA rates are 1.4%-5.8%. See Causes and Prevention of Displaced Abomasum in Dairy Cows, Dr. Randy Shaver – Department of Dairy Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison.) The incidence of DA depends on several factors, including environment and diet, and there is no set method to calculate the DA risk ratio. Research by this author of two farms in one region of Upstate New York indicates that one farm had a 4% population of DA cows, whereas another farm had less than 1%. The overall national average population of DA dairy cows is 4%, but the truth is that the statistical ratio of DA cows in milk herds which factor in for halachic purposes is somewhat less than this figure, as not all DA cows undergo surgery, and many farmers permanently remove DA cows from their herds as a result of such cows’ poor productivity and long-term stability for milking.

How do the above statistics affect the halachic considerations?

On a d’Oraysa (Biblical) level, we hold in all cases that Min b’mino batel b’rov – the status of a mixture of identical objects goes according to the majority. However, when dealing with min b’mino mixtures of liquids, there is a din d’Rabbonon (rabbinic law) which states that the mixture is kosher only if the amount of heter (kosher substance) present is sixty times the amount of issur (non-kosher substance). In cases of safek (doubt) as to whether there is bittul b’shishim (nullification by sixty), we are lenient, as the entire requirement of shishim is d’Rabbonon. (See YD 98:2 and Taz. Ibid. s.k. 3.) In light of the fact that the presence of DA cows in a given herd can vary greatly, such that a random tanker or silo of milk may be assumed to contain less than 1% or up to 9% milk from DA cows, there is a safek of bittul b’shishim, which would permit any milk. Furthermore, even if one were to assume that the average bottle of milk contains 4% milk from DA cows that underwent surgery, the milk would nonetheless be permissible, as there is a machlokes (halachic dispute) as to whether such DA cows are kosher, and since the matter is one of safek, and the need for bittul b’shishim is only d’Rabbonon, the result is that the milk is deemed kosher.

There is a rule that “Kol d’parish mi-ruba parish” – “Anything that separates out (of a series of sources among which the minority are not kosher) is governed by the status of the majority”. Thus, if there are nine kosher butcher shops and one non-kosher butcher shop in a common area, and an unidentified piece of meat that must have come from one of these shops is found in the public market nearby, the meat is deemed kosher, representative of the majority. (YD 110:3) The same logic may apply to milk from herds with DA cows, for even if we assume the worst – that DA cows are definitely tereifos and the DA cow population is spread out evenly at a 4% ratio – milk which is purchased at the consumer level may nonetheless be said to emanate from the majority of cows, which are kosher. Even though every container of milk derives from large dairy silos which contain blends of milk from hundreds or thousands of cows, the rule of kol d’parish may establish that the product before us is considered to be a blend from the (kosher) majority. (Kol d’parish applies when there is a known source of issur – non-kosher substance. Because a definitive presence of DA cows is not known in any given herd, it is reasonable that the simple rule of ‘Azlinan basar ruba’ – ‘We go according to the majority’ (Chulin ibid.) – may apply instead of Kol d’parish. This approach would yield the exact same result in our case as does Kol d’parish.)

There is also a maxim that “Kol kavu’a k’mechtzah al mechtzah dami” – “The fixed presence of a non-kosher substance creates a 50/50 chance (that an unidentified item taken from the source area is non-kosher)”, such that if one were to enter and purchase meat from one of the butcher shops in the above case and not recall in which shop he made his purchase, the meat purchased has a 50% chance of being non-kosher and can therefore not be eaten (YD ibid.). This rule does not apply to milk from DA cows, as it requires that a Yisroel have knowledge of the definite presence of the non-kosher source at the time the purchase was made (in the case of butcher shops) or at the time the milk was extracted (YD 110:5). In the case of DA cows, there is no knowledge on the part of a Yisroel as to a specific cow’s DA status and that it underwent surgery, for such cows are not recognizable, except to veterinarians (who can detect a cow’s DA surgical history based on scar tissue). The inability to identify a specific source of issur precludes the rule of kavua. (Shach ibid. s.k. 28), Furthermore, even if a DA cow would be clearly-identified as such to a mashgiach or Jewish consumer at the time of its milking, the rule of kavua would not apply to the milk when it is drunk, for milk from DA cows would never present itself to the dairy or consumer in its pure, original form. Because the milk of each cow is blended with milk from hundreds or thousands of other cows at the dairy itself, milk from this hypothetical known DA cow would be diluted to the point at which the regular rules of bittul would apply. Therefore, the din of kavua is inapplicable.

What about tereifah non-DA cows? Isn’t there surely a certain proportion of cows among the herds that are tereifos, especially cows with sirchos – lung adhesions – which are common? (Shach s.k. 2 on YD 39:1)

The truth is that even if, upon shechitah, an animal is determined to be a tereifah as a result of sirchos in its lungs, its milk is kosher. (YD 81:2) This is so because of a s’fek s’feika l’kula – a double doubt in favor of leniency – for there are two factors which combine to permit this animal’s milk: 1) There is a chance that the sirchos developed after the animal was milked, such that the sirchos were absent during the milking, which means that the animal and its milk were kosher upon milking. 2) Every time an animal is ruled to be a tereifah due to sirchos, its status as a tereifah is not definitive, as we are not truly expert in sirchos and are therefore strict in determining tereifah status based on them; thus, cases which are deemed non-kosher based on sirchos may actually be inherently kosher. (See YD ibid. Tur ibid. from Rosh, Be’er Hetev ibid. S.k. 8 and Aruch Ha-Shulchan YD 81:27.)

Based on the above, even if every milk cow would be slaughtered and found to be a tereifah due to sirchos, its milk would be permissible (with the possible exception of milk produced within three days of shechitah – see YD ibid.; this would not be a factor, however, in practical dairy situations.)

Furthermore – and this applies to tereifos of all types (such as punctured or missing organs) – the general chezkas kashrus (presumption of kosher status) of all animals (kosher species, of course) allows one to consume milk without concern for the possible presence of tereifos. (See YD 39:2 with Shach s.k. 8.) Unless one has information to counter an animal’s chezkas kashrus, its milk and meat are permissible.

One may think it logical to ask why we don’t take a totally different approach and reason that since a certain percentage (possibly 10% or more) of cows in the general cow population is comprised of tereifos, and since all milk processed in modern dairies is a mixture of the milk of large herds which on average have some tereifos (likely 10% or more, reflective of the general statistics), why not assume that all milk contains an admixture of 10% or more from tereifos? In short, shouldn’t all milk made from mixtures of large herds be assumed to be non-kosher? Should we not assume that 10% or higher of all milk in dairy silos is from tereifos and thereby renders all milk with which it is blended non-kosher?

The Shulchan Aruch and Remo (ibid.) rule otherwise, stating that a mixture of milk from one known tereifah animal and a herd of 60 cows that are assumed to be kosher is permissible; we do not treat the mixture as containing additional tereifah milk from the likely additional percentage of tereifos in the herd. The Shach (ibid. s.k. 6, quoting the Issur V’Heter and Toras Chattas) and the Gro (ibid. s.k. 11) explain that we can assume the balance of animals in the herd to be kosher, as Rov beheimos k’sheiros, and the Sifsei Da’as (ibid. s.k. 6) specifically notes that we do not suspect that the 60 animals presumed to be kosher are possibly really tereifos, as Rov beheimos k’sheiros is the governing principle. The rationale for this is that each animal’s kosher status is established at the time it is milked, prior to the milk from the herd being mixed together. We therefore view each animal at the moment it is milked as kosher, based on Rov beheimos k’sheiros, and its milk is considered to be kosher when it is subsequently blended.

To illustrate this principle, let’s travel back in time to the pre-industrial era, when a glass of milk derived from one cow rather than from a milk mixture of hundreds or thousands of cows. In this scenario, a dairy farmer who regularly drinks the milk of his own herd will likely consume over the course of his lifetime milk from hundreds of cows. Even though we may assume that at least 10% of cows are tereifos, and on a statistical level the farmer must have consumed some milk from tereifos, we do not view it this way from an halachic stance, as Rov beheimos k’sheiros dictates that each cow had kosher status when it was milked; every cow’s kosher status is determined individually, not collectively. So too in the case of contemporary milk production is the kosher status of every cow established when it is milked, regardless of the fact that its milk will be mixed with milk from hundreds or thousands of cows. Halacha does not look at the aggregate milk mixture and proclaim that the mixture is statistically 10% or more from tereifos; rather, the kashrus of the milk mixture is fixed beforehand, for the status of the milk of each cow which contributed to it was established as kosher upon milking. Therefore, the milk of each cow is ruled to be kosher as its exits the cow, and the fact that a given ratio of milk in any mixture may be 10% or more from tereifos is inconsequential from an halachic perspective.

The kashrus of milk once again attests to the many and complex halachic considerations that factor into what would appear to be of the most simple foods.

A full treatment of the many issues related to the status of DA cows is beyond the scope of this article, which is intended only as a brief introduction to the issue for the general public.


August 8, 2011 at 6:33 am Leave a comment

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