If you have ever heard of the Talmud, chances are the mere mention of the word causes your eyes to glaze over.
Most people think of it as a vast compendium of hair-splitting arguments about arcane issues in Jewish law. And they would be mostly right.
However, amid all the details and debates are some amazing stories with messages and morals that remain highly relevant.
The Beet-Eating Heeb is pleased to share such a story with you right now. (If you have a copy of the Talmud at home, you can follow along at Bava Metzia 85a.)
About 2,000 years ago, shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple, there existed a rabbi named Judah HaNasi. He wasn’t just any rabbi. This was the guy who put the Oral Torah into writing, preserving it for posterity, creating what we call the Mishnah.
On top of that, he was a direct descendant of King David, hence the name Judah the Prince. In other words, he was a big deal. A very big deal.
The calf hid himself inside the rabbi’s robe, tucking in his tail so that no part of him would be visible.
Rabbi Judah HaNasi, being a pretty smart guy, quickly sized up the situation.
This calf was trying to escape his owner, who was taking the young cow to the shochet, the slaughterer.
So what did the rabbi do?
Not what you might have hoped. Or expected.
Rabbi Judah HaNasi, in his sternest voice, lifted up his robe and scolded the calf.
“This is why you were created,” the rabbi said. “Go back to your owner!”
At least that wasn’t what the calf had expected.
The calf, with tears streaming down his face, made his way back to his owner. And met his demise later that day.
However, no sooner had the calf departed from the rabbi’s robe when a funny thing happened to Judah HaNasi. Actually, what happened isn’t that funny.
He immediately developed a painful toothache. Then kidney stones. And splitting headaches.
It seems God and His angels did not approve of the way Judah HaNasi treated that poor calf.
According to the Talmud, “They said in Heaven, ‘Since he has no pity, let us bring suffering upon him.’”
The intense pain from his ailments persisted. And persisted. And persisted some more. Year after excruciating year.
Keep in mind, there was no Vicodin or codeine back then.
Then one day, in Year 13 of The Pains, the rabbi’s housemaid came into his study, where he was struggling to concentrate on his work, as anyone who has suffered chronic pain can understand.
“Excuse me Rabbi,” the housemaid said. “I have found a nest of weasels in the spare bedroom. Should I swat them with my broom?”
The rabbi considered the matter for a moment, cleared his throat, and said:
“Leave them be. It is written (in Psalms 145:9) that His tender mercies are over all His works.”
What happened? The Talmud tells us:
“Said they in Heaven, ‘Since he is compassionate, let us be compassionate to him.’”
Quite a story, eh?
So why do you think this account of Rabbi Judah HaNasi’s misstep and redemption is recorded for posterity?
It’s because we are supposed to see ourselves as Rabbi Judah HaNasi.
Every time we choose what to eat, we face choices similar to the ones that confronted the great rabbi of yesteryear.
We can choose to eat the flesh, secretions and eggs of animals who were subjected to lives of abject misery, only to be brought to violent deaths. Or we can choose to eat the food that grows out of God’s wonderful earth, which is what God wants human beings to do, if the Torah is any indication.
Like Rabbi Judah HaNasi, we have a choice.
We can support cruelty. Or we can bring more chesed, more kindness, into the world.
The choice is yours.
The Beet-Eating Heeb is back after a long layoff, tan and well-rested.
OK, purple and over-worked.
So what provoked BEH to start writing again?
That is a link to the most damning, most disturbing, most important animal-related investigative story you will read this year. Yes, BEH knows it’s only January. But this is a real doozy.
ICYMI, The New York Times on Monday, January 19, published a startling front-page expose about the federal Meat Animal Research Center. Let that sink in for a second.
On its face, it’s absurd and offensive that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is conducting research on farmed animals for the benefit of the meat industry.
The Beet-Eating Heeb urges you to read the entire article. But, as a service to his time-conscious readers, he will summarize a few of the main findings. Brace yourself.
- Cows, which normally give birth to one calf at a time, were genetically re-engineered to have twins or triplets, resulting in an unusually high rate of still births and deformities.
- Newborn lambs were abandoned in open pastures, left to starve to death or to perish in harsh weather or in the jaws of predators.
- Pigs were bred to produce unnaturally large litters, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of piglets.
- In one case, a young female cow was placed in restraints so that a group of bulls could take turns mounting her. Her injuries were so severe that she died just hours later. All for a study on the sexual libido of bulls.
This is just a sampling of the horrors that have occurred at this previously obscure center in Nebraska.
Granted, the Standard Operating Procedure on America’s factory farms is not much better.
But that’s private enterprise. In the case of the Meat Animal Research Center, we’re talking about a taxpayer-funded, government-operated facility. This is being done in our name, with our money (if you’re an American).
The Center is a grotesque stain on the moral fabric of our country, a country that has the audacity to refer to itself as “one Nation under God.”
Excuse The Beet-Eating Heeb for pointing out that God insists we treat animals with compassion, respect and sensitivity, if the Torah/Bible is any indication.
In Jewish terms, the Research Center’s activities blatantly violate Tzaar Baalei Hayim, the prohibition against causing unnecessary suffering to animals.
It’s the heartless treatment of the little lambs that really gets to BEH. In our religion, the two greatest leaders in history, Moses and King David, were chosen by God because of the compassion they each showed for sheep in their care.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in response to The Times’ article, has ordered his staff to produce an updated Animal Welfare Strategy within 60 days. The new strategy is to include the creation of an independent panel to review research practices, according to a Reuters report.
Sorry, Tom, but this tepid, bureaucratic response is wholly inadequate. Nothing less than the immediate and permanent closure of the Center will suffice. Something is rotten in Denmark, or Nebraska. If the people running the Research Center don’t care about the well-being of the animals there – and they obviously don’t – then the problems will resurface.
The vegan-advocacy/animal-rights community has taken notice. By The Beet-Eating Heeb’s count, at least four petitions and action alerts were in circulation within 72 hours of the appearance of the Times story.
But there is a real danger, even a high probability, that this issue will fade from our consciousness by the end of next week, if not sooner.
Sustained pressure must be put on Secretary Vilsack, President Obama and Congress to do the right thing and pull the plug on the Research Center. BEH would love to see our government leaders try to defend the continued existence of that hellhole. It cannot credibly be done.
You don’t need to be a vegan or vegetarian to get this one. What the Times’ reported will shock the moral conscience of all but the most hard-hearted people.
So just don’t sit there. Here’s a few things you can do:
- Respond to one of the Action Alerts. BEH recommends this one.
- Call the White House, your Senators and your Congressional representative to demand the immediate closure of the Research Center.
- Educate people by submitting a guest op-ed to your local newspaper, by posting the Times’ article or this blog post on your social-media feeds, and by telling your friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers about this situation.
- Finally, counteract this horrible misuse of your tax dollars by donating generously to nonprofits that are working to end the exploitation of farmed animals. If you’re Jewish, BEH suggests you join Jewish Vegetarians of North America.
You know if The Beet-Eating Heeb is back at it again, that this is a serious issue.
Will this shameful Research Center be allowed to continue its sadistic experiments or be mercifully shut down? The answer may well depend on us.
The Beet-Eating Heeb was asked recently if there is a Jewish blessing for kale.
Yes, there is, and it’s the same blessing we recite for all vegetables:
That translates as:
Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the ground.
You might be wondering, then, what is the Jewish blessing for meat?
Here it is:
It bears repeating. Here’s the blessing for meat again:
There is no mistake here. There is no specific blessing for meat in the Jewish religion.
There is a blessing for bread and grains. For wine. For fruit. For vegetables. But not specifically for meat.
What does that tell you?
If a Jew wishes to recite a blessing before consuming the flesh or secretions of an animal, he or she is to recite a catch-all blessing that doesn’t refer to food or sustenance at all. And that generic blessing is only to be recited after one has recited the blessings for plant-based foods.
Why is this the case?
Because the Torah literally describes meat-eating as an act of human lust, not as something that God wants us to do. In fact, the Torah tell us that God on multiple occasions sought to create a vegetarian, or vegan, world, only to be frustrated by the depravity of humans.
The rabbis of yore who developed our system of blessings understood that it would be inappropriate, if not an outright apostasy, to bless an activity that explicitly contradicts a Torah ideal.
If meat-eating reflected God’s will, you can bet your tuchus that there would be a specific blessing for it.