Does The Bible/Torah Condone Meat Eating? Take a Closer Look at Genesis 9:3

Bible-literate carnivores cling tenaciously to a slender verse in the Book of Genesis to justify their consumption of animal flesh.

Genesis 9:3 is the Biblical invitation to a Texas buffet. It plainly states, “Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat.”

The Beet-Eating Heeb cannot pretend that this verse doesn’t exist. In fact, faithful readers of his blog will tell you that he has never, ever stated that Judaism or Christianity prohibits meat eating.

But he is not afraid to address Genesis 9:3 head-on – and show that carnivores should take little comfort in its words.

Consider the context. In language, context matters.

For instance, if The Beet-Eating Heeb announces that he is “on fire,” it could mean that he either fell into a barbecue pit, or bowled five straight strikes.

Compare the contexts of Genesis 1:29, in which God prescribes a vegan diet, with Genesis 9:3.

Genesis 1:29 culminates the Creation story and takes place in the Garden of Eden. God describes his vegan menu as “very good.”

Flesh eaters were drowned in The Flood.

Fast forward to Genesis 9:3, which comes immediately after The Flood, in which God exterminated virtually all of humanity to put an end to its licentiousness. God was clearly not smiling when he granted Man permission to eat meat.

Indeed, it is a widespread view among rabbinic authorities that God granted this permission with profound reluctance, after sadly observing the flesh-eating ways of humans in the years before The Flood. If God were going to promise to refrain from wiping out humankind again, as he did in Genesis 9:11, He would have to lower his expectations and his standards.

In short, a carnivorous diet is clearly not God’s preference. It a God who is deeply disappointed in humankind’s behavior who authorizes meat eating.

The Beet-Eating Heeb isn’t finished dismantling Genesis 9:3.

This verse cannot be understood apart from Leviticus 11, in which the laws of kashrut are laid out. Those laws put meat-eating inside some narrow boundaries. Pork? No way. Shrimp? Not allowed. Cheeseburgers? Forget about it.

What is the overarching message of Leviticus 11? God wanted to make it difficult for us to eat meat, in hopes that we wouldn’t eat too much of it. You can only eat certain animals slaughtered under certain conditions.

But if God gave an inch, most of The Beet-Eating Heeb’s fellow Jews have taken a mile. So have a little meat once in a while, if you can’t live up to God’s highest ideals.  But do you really think God wants you to be eating animals two or three times a day, seven days a week?

C’mon, man.

One last thing.

The Beet-Eating Heeb could not help but notice that life spans recorded in the Torah became dramatically shorter after God granted people permission to eat meat. Adam, for instance, didn’t check out until after his 930th birthday, long after he had drained his 401(k). Abraham, in contrast, passed away at the tender age of 175.

Whether or not you interpret these life spans literally, the message is clear, and verified by modern scientific research: Vegetarians and vegans live longer. And The Beet-Eating Heeb would say that’s God’s will, and His clearly expressed preference.

About The Beet-Eating Heeb

I'm a meat-abstaining Jew who believes our religion commands us to treat our bodies with care, to treat animals with compassion, and to treat our planet like it's the only one we've got.

Posted on May 16, 2012, in Torah/Bible and Veganism, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. No religion of our day MANDATES the murder and eating of animals. If there is one out there, I challenge the reader to name it.

    When we can choose to revere/respect what Alahiym called “very good” and, by doing so, choose to do no harm to the creation, why would we NOT make that choice?

  2. The best comment on the Edenic world in contrast to the Noachic world was made by Martin Buber: The Edenic world was created with a blessing, the Noachic world was created with a curse.

  3. Thank you for the post. I am a meat eater, but you are spot on as far as the rampant (meat) eating we do. Even the very meat is horrible, laden with antibiotics and hormones. There is a radical difference between the pre-diluvian and post-diluvian worlds. Man did live a lot longer before the flood, but I think many other factors were in play.

    The New Testament makes it clear that meat is permitted, but that is more a matter that in the last days some will forbid it. Meat is permissable, but perhaps not preferable.

    What to take away here. Eat less meat and that is pretty close to what God intended I do think the mind of God was reticent for man to eat a lot of it. In a perfect world, Eden, man ate no meat. It was only when sin and death came in with it, that meat or killing took place. Adam was originally a vegetarian. God originally designed man for vegetarian state. Our intestines are presently designed to be omnivores. With a high degree of vegetation and a little meat.

  4. as i sit here eating my hamburger the thought came to me , who wants to live 175 yrs on this miserable planet , no thnx , i,ve seen very old people and even some that are vegitarians , suffering , unable to take care of them selves , nursing homes are filled to the brim with the elderly , most of whom who are relying on others to take care of them , also our heavenly FATHER says that we can eat certain meats , but not all because of uncleanliness, so perhaps its most or even all of the unclean animals and sea life thats causing all the sickness and disease…, millions are still eating pork and seafood and many other spiecies

  5. If God doesn’t want us to eat animals, then why did He make them out of food?

  6. As president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, I want to commend the Beet Eating Heeb for his very thoughtful blog post and follow-up comments. To reinforce his position, a few points: (1) Based on the fact that current and previous Israeli chief rabbis are or were vegetarians, Jews have a choice in their diets, but shouldn’t that choice be made by considering basic Jewish values; (2) vegan diets are the diets most consistent with Jewish teachings on protecting our health, treating animals with compassion, preserving the environment, conserving natural resources, helping hungry people, and seeking and pursuing peace; (3) both ideal times (the Garden of Eden and the messianic period) are pictured as vegetarian in the Jewish tradition; (4) human hands, teeth, intestines, stomach acids, and other features are far closer to those of plant-eating animals than to carnivores.

  7. Ingrid du Preez-Japp

    Loved this, and totally agree. In fact, if you start looking at the Saving Mercy Gospel of Jesus Christ, you will very quickly connect a string of Bible texts and passages in which God tells humans to show His animals MERCY and to REVERE THEIR LIVES. THIS is God’s exclusive will, not for us to abuse, brutalize and murder ANY of His precious living beings, in cold blood. After all, He brought on the flood because people were not only killing each other, they were killing the animals.

    Up to the flood, almost all people were VEGAN, and for about 2,000 years. Those people who turned away from their Vegan diet, where in fact breaking the command, THOU SHALT NOT KILL. Today, that command still comes with NO addendum, and of which Jesus Christ brought in a NEW ORDER of peace, at the cross. WHY then, is the world STILL bringing sacrifices to their ‘altars’? This time, they are bringing homage to their stomachs.

    The world needs to wake up, and stop making idols of their stomachs, by bringing it the sacrificed flesh of dead animals.God made it clear, that He does not want the burnt bodies of animals upon the altars, but our HEARTS; humbled and full of remorse for our sins. Plus. God said that those who did not show mercy to others (and others includes ANIMALS), He will not show mercy to either. It seems we all hold the key to the door through which we will one day pass… Will it be the key to the door of the Peaceable Kingdom, or…? We get to decide about that.

  8. While I understand the need to first make the Jewish case for veganism, I think it’s time for you to also start reconciling the complications of actually implementing that lifestyle.

    What God did in the generation after the flood is make a distinction between human and animal life, because the generation of the flood treated all flesh equally. You are correct that God initially set up veganism as a moral ideal. And the natural next step is that anyone interested in returning the planet toward a moral ideal should consider avoiding meat.

    We may not have the problem of treating all flesh equally today, but we are also not at a place where all humanity is able to pursue the moral ideal of food. In our society, meat remains the cheapest protein, followed closely by eggs and dairy products. In the United States, a vegan lifestyle is significantly more expensive than a carnivorous one. The protein in a cashew is probably four to six times as expensive as the equivalent protein in an egg. Vegetarianism would strain the budgets of many families and veganism would break them.

    Additionally, there are two issues here. The first is an ethical case for vegetarianism and the second is a Jewish case for it. They overlap, but they aren’t identical. For example, since meat and eggs are permitted, isn’t there a Jewish case to be made that the additional money being spent on a vegan lifestyle might not better used to feed the hungry?

    And on a less practical-for-today and more technical note, how would you account for animal sacrifices in the Temple? In that case, isn’t God requiring Jews to kill animals?

    • The Beet-Eating Heeb greatly appreciates your thoughtful comments Eric.

      And he hopes you know that he personally and profoundly respects you.

      But he is obligated to point out that your comments include several myths and canards which The Beet-Eating Heeb has encountered before.

      For now, I’ll just summarize, because BEH could easily devote an entire post to responding to your comments, and he might just do that in the near future.

      1. Meat remains the cheapest protein? The so-called Standard American Diet (SAD) provides far more protein than science recommends.

      2. A vegan lifestyle is significantly more expensive? There are far too many variables involved to make a blanket statement like that. A vegan diet can take infinite different forms. There are cheaper types of fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans. And when you’re eating out, the vegan or vegetarian option is usually the least expensive entree, even at fast-food restaurants.

      3. The additional money being spent on a vegan lifestyle might be better used to feed the hungry? C’mon, you are setting up a false dichotomy. It’s not an either-or proposition. The Beet-Eating Heeb has never met a vegan who has cut back on their charitable donations to buy lentils.

      4. As for The Temple sacrifices, that’s an easy one, but The Beet-Eating Heeb will keep his powder dry for a future post.

    • Eric – Your post bespeaks your compassionate heart. However, you are mistaken about “reconciling” veganism with practicality.

      “In our society, meat remains the cheapest protein, followed closely by eggs and dairy products. In the United States, a vegan lifestyle is significantly more expensive than a carnivorous one. The protein in a cashew is probably four to six times as expensive as the equivalent protein in an egg. Vegetarianism would strain the budgets of many families and veganism would break them.”

      -You are correct that there are places on this planet where eating a vegan diet is not do-able, however, that is not the case in the US.

      -As someone who is a conscious shopper, I can tell you that meat is, in fact, not the cheapest protein in the US, especially if you keep kosher or want to eat lean cuts of meat. If you want to eat grass-fed, organic meat, then the price becomes astronomical. The average vegan recipe to feed a 4 person family that uses beans usually calls for no more than a cup to a cup and a half of beans. 1 pound of dried chickpeas, which cost no more than $2/pound, produces over 3 cups of cooked chickpeas for a recipe. Families who are homeless, unfortunately, don’t benefit from dried beans and would need to buy canned beans. However, families with a stove, a decent sized bowl, and a pot can make dried beans into a meal VERY easily.

      -To make average sized hamburgers (6-8 oz of raw meat) for a family of 4, you would need more than 1 lb of meat. Even if it’s $5/lb, you are still spending far more on the meat alone (not to mention buns, bread crumbs, and whatever other things people put in hamburgers) than you would on the chickpea dish.

      -You are correct that there are some nuts that are very expensive. Cashews are expensive, about $7/lb where I live. Pine nuts are $11/lb. However, I don’t solely rely on cashew protein (nor should anyone), I rely on legumes, less expensive nuts, and grains.

      -Replace eggs in baked goods. Then, compare the price of flax seed meal to that of the eggs in baking – flax seed meal wins! Replace milk with water or soy milk in recipes.

      -Many fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive, especially if they are not seasonal. However, middle class families who are saving money by not purchasing meat items may have some extra money to purchase vegetables. Veggies like potatoes, onions, cabbage, beets, and carrots are generally pretty cheap.

      -Despite what many people claim (based on what they have been conditioned to believe) animal products don’t fill you up all that much. Fibrous foods – like fruits, vegetables, grains – do fill you up because of their high fiber content.

      -A lot of food doesn’t have to be nearly as expensive. When I went into my natural foods store recently, I found that 1 average sized container of peanut butter $7 and up, then I went to the bulk section. Organic peanuts were being sold for $1.50/lb. Had I bought the container, you’re right, it would have cost a lot more. But, with the investment in a food processor, I was able to make cheap, organic, oil-free peanut butter.

      -Meat has many hidden costs, both to the environment and to our health care system – which WE as taxpayers must make up the difference for. Now that Obamacare is (probably) being instituted, we will now have to pay for the costs that animal products will have on our own health as well as our neighbor’s health.

      -Meat is artificially cheap due to gov’t subsidies – so taxpayers pay twice for meat.

      “For example, since meat and eggs are permitted, isn’t there a Jewish case to be made that the additional money being spent on a vegan lifestyle might not better used to feed the hungry?”

      -You can feed more hungry people with beans and rice than you can with turkey or chicken.

      “And on a less practical-for-today and more technical note, how would you account for animal sacrifices in the Temple? In that case, isn’t God requiring Jews to kill animals?” We don’t have the Beit haMikdash (Holy Temple) right now – clearly we are NOT required to kill animals at this juncture in our Judaism.

  9. One day hopefully while still in rabbinical school I am going to write a paper on comparing Genesis 1:29, Genesis 9:3. Remember that after the earth was destroyed there was nothing to eat except for the animals that were on the ark. All vegetation was destroyed. I also agree with you that God was not smiling when he/she/the mysterious one granted the permission to eat meat. And we as a society are paying a very high price to ourselves with our meat and animal consumption

  10. As a vegan I sure wish your last statement, “… verified by modern scientific research: Vegetarians and vegans live longer.” was true but I havent come across any research that substantiated that claim.

    Veganism can lay claim to many health benefits for sure but can you point me to some studies that conclude longer, (I’d be thrilled with 175 GOOD years), life is one of them.

  11. Rabbi Shlommo Ressler is arguing to, that Jews are permitted, via Torah, to eat meat. He sends out a weekly email, D’Var Torah, with the Parsha in it. He said it is his job to make sure animals are slaughtered humanely, according to Jewish Law, but not his job to change the system….My dear Orthodox friend in Brooklyn also vehemently argues that Jews are permitted to eat meat. Animals are “here for humans,” is the all too common remark.

    It’s distressing to me that this is the Jewish mind set since all it does is cause harm, and a world of suffering, predatory behavior, and illness.The ten plagues we consider during Passover, are here today in the form of infectious diseases that are transmitted from farmed animals to humans, chronic diseases from eating meat and dairy, and environmental plagues from the devastation of deforestation for grazing, genetically modifying plants and animals by biotech corporations, directly affecting wildlife, bees, bats, the essence of Creation, NATURE!

    Most people can’t see the big picture, especially those in Orthodox communities that never really know wht is happening outside the bubbles.

Please share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: