The Beet-Eating Heeb has been thinking it, studying it, questioning it and ultimately confirming it. Now he’s just going to blurt it out:
The mistreatment of animals is the root of all oppression.
Yes, whether its racism, sexism, homophobia, or even terrorism, it all starts with justifying the torturing and killing of farmed animals.
BEH was prompted to finally write about this by two seemingly unrelated phenomena that entered his field of bespectacled vision.
One is the sickening spate of terrorist attacks in Paris, in Beirut and in the skies over the Sinai Peninsula.
The other is BEH’s recent reading of “The Question of the Animal and Religion,” by Aaron Gross, a professor of religion and animal studies at the University of San Diego.
He did mention that these seemed unrelated, right?
Here’s the connection:
It is the binary division of the world into two parts – namely, us and them – that leads to discrimination, oppression, violence, and even wholesale slaughter.
ISIS views the world this way, dividing the world into two camps: those who subscribe to their twisted version of Islam, and those who don’t. Never mind that people in both camps eat, sleep, defecate, procreate, bleed, dream and die. If you fall into the latter camp, ISIS would like to chop – or blow — your head off.
Meat-eaters, whether they acknowledge it to themselves or not, also have a binary world view: there are humans, and there are farmed animals. Never mind that humans and farmed animals are alike in that they eat, sleep, defecate, procreate, dream, bleed and die. If you have the misfortune of being a farmed animal, (most) humans would like to chop you into bite-size pieces and eat you.
Gross, whose book came out earlier this year, doesn’t put it quite so bluntly, but he does write:
“If we find there are profound limits to our ability to change the deeper structures of sexism and racism, … it is because we sometimes focus on the tip of an iceberg. If we actively defend something like the present human/animal binary, we constrain our ability to rethink the other binaries to which it is linked.
“Trimming back the relatively small part of a weed that is above ground will not eliminate it if one is simultaneously fertilizing its roots.”
By this point, you might have already posted a nasty comment on this post. How dare you, BEH, equate meat-eaters with ISIS terrorists?
Relax, this is not about the moral equivalency of meat eating and terrorist attacks. We can affirm that human life has more value than animal life, at least from a Jewish perspective.
What BEH is saying is that once we start basing our attitudes and actions on such binary, us-and-them thinking, it is a slippery slope.
In practical terms, we cannot totally free ourselves from dividing the world in binary fashion. After all, there are some differences between whites and blacks, men and women, Jews and Moslems, and humans and animals.
The trouble starts when we begin emphasizing the differences and ignoring the similarities, focusing on what separates us rather than on what unifies us.
The Torah reminds us, again and again, that humans and animals are fellow travelers on this journey through life.
For instance, in Genesis 6, humans and animals are both referred to as basar, or flesh. In Genesis 9, God tell us five times that the Divine Covenant encompasses both humans and animals. We’re even told that animals must be given a day of rest on Shabbat, just like humans (Exodus 20:10).
BEH could go on and on, but you get the point. The emphasis is on our commonalities.
When we ignore these teachings, things start going very badly – for animals, then for us.
Almost inevitably, the oppression of animals influences the oppression of people. The sordid history of slavery in America provides a perfect illustration. The whole motif of slavery – the buying and selling of lives at auctions, branding, whipping, forced labor – emanated from animal agriculture.
Author Charles Patterson, in his seminal book “Eternal Treblinka,” identified similar connections in the Holocaust. It’s not just that Jews were transported to concentration camps in cattle cars, or that Nazi propagandists likened Jews to rats and other animals. The very philosophical underpinning of Nazism – namely, eugenics – originated in animal agriculture.
The good news is, we can genuinely hope to end all forms of discrimination and oppression – including the most violent manifestations – if we can get our relationship to animals right.
BEH freely admits that this is a subject matter better suited to book form than blog post. But BEH doesn’t have time to write a book, and even if he did, you probably wouldn’t have the time – or the inclination – to read it.
So BEH will instead distill this issue to its simplest terms: If we’re not going to oppress animals, we’re sure as heck not going to oppress people. If we tip over the first domino, the others — racism, sexism, violent religious extremism — will begin falling in short order.
Put another way: Call BEH immediately if you find out that even one ISIS terrorist is an ethical vegan.
Jews around the world this week are reading the story of Noah in Genesis 9.
(Was he the one who first said, “When it rains, it pours”?)
Ironically, while most people associate this story with the saving of animals in the Ark, it is in this particular Torah portion that God first gives humans permission to kill animals for food.
Yup, the animals had barely set foot on terra firma when God told Noah and his sons, “Every living thing that moves shall be food for you.”
You can practically hear the cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys saying, “Are you kidding me?”
A year ago this week, The Beet-Eating Heeb, as a service to readers and animals alike, explained why Genesis 9 doesn’t really condone meat-eating, after all.
But BEH left out an important point, which he will rectify right this very second.
If God really approves of us killing animals by the billions, why would He say that animals are explicitly included in His covenant?
It’s right there in Genesis 9, just a few short verses after humans supposedly got a permit to open slaughterhouses. (Emphasis on supposedly.)
In Genesis 9:12, God says, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations.”
Every living creature is in covenant with the Divine.
God was evidently concerned that humans would want to overlook this inconvenient truth, especially when there is meat on the grill.
So God repeated the statement not once, but three additional times.
Genesis 9, Verses 15, 16 and 17 all state that God includes animals in his covenant.
Sheesh, get the hint?
God does not want us to slash the throats of animals, or to abuse them in countless and hideous other ways, as we do in modern factory farms. Not if the word “covenant” means anything.
By definition, God would never have included the animals in His covenant if he didn’t care about their well-being. To which you’re probably saying, “No duh,” or amen.
To take it a step further, God could have established a covenant with animals without telling humans about it. But that would defeat the purpose. The reason this covenant is repeated four times in the Torah is because He is depending on us to make it a reality.
This is fundamental to Jewish thought. We are supposed to be God’s partners in perfecting creation. We are supposed to implement God’s will.
Sadly, we haven’t just ignored the fact that animals are partners to the same covenant we have with God. As the party responsible for making the covenant a meaningful reality, we have trashed it.
In the United States alone this year, 10 billion farm animals will be killed, while another 200 million animals will be killed by hunters, 100 million more in vivisection, and another 2 million in the fur industry.
And these figures don’t measure the brutality, the cruelty, the torture and the torment that these animals experience before they are killed.
This is how we honor the Divine covenant.
Animals shouldn’t be mad at God for what He said in Genesis 9:3. Technically, He may have given humans permission to eat meat. But He made it perfectly clear that He would strongly prefer that we don’t.
The animals should be mad at humans. We have betrayed them. And in so doing, we have betrayed God and His covenant.
Fortunately, we can begin to repair this covenant with a simple step.
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.”
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?
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.