"A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace"
By HaRav Avraham Yitzchak Kuk
As edited by his disciple, HaRav David Kohen, the Nazir
Translated by Rabbi David Sears
The Just Treatment of Animals
There is a fundamental part of a lofty, humane, and
progressive sensibility that, according to the present
state of the prevailing culture, exists today only in
the pleasant dream of a few extremely idealistic souls:
an innate ethical striving, a feeling for what is humane
and just, to consider the rights of animals, with all
that this entails.
Certain cruel philosophies, especially those that denied
belief in God, according to their views on human ethics
based upon reason, have advocated that man completely
stifle within himself any sense of justice for animals.
However, they have not succeeded, nor shall they succeed,
with all their self-serving cleverness, in perverting
the innate sense of justice that the Creator planted
within the human soul. Although sympathy for animals
is like the glow of a smoldering ember buried under
a great heap of ashes, nevertheless, it is impossible
for them to negate this sensitivity within every feeling
heart. For as a rule, the lack of morality among all
humanity consists in failing to heed the good and noble
instinct not to take any form of life, whether for one's
needs or physical gratification.
Our sages did not agree with these philosophical views.
They tell us that the holy Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi was
visited with afflictions because he told a calf being
led to slaughter, that had sought refuge in the skirts
of his garment, "Go! This is the purpose for which
you were created." His healing, too, was brought
about by a deed, when he showed mercy to some weasels
(Baba Metzia 85a). They did not conduct themselves like
the philosophers, who exchange darkness for light, for
the sake of pragmatism. 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.
Man's Original Diet Was Vegetarian
There can be no doubt in the mind of any intelligent,
thinking person that when the Torah instructs humankind
to dominate "And have dominion over the
fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and
over every living thing that moves upon the Earth"
(Genesis 1:28) it does not mean the domination
of a harsh ruler, who afflicts his people and servants
merely to fulfill his personal whim and desire, according
to the crookedness of his heart. It is unthinkable that
the Torah would impose such a decree of servitude, sealed
for all eternity, upon the world of God, Who is "good
to all, and His mercy is upon all His works" (Psalms
145:9), and Who declared, "The world shall be built
upon kindness" (ibid. 89:3).
Moreover, the Torah attests that all humanity once
possessed this lofty moral level. Citing scriptural
proofs, our Sages explain (Sanhedrin 57a) that Adam
was not permitted to eat meat: "Behold, I have
given you every tree... yielding seed for food"
(Genesis 1:29). Eating meat was permitted to the children
of Noah only after the Flood: "Like the green herb,
I have given you everything" (Genesis 9:3). Is
it conceivable that this moral excellence, which once
existed as an inherent human characteristic, should
be lost forever? Concerning these and similar matters,
it states, "I shall bring knowledge from afar,
and unto my Maker I shall ascribe righteousness"
(Job 36:3). In the future, God shall cause us to make
great spiritual strides, and thus extricate us from
this complex question.
Vegetarianism and Enlightenment
When humanity reaches its goal of complete happiness
and spiritual liberation, when it attains that lofty
peak of perfection that is the pure knowledge of God
and the full manifestation of the essential holiness
of life, then the age of "motivation by virtue
of enlightenment" will have arrived. This is like
a structure built on the foundation of "motivation
by virtue of the law," which of necessity must
precede [that of "motivation by virtue of enlightenment"]
for all humanity.
Then human beings will recognize their companions in
Creation: all the animals. And 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" (Kiddushin
31b). 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
[and I will cause them to rest in safety. I will betroth
you to Me forever; and I will betroth you to Me with
righteousness, with justice, with kindness, and with
compassion; and I will betroth you to Me with faith,
and you will know God]" (Hosea 2:20).
Shechita: Humane Slaughter
The act of slaughter (shechita) must be sanctified
in a unique manner "as I have commanded
you" with a minimum of pain to the animal.
Thus, the person will take to heart the fact that this
is a sentient being; he is not involved with a random
object that moves about like an automaton, but with
a living, feeling creature. He must become attuned to
its senses, even to its emotions, to the feeling it
has for the life of its family members, and to its compassion
for its own offspring. Thus, it is biblically forbidden
to kill the mother bird with her children on the same
day, or to slaughter a calf before it is eight days
old; and it is a positive precept to send away the mother
bird before taking her young.
Cover the Blood
Chapter 17, abridged
"If anyone of the Children of Israel or a convert
who joins them traps an animal or bird that may be eaten
and spills its blood, he must cover [the blood] with
earth" (Leviticus 17:13).
The obligation to cover the blood teaches us to see
the shedding of a [non-domestic] animal's blood as an
act akin to murder; thus we should be ashamed to shed
the blood of a [domestic] animal, as well. It was not
deemed necessary to cover the blood of a domestic animal
because it is slaughtered in an area where people are
commonly found. Thus it is preferable to leave the blood
of the animal in plain sight, that it may remind others
that slaughtering an animal is like murder. This is
not the case with [non-domestic] animals and birds that
are trapped and slaughtered far from human habitation,
whose blood is not seen. Here, by contrast, the obligation
of covering the blood teaches that this is a shameful
Do Not Cook Meat and Milk Together
Chapter 20, abridged
"The first of the new produce of your land you
shall bring to the house of the Lord, your God. You
shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk" (Exodus
The mother animal does not live so that a person, simply
by his right of ownership, may exploit her for his own
purposes; rather, her milk is intended for her own young,
whom she loves. The kid, too, is entitled by its natural
disposition to the pleasure of its mother's loving breast.
However, the cruelty of the human heart, produced by
our coarse materialism and moral weakness, distorts
and perverts these principles. Thus, the tender kid,
according to the assessment of man's inferior ethical
sensitivity, has no right to nestle against its loving
mother, nor to enjoy the light of life, but deserves
only to be slaughtered in order to provide food for
the bellies of gluttonous human beings, whose debased
souls insist, "I will eat meat" (Deuteronomy
According to this, what should be the purpose of the
milk, if not to cook in it the slaughtered kid? Is this
not a natural combination of these two essential foods,
the milk and the tender kid that derives nurture from
it? However, humanity, let your ears hear something
behind you, the voice of God that loudly cries out:
"You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk."
No, the purpose of the kid is not merely to be food
for your sharp teeth, sharpened and polished by your
lowliness and gluttony in eating meat; and certainly
the milk is not intended to be a condiment for the satisfaction
of your base desire.
The Law of the Treifah
Chapter 26, abridged
"People of holiness you shall be unto Me; you
shall not eat the flesh of an animal that was torn (treifah)
in the field..." (Exodus 22:30).
Distinctive [among the traits of Israel] is the compassion
that waits to blossom into manifestation from amidst
the feelings of the pure-hearted, and spread from humanity
to all living creatures. This compassion is nascent
within the prohibition of eating neveilah (an animal
that has died as a result of sickness) or a treifah
(an animal that has died as a result of bodily injury).
Just as we naturally feel greater pity for sick or
injured human beings than we feel for the healthy, the
unfortunate injured animal deserves our additional sympathy.
Having internalized the ethical implications of the
Torah's prohibition of eating the flesh of a torn animal,
our hearts can fully experience the spirit of enlightenment
that relates the precept of visiting the sick, prompting
us to relieve their distress.
The commonality that exists between our feelings of
compassion [for both animals and human beings] also
expresses itself in connection with the need to guard
our health, both spiritually and physically, and in
not putting ourselves on the same plane as the predatory
beasts. Rather, [the Torah] imposes upon us the further
obligation to bring about their good, to benefit and
to enlighten them. How could we consume the treifah
lying in the field, which would appear like "dividing
the spoil" with [the wild beasts], and constitute
a tacit approval of their predatory habits?
It is true that, among the various categories of treifah
discussed by the Talmudic sages, we must distinguish
between a mortally injured animal in the field and a
terminally ill human being. However, the suffering of
both creatures calls for our compassion, which initially
should be awakened on behalf of the wretched and the
outcast. The law of the animal that died as a result
of sickness prepares the heart to feel even greater
repugnance toward exploiting the misfortune of other
creatures in the event of their deaths. This sensitivity
signals a sense of comradeship, sharing another's pain,
and our having entered the borders of their inner world.
With this, the "motivation by virtue of enlightenment"
will supercede the "motivation by virtue of the
law," causing us to distance ourselves from committing
any evil upon these, our comrades in the universe, since
we all come forth from the hand of One Creator, the
Master of All His Works.
Animals During the Messianic Age
At the end of days an inner thirst will prompt each
person to search for someone upon whom to confer benevolence,
upon whom to pour forth his overflowing spirit of kindness,
but none will be found. For all humanity already will
have attained happiness, living lives of delight, gratification,
and prosperity in every sense materially, ethically,
Then, with all its store of wisdom, its collective
insight and experience, humanity will turn toward its
brothers on lower levels of Creation, the mute and the
downtrodden, including the animal kingdom. And they
will seek means to share wisdom with them, to instruct
and enlighten them according to their abilities, thus
to elevate them from level to level. There is no question
that humanity will take an active part in this when
the time comes to accomplish this mission. Beyond all
doubt, humanity will share the enlightenment of the
Torah with the animal kingdom, affecting their physical
development and, all the more so, their ethical and
spiritual development. This state of enlightenment will
reach such a lofty level that we cannot imagine it at
present, due to our lowliness and lack of wisdom. All
beings shall receive a new, exalted form a new
world. [This is implied by the words of our sages:]
"If they so desired, the tzaddikim could create
a world" (Sanhedrin 65b).
The Spiritual Perfection of Animals
As a consequence of their spiritual elevation in general,
the lofty level attained [by animals] in the course
of their development will also affect their senses and
feelings, to attune and refine them. Indeed, a higher
nature comes with this. "And the oxen and the young
donkeys who work the soil shall eat enriched food that
was winnowed with the shovel and with the fan"
(Isaiah 30:24). For according to the loftiness of their
souls, the faculty of taste will be developed to a higher
degree of sensitivity, as befits their spiritual stature.
With a "still, small voice" does the wisdom
of Israel, the Kabbalah, speak: the level of animals
in the future will partake of the level of humanity
as it is today, due to the "ascent of the worlds."
This is the radiant vision the prophets disclosed to
us of the civilized state that will be attained by the
predatory animals of today: "And a wolf shall dwell
with a lamb, and a leopard shall lie with a kid, and
a calf and a lion cub and a fatling together, and a
small child shall lead them. And a heifer and a bear
shall graze together; their young shall lie down together,
and a lion, like the ox, shall eat straw. And an infant
shall play over a viper's hole, and over the den of
an adder shall a weaned child stretch forth his hand.
They shall neither harm nor destroy in all My holy mountain;
for the knowledge of God shall fill the Earth as the
water covers the sea" (Isaiah 11:6-9).
 Bereishis Rabba 8:4.
 See Sefer HaIkkarim 3:15.
 Kabbalistic literature describes the sequential
emanation of four "worlds," or levels of reality:
Action, Formation, Creation, and Emanation. When the
spiritual disharmony on a lower level attains tikkun,
or rectification, that level enters into a state of
unification and harmony with the level above itself.
This process is known as aliyah, or ascent.
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