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Selections From
"A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace"

By HaRav Avraham Yitzchak Kuk
As edited by his disciple, HaRav David Kohen, the Nazir of Jerusalem
Translated by Rabbi David Sears

The Just Treatment of Animals
Chapter 1

There is a fundamental part of a lofty, humane, and progressive sensibility that, according to the present state of the prevailing culture, exists today only in the pleasant dream of a few extremely idealistic souls: an innate ethical striving, a feeling for what is humane and just, to consider the rights of animals, with all that this entails.

Certain cruel philosophies, especially those that denied belief in God, according to their views on human ethics based upon reason, have advocated that man completely stifle within himself any sense of justice for animals. However, they have not succeeded, nor shall they succeed, with all their self-serving cleverness, in perverting the innate sense of justice that the Creator planted within the human soul. Although sympathy for animals is like the glow of a smoldering ember buried under a great heap of ashes, nevertheless, it is impossible for them to negate this sensitivity within every feeling heart. For as a rule, the lack of morality among all humanity consists in failing to heed the good and noble instinct not to take any form of life, whether for one's needs or physical gratification.

Our sages did not agree with these philosophical views. They tell us that the holy Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi was visited with afflictions because he told a calf being led to slaughter, that had sought refuge in the skirts of his garment, "Go! This is the purpose for which you were created." His healing, too, was brought about by a deed, when he showed mercy to some weasels (Baba Metzia 85a). They did not conduct themselves like the philosophers, who exchange darkness for light, for the sake of pragmatism. It is impossible to imagine that the Master of all that transpires, Who has mercy upon all His creatures, would establish an eternal decree such as this in the creation that He pronounced "exceedingly good," that it should be impossible for the human race to exist without violating its own moral instincts by shedding blood, be it even the blood of animals.

Man's Original Diet Was Vegetarian
Chapter 2

There can be no doubt in the mind of any intelligent, thinking person that when the Torah instructs humankind to dominate – "And have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves upon the Earth" (Genesis 1:28) – it does not mean the domination of a harsh ruler, who afflicts his people and servants merely to fulfill his personal whim and desire, according to the crookedness of his heart. It is unthinkable that the Torah would impose such a decree of servitude, sealed for all eternity, upon the world of God, Who is "good to all, and His mercy is upon all His works" (Psalms 145:9), and Who declared, "The world shall be built upon kindness" (ibid. 89:3).

Moreover, the Torah attests that all humanity once possessed this lofty moral level. Citing scriptural proofs, our Sages explain (Sanhedrin 57a) that Adam was not permitted to eat meat: "Behold, I have given you every tree... yielding seed for food" (Genesis 1:29). Eating meat was permitted to the children of Noah only after the Flood: "Like the green herb, I have given you everything" (Genesis 9:3). Is it conceivable that this moral excellence, which once existed as an inherent human characteristic, should be lost forever? Concerning these and similar matters, it states, "I shall bring knowledge from afar, and unto my Maker I shall ascribe righteousness" (Job 36:3). In the future, God shall cause us to make great spiritual strides, and thus extricate us from this complex question.

Vegetarianism and Enlightenment
Chapter 12

When humanity reaches its goal of complete happiness and spiritual liberation, when it attains that lofty peak of perfection that is the pure knowledge of God and the full manifestation of the essential holiness of life, then the age of "motivation by virtue of enlightenment" will have arrived. This is like a structure built on the foundation of "motivation by virtue of the law," which of necessity must precede [that of "motivation by virtue of enlightenment"] for all humanity.

Then human beings will recognize their companions in Creation: all the animals. And they will understand how it is fitting from the standpoint of the purest ethical standard not to resort to moral concessions, to compromise the Divine attribute of justice with that of mercy[1] [by permitting mankind's exploitation of animals]; for they will no longer need extenuating concessions, as in those matters of which the Talmud states: "The Torah speaks only of the evil inclination" (Kiddushin 31b).[2] Rather they will walk the path of absolute good. As the prophet declares: "I will make a covenant for them with the animals of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; I also will banish the bow and sword, and war from the land [and I will cause them to rest in safety. I will betroth you to Me forever; and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, with justice, with kindness, and with compassion; and I will betroth you to Me with faith, and you will know God]" (Hosea 2:20).

Shechita: Humane Slaughter
Chapter 14

The act of slaughter (shechita) must be sanctified in a unique manner – "as I have commanded you" – with a minimum of pain to the animal. Thus, the person will take to heart the fact that this is a sentient being; he is not involved with a random object that moves about like an automaton, but with a living, feeling creature. He must become attuned to its senses, even to its emotions, to the feeling it has for the life of its family members, and to its compassion for its own offspring. Thus, it is biblically forbidden to kill the mother bird with her children on the same day, or to slaughter a calf before it is eight days old; and it is a positive precept to send away the mother bird before taking her young.

Cover the Blood
Chapter 17, abridged

"If anyone of the Children of Israel or a convert who joins them traps an animal or bird that may be eaten and spills its blood, he must cover [the blood] with earth" (Leviticus 17:13).

The obligation to cover the blood teaches us to see the shedding of a [non-domestic] animal's blood as an act akin to murder; thus we should be ashamed to shed the blood of a [domestic] animal, as well. It was not deemed necessary to cover the blood of a domestic animal because it is slaughtered in an area where people are commonly found. Thus it is preferable to leave the blood of the animal in plain sight, that it may remind others that slaughtering an animal is like murder. This is not the case with [non-domestic] animals and birds that are trapped and slaughtered far from human habitation, whose blood is not seen. Here, by contrast, the obligation of covering the blood teaches that this is a shameful act.

Do Not Cook Meat and Milk Together
Chapter 20, abridged

"The first of the new produce of your land you shall bring to the house of the Lord, your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk" (Exodus 23:19).

The mother animal does not live so that a person, simply by his right of ownership, may exploit her for his own purposes; rather, her milk is intended for her own young, whom she loves. The kid, too, is entitled by its natural disposition to the pleasure of its mother's loving breast. However, the cruelty of the human heart, produced by our coarse materialism and moral weakness, distorts and perverts these principles. Thus, the tender kid, according to the assessment of man's inferior ethical sensitivity, has no right to nestle against its loving mother, nor to enjoy the light of life, but deserves only to be slaughtered in order to provide food for the bellies of gluttonous human beings, whose debased souls insist, "I will eat meat" (Deuteronomy 12:20).

According to this, what should be the purpose of the milk, if not to cook in it the slaughtered kid? Is this not a natural combination of these two essential foods, the milk and the tender kid that derives nurture from it? However, humanity, let your ears hear something behind you, the voice of God that loudly cries out: "You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk." No, the purpose of the kid is not merely to be food for your sharp teeth, sharpened and polished by your lowliness and gluttony in eating meat; and certainly the milk is not intended to be a condiment for the satisfaction of your base desire.

The Law of the Treifah
Chapter 26, abridged

"People of holiness you shall be unto Me; you shall not eat the flesh of an animal that was torn (treifah) in the field..." (Exodus 22:30).

Distinctive [among the traits of Israel] is the compassion that waits to blossom into manifestation from amidst the feelings of the pure-hearted, and spread from humanity to all living creatures. This compassion is nascent within the prohibition of eating neveilah (an animal that has died as a result of sickness) or a treifah (an animal that has died as a result of bodily injury).

Just as we naturally feel greater pity for sick or injured human beings than we feel for the healthy, the unfortunate injured animal deserves our additional sympathy. Having internalized the ethical implications of the Torah's prohibition of eating the flesh of a torn animal, our hearts can fully experience the spirit of enlightenment that relates the precept of visiting the sick, prompting us to relieve their distress.

The commonality that exists between our feelings of compassion [for both animals and human beings] also expresses itself in connection with the need to guard our health, both spiritually and physically, and in not putting ourselves on the same plane as the predatory beasts. Rather, [the Torah] imposes upon us the further obligation to bring about their good, to benefit and to enlighten them. How could we consume the treifah lying in the field, which would appear like "dividing the spoil" with [the wild beasts], and constitute a tacit approval of their predatory habits?

It is true that, among the various categories of treifah discussed by the Talmudic sages, we must distinguish between a mortally injured animal in the field and a terminally ill human being. However, the suffering of both creatures calls for our compassion, which initially should be awakened on behalf of the wretched and the outcast. The law of the animal that died as a result of sickness prepares the heart to feel even greater repugnance toward exploiting the misfortune of other creatures in the event of their deaths. This sensitivity signals a sense of comradeship, sharing another's pain, and our having entered the borders of their inner world. With this, the "motivation by virtue of enlightenment" will supercede the "motivation by virtue of the law," causing us to distance ourselves from committing any evil upon these, our comrades in the universe, since we all come forth from the hand of One Creator, the Master of All His Works.

Animals During the Messianic Age
Chapter 31

At the end of days an inner thirst will prompt each person to search for someone upon whom to confer benevolence, upon whom to pour forth his overflowing spirit of kindness, but none will be found. For all humanity already will have attained happiness, living lives of delight, gratification, and prosperity in every sense – materially, ethically, and intellectually.

Then, with all its store of wisdom, its collective insight and experience, humanity will turn toward its brothers on lower levels of Creation, the mute and the downtrodden, including the animal kingdom. And they will seek means to share wisdom with them, to instruct and enlighten them according to their abilities, thus to elevate them from level to level. There is no question that humanity will take an active part in this when the time comes to accomplish this mission. Beyond all doubt, humanity will share the enlightenment of the Torah with the animal kingdom, affecting their physical development and, all the more so, their ethical and spiritual development. This state of enlightenment will reach such a lofty level that we cannot imagine it at present, due to our lowliness and lack of wisdom. All beings shall receive a new, exalted form – a new world. [This is implied by the words of our sages:] "If they so desired, the tzaddikim could create a world" (Sanhedrin 65b).

The Spiritual Perfection of Animals
Chapter 32

As a consequence of their spiritual elevation in general, the lofty level attained [by animals] in the course of their development will also affect their senses and feelings, to attune and refine them. Indeed, a higher nature comes with this. "And the oxen and the young donkeys who work the soil shall eat enriched food that was winnowed with the shovel and with the fan" (Isaiah 30:24). For according to the loftiness of their souls, the faculty of taste will be developed to a higher degree of sensitivity, as befits their spiritual stature.

With a "still, small voice" does the wisdom of Israel, the Kabbalah, speak: the level of animals in the future will partake of the level of humanity as it is today, due to the "ascent of the worlds." [3]

This is the radiant vision the prophets disclosed to us of the civilized state that will be attained by the predatory animals of today: "And a wolf shall dwell with a lamb, and a leopard shall lie with a kid, and a calf and a lion cub and a fatling together, and a small child shall lead them. And a heifer and a bear shall graze together; their young shall lie down together, and a lion, like the ox, shall eat straw. And an infant shall play over a viper's hole, and over the den of an adder shall a weaned child stretch forth his hand. They shall neither harm nor destroy in all My holy mountain; for the knowledge of God shall fill the Earth as the water covers the sea" (Isaiah 11:6-9).


[1] Bereishis Rabba 8:4.
[2] See Sefer HaIkkarim 3:15.
[3] Kabbalistic literature describes the sequential emanation of four "worlds," or levels of reality: Action, Formation, Creation, and Emanation. When the spiritual disharmony on a lower level attains tikkun, or rectification, that level enters into a state of unification and harmony with the level above itself. This process is known as aliyah, or ascent.

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