What Is the Blessing over Meat?
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.
When Rabbis Attack!
One sure sign that the veg movement is a growing force among Jews is the backlash we’re seeing from certain highly placed but sadly misguided rabbis.
This backlash can be traced at least as far back as 2002, when Aish.com, one of the most popular Jewish Websites, posted an essay that attempted to defend meat-eating from a Jewish perspective.
Then as recently as two weeks ago, none other than the Vice President of Communications for the Orthodox Union launched a direct yet feeble attack against Jewish vegetarianism. The Orthodox Union (OU) is the world’s largest kosher certification agency, so the fact that it posted an essay condemning vegetarianism on its home page is interesting, although not altogether shocking.
BEH views these anti-vegetarian screeds as a positive development. The only reason these rabbis are writing articles in defense of killing animals is because an increasing number of Jews are waking up to the horrors of factory farming.
Moreover, what these articles show, by the very weakness of their arguments, is that Jews are standing on very solid ground, theologically speaking, when we advocate for plant-based diets.
To illustrate just how weak their arguments are, let’s take a closer look at the Orthodox Union post, written by Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, their VP of Communications.
Rabbi Safran starts out with a doozy of a logical fallacy. His anecdote about an elegant-looking woman fussing over her small dog is, first of all, totally irrelevant to the issue at hand. There is no evidence that the woman is a vegetarian. In fact, odds are she is a meat-eater, like Rabbi Safran.
Moreover, the story is a perfect example of what’s known in logic as a straw-man argument.
With the anecdote, the rabbi is clumsily implying that vegetarians and vegans care more about animals than they do about people. The only problem with that implication is, it’s simply untrue. Or, as British Friends of BEH might say, “What rubbish!”
Generally speaking, veg*ns who abstain from meat for ethical reasons also care deeply about their fellow human beings.
It’s not like God gave us a limited, finite capacity for compassion. It’s not a zero-sum game. Caring about animals does not preclude caring about people.
In fact, both God and our Sages recognized that someone who is compassionate toward animals is more likely to be compassionate toward people, not less.
The two greatest leaders in Jewish history – Moses and King David – were selected for leadership at least partly on the basis of the compassion they demonstrated as shepherds.
Like those two shepherds, veg*ns have expanded their personal circles of compassion to encompass animals as well as people, exactly as the Torah commands us to do. The merciful treatment of animals is a major point of emphasis in the Torah. Or has Rabbi Safran forgotten this?
Actually, it’s not the vegans and vegetarians that the rabbi should be concerned about. He should worry about himself and his fellow meat-eaters.
Perhaps it was Rabbi Joseph Albo, the great 15th Century philosopher and Torah scholar, who put it best when he wrote: “In the killing of animals there is cruelty, rage, and the accustoming of oneself to the bad habit of shedding innocent blood.”
Well said, even if it’s obvious.
Let’s face reality. Eating meat in our modern era entails either hardening your heart to the suffering of animals or blinding your eyes to it.
Rabbi Safran devotes about a third of his essay to a description of the ancient Egyptians’ attitudes toward animals, which is about as irrelevant as the woman-and-dog story.
Yet in his entire essay, he doesn’t devote so much as a syllable to the pervasive abuse and heinous mistreatment of animals in factory farming. As a leader of the OU, he is surely aware that kosher slaughterhouses get the vast majority of their animals from factory farms.
The Beet-Eating Heeb refuses to either harden his heart or blind his eyes to this reality, to this cruelty. Yet Rabbi Safran, on behalf of the OU, sees fit to attack vegetarianism. That’s chutzpah, folks. Or something worse.
And here’s the kicker.
Rabbi Safran, out of either surprising ignorance or sheer audacity, tries to justify meat-eating as an “exercise of dominion” over animals.
Surely he must know that the granting of “dominion” in Genesis 1:28 is followed immediately by the injunction to eat plants and only plants in Genesis 1:29. The Torah could not be clearer. “Dominion” explicitly excludes the right to kill animals for food.
This piece by Rabbi Safran is typical of the anti-vegetarian genre. Time and again, when rabbis seek to defend their consumption of meat, they take Torah quotations out of context, deviate from the principles of logic, and ignore the realities of modern farming.
Ah, but there is no point in getting upset at Rabbi Safran or the OU.
Rather, we owe them a debt of gratitude for showing the world, if only unintentionally, that vegetarians and vegans embody the highest ideals of the Torah.
Now can’t we all just enjoy some seitan brisket?
Meet and Greet The Beet-Eating Heeb
The Beet-Eating Heeb is here to save the day! Or at least to fill a void.
Blogs devoted to vegan and vegetarian Judaism have all but vanished.
Heeb ‘n’ Vegan, once a thriving place in cyberspace, hung an “out-of-business” sign on its door in 2010.
Shalom Veg, another favorite of meat-abstaining Jews, recently went three months without posting new content.
The last thing the world needs is another blog. Except in this case.
As interest in all things vegan and vegetarian continues to grow, the Beet-Eating Heeb (BEH for short) has plenty of information to share, issues to discuss, and people to interview.
BEH has ambitious plans for this site. In fact, he originally named this blog “The Ambitious Beet-Eating Heeb.” But Wife of BEH astutely noted that “Beet-Eating Heeb” is hard enough to say.
So what is so ambitious about this blog? Here is some of what you can expect to find here in the weeks and months ahead:
- A serious examination of what the Torah has to say about food. The laws of kashrut matter, but there is much more.
- A curating and analysis of news about relevant food issues. The Beet-Eating Heeb spent 18 years in journalism, so he knows how to spot a good story, presumably.
- Interviews with rabbis, food experts, activists, vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, pescatarians and carnivores. But BEH draws the line at freegans. (Google it. You’ll understand.)
- A dose of humor. While the consequences of industrial food production are rather sobering, The Beet-Eating Heeb still enjoys a chuckle as much as the next beet-eating guy.
- Most importantly, a sense of community. At least that’s what the Beet-Eating Heeb hopes to create. He sees this as a site where people can find fellow travelers on our shared road to spiritual and physical health, environmental conservation, and animal welfare.
BEH is a busy guy, what with a day job, a family, and even a grad-school class. But there is so much to talk about, so much to digest (pun intended), and so much at stake, he is committed to posting at least once every two weeks.
He hopes to see you then.