Vayikra: Sacrifice

…an offering made by fire of a fragrant odour to the Lord. (Vayikra 1:9)

The animal, selected from cattle or flock,
was carefully tended and lovingly tendered.
Laid on the altar, burned up by fire,
it was offered as sweet-smelling odour to You.

Cattle and poultry now are the sacrifice,
from merciless life to inglorious death.
Meat cooked by fire and served for a feast.
Does not the fetor of terror and pain
defile and besmirch the fragrant aroma?


Rashi implies that God did not want the Israelites to bring sacrifices; it was their choice. He bases this on a sentence from the haftarah for Parashat Vayikra: “I have not burdened you with grain-offerings, nor wearied you about frankincense.” (Isaiah 43:23)

Abarbanel cites a Midrash that indicates that the Israelites had become accustomed to sacrifices in Egypt. To wean them from these idolatrous practices, God tolerated the sacrifices but commanded that they be offered in one central sanctuary: God is envisioned saying, “Better they bring their offerings to My table than that they bring them before idols.” (Vayikra Rabbah 22:8).

Biblical commentator R’ David Kimchi (1160-1235) also says that the sacrifices were voluntary, which he derives from Jeremiah: “For I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them on the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices; but this thing I commanded them, saying, “Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people; and walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.” (Jeremiah 7:22-23)

It appears that compassion and justice are more desirable to God than sacrifices: To do charity and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” (Proverbs 21:3).
“What I want is mercy, not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6)
“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Indeed, though you offer Me burnt-offerings and your meal offerings, I will not accept them neither will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts. Remove from Me the noise of your song; and let Me not hear the melody of your psalteries. But let justice well up as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. (Amos 5:21-4)

With the destruction of the Temple, the Rabbis taught that prayer and ethical behaviour replaced sacrifice.
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) repeatedly addresses the issue of cruelty to animals: “Compassion is the feeling of sympathy which the pain of one being awakens in another…And as for man, whose function it is to show respect and love for God’s universe and all its creatures, his heart has been created so tender that it feels with the whole organic world…mourning even for fading flowers; so that, if nothing else, the very nature of his heart must teach him that he is required above everything to feel himself the brother of all beings, and to recognize the claim of all beings to his love and his beneficence.” (Horeb, Chapter 17, Verse 125)

“There are probably no creatures that require more the protective Divine word against the presumption of man than the animals, which like man have sensations and instincts, but whose body and powers are nevertheless subservient to man. In relation to them man so easily forgets that injured animal muscle twitches just like human muscle, that the maltreated nerves of an animal sicken like human nerves, that the animal being is just as sensitive to cuts, blows, and beatings as man. Thus man becomes the torturer of the animal soul, which has been subjected to him only for the fulfillment of humane and wise purposes…”(Horeb, Chapter 60, Verse 415)

“Here you are faced with God’s teaching, which obliges you not only to refrain from inflicting unnecessary pain on any animal, but to help and, when you can, to lessen the pain whenever you see an animal suffering, even through no fault of yours.” (Horeb, Chapter 60, Verse 416)

Rabbi David Rosen (former Chief Rabbi of Ireland) says,”… the current treatment of animals in the livestock trade definitely renders the consumption of meat as halachically unacceptable as the product of illegitimate means…
Indeed a central precept regarding the relationship between humans and animals in Halacha is the prohibition against causing cruelty to animals – tsa’ar ba’alei chayim. As mentioned, practices in the livestock trade today constitute a flagrant violation of this prohibition. I refer not only to the most obvious and outrageous of these, such as the production of veal and goose liver, but also to common practices in the livestock trade, such as hormonal treatment and massive drug dosing.
“…evidently the more sensitive and respectful we are toward’s God’s Creation, in particular God’s creatures, the more respectful and reverential we actually are towards God.”

Rabbi Aryeh Carmell (1917-2006) stated: “It seems doubtful from all that has been said whether the Torah would sanction ‘factory farming’, which treats animals as machines, with apparent insensitivity to their natural needs and instincts. This is a matter for decision by halachic authorities.”

In recent years there has been an increasing focus on “eco-Kashrut” (a term coined by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in the 1970s) which sharpens the definition of kashrut to include only food that has been ethically and sustainably produced. Humane farming practices are an important part of this. Recently the Jewish world has been shaken by incidents where kosher meat producers have been found to be abusing animals.

Sources from Jewish vegetarianism, Richard Schwartz http://www.jewishveg.com/schwartz/index.html

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