Man will be called to account with regard to everything that his eye beheld but of which he did not eat.
PALESTINIAN TALMUD, KIDDUSHIN 4:12
I. The Ideological Perspective
In Jewish teaching, not only are normative laws regarded as binding solely upon the authority of divine revelation, but ethical principles as well are regarded as endowed with validity and commended as goals of human aspiration only if they, too, are divinely revealed. In his comments upon the introductory section of Ethics of the Fathers, R. Ovadiah of Bartenura questions the import of the initial statement of that tractate, "Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua." That statement would have been appropriate as an introduction to the Mishnah as a whole and, as such, would have served as an affirmation of the divine nature of the Oral Law in its entirety, but it seems rather incongruous in medias res. Bartenura explains the incorporation of this statement at the beginning of Ethics of the Fathers by remarking that, unlike other tractates, Ethics of the Fathers is not devoted to an explication of any particular commandment but is composed in its entirety of ethical maxims. "The wise men of the nations of the world," declares Bartenura, "authored ethical treatises in accordance with the inclination of their hearts." Therefore, this tractate, devoted as it is exclusively to matters of ethical conduct, begins with this prefatory statement in order to indicate that "even these [ethical principles] were stated at Sinai." Accordingly, even though Judaism certainly does not posit vegetarianism as a normative lifestyle, its value as a moral desideratum can be acknowledged only if support is found within the corpus of the Written or Oral Law.
A prooftext often cited in support of vegetarianism as an ideal to which man should aspire is a statement recorded in Sanhedrin 59b:
Rav Judah stated in the name of Rav, "Adam was not permitted meat for purposes of eating as it is written, 'for you shall it be for food and to all beasts of the earth' (Genesis 1:29), but not beasts of the earth for you. But when the sons of Noah came [He] permitted them [the beasts of the earth] as it is said, 'as the green grass have I given to you everything' (Genesis 9:3)."
Some writers have regarded this statement as reflecting the notion that primeval man was denied the flesh of animals because of his enhanced moral status. Permission to eat the flesh of animals was granted only to Noah because, subsequent to Adam's sin, his banishment from the Garden of Eden and the degeneration of subsequent generations, man could no longer be held to such lofty moral standards. Nevertheless, they argue, man ought to aspire to the highest levels of moral conduct and, consistent with such a value system, man should eschew the flesh of animals.
In point of fact, this talmudic dictum is simply a terse statement of the relevant law prior to the time of Noah but is silent with regard to any validating rationale. While the statement in question may well be compatible with a vegetarian ideal, it may quite readily be comprehended as reflecting entirely different considerations. Indeed, the classic biblical commentators found entirely different explanations for the change which occurred with regard to dietary regulations. Thus, for example, R. Jacob ben Asher, renowned as the author of the Tur Shulḥan Arukh, in his commentary on Genesis 1:29, explains that, prior to partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Adam lacked any desire for meat; only subsequent to eating of the forbidden fruit did man acquire a carnivorous nature. Hence the dispensation granted to Noah to eat the flesh of animals simply reflects man's transformed biological needs. R. Meir Leibush Malbim, in his commentary on Genesis 9:3, remarks that Adam was endowed with a "strong" constitution and that the produce available in the Garden of Eden was nutritionally optimal in nature. Under such circumstances, Adam's dietary needs could be satisfied without recourse to meat. Only as mankind degenerated physically as well as spiritually, became geographically dispersed and hence subject to the vagaries of climate, and as the quality of available produce became nutritionally inferior, did it become necessary for man, in his "weakened" state, to supplement his diet with animal products in order to assure the availability of the nutrients required for his biological needs.
An examination of the writings of rabbinic scholars**See end of chapter (p. 250). reveals three distinct attitudes with regard to vegetarianism:
(1) The Gemara, Pesaḥim 49b, declares that an ignoramus ought not to partake of meat: " 'This is the law of the animal … and the fowl' (Leviticus 11:46): whoever engages in [the study of] the Law is permitted to eat the flesh of animals and fowl, but whoever does not engage in [the study of] the Law may not eat the flesh of animals and fowl." This text should certainly not be construed as declaring that meat is permitted only to the scholar as a reward for his erudition or diligence.1This text has also been understood homiletically as underscoring the lesson that man was created to study Torah and that, should he fail to do so, he remains in a spiritual state analogous to that of lower animals. Since such a person has not developed his unique spiritual potential as a human being, he should not regard himself as endowed with superiority vis-a-vis members of the animal kingdom. See R. Isaac Arama, Akeidat Yiẓḥak, Parshat Bashalaḥ, sha’ar 41, and R. Moses Feinstein, Iggerot Mosheh, Ḥoshen Mishpat, II, no. 47, sec. 1. Cf., Maharal of Prague, Netivot Olam, chap. 15. Shevet Mussar, chap. 36, adduces this text in support of his contention that only the pious are superior to animals and hence only the pious are entitled to partake of the flesh of animals. Maharsha indicates that this text simply reflects a concern for scrupulous observance of the minutiae of the dietary code. The ignoramus is not proficient in the myriad rules and regulations governing the eating of meat, including the differentiation between kosher and nonkosher species, the porging of forbidden fat and veins, the soaking and salting of meat, etc. Only the scholar who has mastered those rules and regulations can eat meat with a clear conscience. Indeed, an earlier authority, Rabbenu Nissim, citing R. Sherira Ga'on, explains that an ignoramus is advised to refrain from eating meat because he is ignorant of the proper method of performing ritual slaughter and of examining the internal organs. A similar interpretation is advanced by R. Moses Isserles, Teshuvot Rema, no. 65, who remarks that the ignoramus is not proficient in the laws of ritual slaughter. Maharsha notes that this stricture applies only to the eating of the flesh of land-animals but places no restriction upon the eating of fish, even though reference to fish is also made in the very same biblical verse. The reason for this distinction is that the dietary code pertaining to consumption of fish is relatively simple and can be mastered by everyone, while preparation of animal meat is governed by complex regulations requiring diligent study. Historically, there certainly have been individuals who, depending upon circumstances of time and place, did deny themselves meat, not because of the ethical implications of a carnivorous diet, but because of their concern for inadvertent transgression of provisions of the dietary code. For example, during the early part of the twentieth century, many pious immigrants to the United States declined to eat meat because of the lax standards of kashrut supervision then prevalent in this country. Such individuals adopted vegetarianism as a life-style, but did so because of concern for observance of the technicalities of religious law rather than because of moral considerations.
(2) A number of medieval scholars, including R. Issac Abarbanel in his commentary on Genesis 9:3 and Isaiah 11:7, and R. Joseph Albo, Sefer ha-Ikkarim, Book III, chapter 15, regard vegetarianism as a moral ideal, not because of a concern for the welfare of animals, but because of the fact that the slaughter of animals might cause the individual who performs such acts to develop negative character traits, viz., meanness and cruelty. Their concern was with regard to possible untoward effect upon human character rather than with animal welfare.2See also R. Abraham I. Kook, Iggerot Re’iyah (Jerusalem, 5722), II, 230.
Indeed, R. Joseph Albo maintains that renunciation of the consumption of meat for reasons of concern for animal welfare is not only morally erroneous but even repugnant. Albo asserts that this was the intellectual error committed by Cain and that it was this error that was the root cause of Cain's act of fratricide. Scripture reports that Cain brought a sacrifice of the produce of the land while Abel offered a sacrifice from the animals of his flock. Albo opines that Cain did not offer an animal sacrifice because he regarded men and animals as equals3In contemporary times some advocates of animal rights have adopted precisely this position in arguing that all sentient creatures have equal moral standing. According to this view, there is no moral difference between a man and a dog; hence the pain suffered by dogs must be weighed no differently from the pain suffered by humans. The most influential exposition of the moral equality of species is that of Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York, 1977). and, accordingly, felt that he had no right to take the life of an animal, even as an act of divine worship. Abel shared the basic conviction of his brother but nevertheless maintained that man was superior to animals in that he possessed reason as demonstrated in his ability to use his intellect in cultivating fields and in shepherding flocks. This, Abel believed, gave man limited rights over animals, including the right to use animals in the service of God, but did not confer upon him the right to kill animals for his own needs. Abel's error was not as profound as that of Cain, but it was an error nonetheless. And, declares Albo, because Abel shared the error of his brother, at least to the degree of not recognizing the superiority of man over members of the animal kingdom, he was punished by being permitted to die at the hands of Cain. Albo further explains God's acceptance of Abel's sacrifice and His rejection of that of Cain as being directly related to their respective views regarding the relative moral status of men and animals. Cain's error was egregious in the extreme. Hence he was so lacking in favor in the eyes of God that his sacrifice was rejected. Although he was also guilty of error, Abel's sacrifice was accepted by God because his error was not as serious as that of his brother. According to Albo, Cain failed to understand the reason for the rejection of his sacrifice and continued to assume that his own value system was correct but that, in the eyes of God, animal sacrifice was intrinsically superior to the offering of produce. Since Cain remained confirmed in his opinion that man and animals are inherently equal, he was led to the even more grievous conclusion that just as man is entitled to take the life of an animal so also is he entitled to take the life of his fellow man. This position, Albo asserts, was adopted by succeeding generations as well and it was precisely the notion that men and animals are equal that led, not to the renunciation of causing harm to animals and to concern for their welfare, but rather to the notion that violence against one's fellow man was equally acceptable. The inevitable result was a total breakdown of the social order which ultimately culminated in punishment by means of the flood. Subsequent to the flood, meat was permitted to Noah, Albo asserts, in order to impress upon mankind the superiority of man over members of the animal kingdom.
Albo does not explain why the generations after the flood drew the correct conclusion and were not prone again to commit the error of Cain. Rather than recognizing the inherent superiority of man that is reflected in the dispensation granted them to partake of the flesh of animals, they might have concluded that violence against man is similarly justified because men and animals are coequal. It was precisely this conclusion that Cain drew from God's acceptance of animal sacrifice. It may, however, be possible that, at that juncture of human history, the possibility of drawing such a conclusion was effectively obviated. Genesis 7:23 declares that during the period of the flood God destroyed not only man but also every living creature. The Gemara, Sanhedrin 108a, queries, "If man sinned, what was the sin of the animals? Rabbi Joshua the son of Korḥah answered the question with a parable: A man made a nuptial canopy for his son and prepared elaborate foods for the wedding feast. In the interim his son died. The father arose and took apart the nuptial canopy declaring, 'I did nothing other than on behalf of my son. Now that he has died for what purpose do I need the nuptial canopy?' Similarly, the Holy One, blessed be He, said, 'I did not create animals and beasts other than for man. Now that man has sinned for what purpose do I need animals and beasts?' " Those comments serve to indicate that the extermination of innocent animals in the course of the Deluge must be regarded as proof positive of the superiority of man over members of the animal kingdom. Animals could be destroyed by a righteous God only because the sole purpose of those creatures was to serve man. Hence, if man is to be destroyed, the continued existence of animal species is purposeless. Thus the basic principle, i.e., the superiority of man over members of the animal kingdom, was amply demonstrated by the destruction of animals during the course of the flood. No further demonstration of the relative status of man and beasts was necessary. Permission to eat the flesh of animals was then required only as a means of explicitly negating the residual notion that animals are somehow endowed with rights and that man's obligations vis-a-vis animals are rooted in such rights rather than in a concern for the possible moral degeneration of man himself.4See R. Ben-Zion Firrer, Panim Ḥadashot ba-Torah (Jerusalem, 5735), I, 45.
Albo's basic position is reflected in a comment of Bereshit Rabbah 22:26 which indicates that Cain did not understand the enormity of his misdeed:
And the Lord said unto him, "Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengence shall be taken on him sevenfold" (Genesis 4:15). R. Nehemiah said, "The punishment of Cain is not as the punishment of other murderers. Cain killed but he had none from whom to learn [the enormity of his crime]. [But] henceforth whosoever slayeth Cain shall be slain."
The implication of this statement is that Cain was not aware of the heinous nature of his crime. According to Albo, Cain lapsed into grievous moral error because, having accepted the equality of man and members of the animal kingdom, he regarded divine acceptance of animal sacrifice as license to take the life of others.
(3) One modern-day scholar who is often cited as looking upon vegetarianism with extreme favor is the late Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. It is indeed the case that in his writings Rabbi Kook speaks of vegetarianism as an ideal and points to the fact that Adam did not partake of the flesh of animals. In context, however, Rabbi Kook makes those comments in his portrayal of the eschatological era.5It should be noted that Rabbi Kook espouses the kabbalistic view that in the eschatological era the so-called lower animals will be endowed with intelligence similar to that of man in the present era. See R. Abraham I. Kook, “Afikim ba-Negev,” Ha-Peles, vol. 3, no. 12 (Elul 5663), p. 718. He regards man's moral state in that period as being akin to that of Adam before his sin and does indeed view renunciation of enjoyment of animal flesh as part of the heightened moral awareness which will be manifest at that time.6Yet it must be noted that it is in that era that the Gemara, Baba Batra 75a, declares that God will prepare a feast for the righteous consisting of the flesh of the leviathan. Similarly, Va-Yikra Rabbah 13:3 speaks of a meal consisting of the meat of animals to be served to those who presently observe the restrictions concerning carrion and forms of prohibited meat. But Rabbi Kook is emphatic, nay, vehement, in admonishing that vegetarianism dare not be adopted as a norm of human conduct prior to the advent of the eschatological era. Rabbi Kook advances what are, in effect, four distinct arguments in renunciation of vegetarianism as a goal toward which contemporary man ought to aspire:
(i) Addressing himself to members of the vegetarian movement, Rabbi Kook remarks almost facetiously that one might surmise that all problems of human welfare have been resolved and the sole remaining area of concern is animal welfare. In effect, his argument is that there ought to be a proper ordering of priorities. Rabbi Kook is quite explicit in stating that enmity between nations and racial discrimination should be of greater moral concern to mankind than the well-being of animals and that only when such matters have been rectified should attention be turned to questions of animal welfare.7See Ha-Peles, vol. 3, no. 11 (Ab 5663), p. 658, excerpted in “Ḥazon ha-Ẓimḥonut ve-ha-Shalom,” Mishnat ha-Rav, ed. Abraham Rieger and Yochanan Fried (Jerusalem, 5721), pp. 211-12.
(ii) Given the present nature of the human condition, maintains Rabbi Kook, it is impossible for man to sublimate his desire for meat. The inevitable result of promoting vegetarianism as a normative standard of human conduct, argues Rabbi Kook, will be that man will violate this norm in seeking self-gratification. Once taking the life of animals is regarded as being equal in abhorrence to taking the life of man, it will transpire, contends Rabbi Kook, that in his pursuit of meat, man will regard cannibalism as no more heinous than the consumption of the flesh of animals.8A recent writer presents a strikingly similar argument in decrying attempts to ban animal experimentation. He argues that prohibiting the use of live animals in biomedical research may well result in replacement of animal subjects with humans. See Carl Cohen, “The Case for the Use of Animals in Biomedical Research,” The New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 315, no. 14 (October 2, 1986), p. 868. The result will be, not enhanced respect for the life of animals, but rather debasement of human life."9See Ha-Peles, p. 658; Mishnat ha-Rav, p. 212.
(iii) Man was granted dominion over animals, including the right to take their lives for man's own benefit, in order to impress upon him his spiritual superiority and heightened moral obligations. Were man to accord animals the same rights he accords fellow human beings he would rapidly degenerate to the level of animals in assuming that he is bound by standards of morality no different from those espoused by brute animals.10See Ha-Peles, p. 659; Mishnat ha-Rav, pp. 214-16.
(iv) In an insightful psychological observation, Rabbi Kook remarks that even individuals who are morally degenerate seek to channel their natural moral instincts in some direction. Frequently, they seek to give expression to moral drives by becoming particularly scrupulous with regard to some specific aspect of moral behavior. With almost prescient knowledge of future events, Rabbi Kook argues that, were vegetarianism to become the norm, people might become quite callous with regard to human welfare and human life and express their instinctive moral feelings in an exaggerated concern for animal welfare.11See Ha-Peles, p. 659-60; Mishnat ha-Rav, p. 217.
A related, but different, concept is the Freudian notion of reaction formation, i.e., when faced with an unacceptable impulse, the ego may try to sidetrack the offensive impulse by transforming its conscious representation into its opposite. Thus an unconscious aggressive or destructive instinct may be masked and hidden from awareness by manifestations of excessive felicity. In terms of this theory, the concern with regard to the development of character traits based upon reaction formation is that a breakthrough of the original impulse is a continuous danger. See Sigmund Freud, “Notes upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis,” trans. by A. Strachey and J. Strachey, The Standard Edition of The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. J. Strachey, X (London, 1955), 249; idem, “Psychoanalytic Notes upon an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides),” trans. by A. Strachey and J. Strachey, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, XII (London, 1958), 3-82; and idem, “Inhibition, Symptoms and Anxiety,” trans. by A. Strachey and J. Strachey, The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, XX (London, 1959), 75-174. These comments summon to mind the spectacle of Germans watching with equanimity while their Jewish neighbors were dispatched to crematoria and immediately thereafter turning their attention to the welfare of the household pets that had been left behind.12Note should also be taken of Hitler’s proclaimed abstinence from meat as well as from coffee, alcohol and sexual activity. In the words of one author, “Hitler thus proved his moral right to free the Germans from their post-war masochism and to convince them that they, in turn, have a right to hate, to torture, to kill.” See Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society (New York, 1963), p. 342. However, reports of Hitler’s alleged vegetarianism are contradicted by a number of other sources. Perhaps the most significant of these is Robert Payne, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler (London, 1973), p. 346, who relates that Hitler particularly enjoyed Bavarian sausages. Other biographers note that ham, liver and game were included in his diet. See John Toland, Adolf Hitler (New York, 1976), pp. 30, 54, 107 and 256 and Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich (New York, 1981), p. 89.
Despite the foregoing, vegetarianism is not rejected by Judaism as a valid lifestyle for at least some individuals. There are, to be sure, individuals who are repulsed by the prospect of consuming the flesh of a living creature. It is not the case that an individual who declines to partake of meat is ipso facto guilty of a violation of the moral code. On the contrary, Scripture states, "and you will say: 'I will eat meat,' because your soul desires to eat meat; with all the desire of your soul may you eat meat" (Deuteronomy 12:20). The implication is that meat may be consumed when there is desire and appetite for it as food, but may be eschewed when there is no desire and, a fortiori, when it is found to be repugnant.13See Ha-Peles, p. 657; Mishnat ha-Rav, p. 209. The question is one of perspective. Concern arises only when such conduct is elevated to the level of a moral norm.
Ethicists who do not accept the notion of revelation are left with a problem with regard to the nature of ethical propositions. Ethical statements are clearly more than an expression of subjective likes or dislikes since man has no difficulty in distinguishing between the expression of a mere preference and the expression of what he regards as a moral norm. C. L. Stevenson drew the distinction in essentially the following manner: The statement "I like spinach" is a reflection of subjective feeling and nothing more. The proposition "X is good" resolves into two statements, viz., "I approve of X. You do so as well." The proposition "X is good" goes beyond the proposition "I like spinach" in that it is addressed to others and seeks to have them adopt the attitude of the speaker.14See Charles L. Stevenson, Ethics and Language (New Haven, 1944), pp. 20-26. An individual's subjective repugnance at the prospect of consuming the flesh of an animal is an aesthetic response rather than a moral reaction. It becomes a moral position only when expressed in advocating the adoption of such norms of conduct by others as well. Jewish tradition does not command carnivorous behavior; it rejects the notion that, at least during the current historical epoch, renunciation of the eating of meat should be posited as a moral ideal for mankind. Thus although "moral vegetarianism" finds no support in Jewish ethics, "aesthetic vegetarianism" is not incompatible with Jewish teaching.15By the same token, adoption of a vegetarian life-style because of a sincere conviction that consumption of meat is deleterious to health is not incompatible with Jewish teaching.
In a similar manner, some scholars advocate abstemiousness or complete abjuration of meat and wine, health permitting, as a form of self-mortification for the purpose of expiation of sin. See Sedei Ḥemed, Asifat Dinim, ma’arekhet akhilah, sec. 1.
II. Meat on Yom Tov
One halakhic consideration standing in the way of adherence to a strict vegetarian regimen is the obligation of simḥat Yom Tov, i.e., rejoicing in the festivals. According to most authorities, throughout the period during which the Temple stood, there was an absolute obligation, at least on the part of males, to partake of the flesh of the festival offering. The Gemara, Pesạhim 109a, records:
R. Judah ben Beteira declared, "During the time that the Temple existed there was no 'rejoicing' other than with meat as it is said, 'and you shall slaughter peace-offerings and you shall eat there; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God' (Deuteronomy 27:7)."
The juxtaposition in a single verse of the commandments concerning the peace-offering and the obligation regarding rejoicing is regarded by the Gemara as establishing the principle that the "rejoicing" in the festival that is explicitly commanded (Deuteronomy 16:14) is that of partaking of the meat of the sacrifice.16According to most authorities, the parallel obligation on Shabbat is oneg or “delight” and does not mandate the eating of meat as an absolute obligation. See sources cited by R. Shalom Mordecai Schwadron, Da‘at Torah, Yoreh De‘ah 1:10. Yoreh De’ah 1:10, and Sedei Hemed, Asifat Dinim, ma’arekhet dining, sec. 1.
Subsequent to the destruction of the Temple and the consequent lapse of the sacrificial order, whether or not there exists an obligation to partake of ordinary meat on the festivals is a matter of some dispute. There would appear to be no basis for assuming that such an obligation exists since the obligation posited by the Gemara explicitly specifies that meat of the festival-offering must be used for this purpose. Indeed the statement of R. Judah ben Beteira concluded with the remark, "but now that the Temple does not exist there is no rejoicing other than with wine, as it is written 'And wine [that] gladdens the heart of man' (Psalms 104:15)." The ostensive implication of this statement is that, subsequent to the destruction of the Temple, the commandment concerning rejoicing on the festival is fulfilled only by drinking wine and not by eating meat. Similarly, the Gemara, Pesaḥim 71a, indicates that, even while the Temple stood, when the sacrificial animal could not be cooked, i.e., on the Sabbath, the obligation of rejoicing was satisfied by donning clean raiment and drinking "old wine" rather than by eating ordinary meat prepared in advance of the Sabbath. This is indeed the position of Ritva, Kiddushin 3b, and of Teshuvot Rashbash, no. 176, who maintain that there no longer exists an obligation to partake of meat on the festivals. Moreover, Tosafot, Yoma 3a, and Rabbenu Nissim, Sukkah 42b, citing the earlier-mentioned statement recorded in Pesaḥim 71a and the statement of the Gemara, Hagigah 8a, which speaks of "all forms of rejoicing," assert that, even during the Temple period, the eating of meat was not an absolute requirement. Rabbenu Nissim characterizes the requirement to eat the meat of the festival offering as a mizvah min ha-muvḥar, i.e., the optimal manner of fulfilling the obligation, but not an absolute requirement.
However, Rambam, Sefer ha-Mizvot, mizvot aseh, no. 54, adopts an entirely different position: "Included in His statement 'and you shall rejoice in your festivals' (Deuteronomy 16:14) is that which [the Sages] said to rejoice in them with [various] forms of rejoicing and [because] of this to eat meat, to drink wine, to don new clothes and to distribute fruits and sweets to children and women." Even more explicit is Rambam's statement in Hilkhot Yom Tov 6:18. After codifying the requirement of eating the meat of the festival-offering during the days of the Temple, Rambam turns to an explication of other ramifications of the commandment to rejoice in the festival: "How [is the commandment fulfilled]? Children are given parched corn, nuts and sweets; for women one buys beautiful clothes and ornaments in accordance with one's financial ability; and men eat meat and drink wine, for there is no rejoicing other than with meat and there is no rejoicing other than with wine." This view is also adopted by Tur Shulḥan Arukh, Oraḥ Hayyim 529.
Bet Yosef, Oraḥ Hayyim 529, questions the requirement posited by Rambam and Tur regarding eating meat on the festival since the Gemara seems to indicate that, in our day, the commandment is satisfied by merely drinking wine.17Cf., R. Moshe Sternbuch, Mo’adim u-Zemanim, I, no. 29, and VII, no. 111, notes 1 and 2. The statement of Hagigah 8a " 'and you shall rejoice in your festivals' (Deuteronomy 16:14): to include all forms of rejoicing," is apparently understood by Rambam as creating a normative obligation beyond that posited in Pesaḥim 109a with regard to partaking of the meat of the festival-offering. Therefore, maintains Rambam, when meat of sacrificial animals is not available, ordinary meat must be eaten for purposes of fulfilling the commandment of rejoicing.18Cf., also, Bah, Oraḥ Ḥayyim 529. It is quite evident that the Sages maintained that the consumption of ordinary meat gives rise to joy since the Gemara, Sanhedrin 70a, declares that it is forbidden to eat meat or to drink wine on the day preceding the ninth of Ab.19It is certainly arguable that, even according to Rambam, a man who genuinely finds meat repulsive is not required to eat meat on Yom Tov. The obligation to eat meat subsequent to the destruction of the Temple is based upon the derivation “to include all forms of rejoicing” formulated in Ḥagigah 8a. The specific forms of rejoicing are not uniform to all people as evidenced by the fact that women are not obligated to eat meat but to rejoice with new clothes and jewelry. This halakhic provision reflects the judgment of the Sages that women do not derive the same pleasure from eating meat as is experienced by men. A male who does not derive pleasure from eating meat, arguably, must seek other forms of rejoicing. Cf. R. Moshe ha-Levi Steinberg, Ḥukkat ha-Ger (Jerusalem, 5741), Kuntres ha-Teshuvot, no. 1. This prohibition was later extended to prohibit the eating of meat beginning with the first day of Ab. However, if all appropriate forms of rejoicing are mandatory, why does the Gemara, Pesaḥim 109a, speak of wine as obligatory only in our day, but not when the meat of the festival offerings was eaten? Yam shel Shelomoh, Beizah 2:5, suggests that, when the Temple stood, rejoicing was possible without the inebriating effect of wine; only in exile is wine necessary to dispel melancholy and to generate joyousness in order to restore faith that God has not forsaken us. Yam shel Shelomoh fails to explain why Pesaḥim 71a speaks of an obligation with regard to drinking "old wine" prior to the destruction of the Temple.
Among latter-day authorities, Magen Avraham, Oraḥ Hayyim 696:15, states that, subsequent to the destruction of the Temple, there is no obligation to eat meat on festivals. This statement is, however, contradicted by another comment of Magen Avraham himself. Magen Avraham, Oraḥ Hayyim 249:6, cites a similar statement in the name of Levush declaring the eating of meat on the festivals not to be obligatory in our day and, pointing to Sanhedrin 70a, declares Levush to be in error. In yet another comment, Magen Avraham, Oraḥ Hayyim 529:3, declares it to be a "mizvah" to eat meat on Yom Tov.20One latter-day authority, R. Shlomoh Haas, Kerem Shlomoh, Yoreh De’ah 1:1, declares the obligation to eat meat on Yom Tov to be rabbinic in nature. A contradictory statement attributed to that author by some contemporary writers is patently incorrect. See Richard Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism (Pompeno Beach, 1982); p. 148, note 3. This source is, in turn, cited by Elijah Judah Schochet, Animal Life in Jewish Tradition (New York, 1984), p. 342, note 12. The similarly cited Yakhel Shlomoh, Oraḥ Ḥayyim 59:2, attributed to R. Shlomoh Haas appears to be a non-existent work. The reference is presumably to Kerem Shlomoh, Oraḥ Ḥayyim 529:2, which speaks only of “other forms of rejoicing” in lieu of partaking of the meat of sacrificial animals.
One ramification of the view that the eating of meat on the festivals is an absolute requirement is found in Teshuvot Havot Ya'ir, no. 178. The sole ritual slaughterer in a small village fell ill prior to Passover with the result that the townspeople were faced with the prospect of being without meat for the holiday. One of the members of the community was proficient in the laws of slaughtering but did not possess formal kabbalah, i.e., rabbinic license to serve as a ritual slaughterer. Havot Ya'ir ruled that, were there no question with regard to the actual kashrut of the slaughtered animal, the requirement for kabbalah must be waived in order to make it possible to fulfill the commandment of rejoicing in the festival. R. Shalom Mordecai Schwadron, Da'at Torah, Yoreh De'ah 1:10, contested this ruling on the grounds that, according to many authorities, subsequent to the destruction of the Temple, the eating of meat on Yom Tov is not an absolute requirement. This latter view is also the position of Shenei Luḥot ha-Berit, p. 74b, cited by Pitḥei Teshuvah, Yoreh De'ah 18:9.
Another matter that is directly contingent upon the resolution of this question is addressed by R. Moshe ha-Levi Steinberg, Hukkat ha-Ger, Kuntres ha-Teshuvot, no 1. The question concerns the conversion of a proselyte who is a vegetarian and hence will not assume the obligation of eating meat on Yom Tov. If such consumption of meat is an absolute obligation, the conversion is invalid. This conclusion follows from the principle formulated in Bekhorot 30b and the Mekhilta, Parshat Kedoshim 19:34, which provides that the candidate's failure to accept any provision of Jewish law invalidates a conversion.21Even were such conversions valid, assistance in such a conversion may yet involve a transgression of lifnei iver. R. Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach, Minḥat Shlomoh, no. 35, sec. 3, questions the validity of conversions in which it is known that the proselyte does not intend to observe the commandments of the Torah and adds that were such conversions to be regarded as valid, “all who assist” in such procedures would be guilty of “placing a stumbling block before the blind” since, were the proselyte not to have become a Jew, such actions would be entirely permissible. If, on the other hand, the eating of meat on Yom Tov is not a normative requirement, the conversion is entirely valid.
Regardless of whether or not there exists a normative obligation to eat meat on Yom Tov, it is certain that the Sages encouraged and urged such practice. Even practices which are not mandated by the obligation concerning rejoicing nevertheless constitute a fulfillment of the commandment when they result in feelings of gladness and joy.22Cf., Sha’agat Aryeh, no. 65.
*Abstinence from the flesh of animals is also the subject of scattered comments in kabbalistic writings. R. Moses Cordovero, Shi’ur Komah (Warsaw, 5643), p. 84b, advises that a person seeking spiritual perfection should “distance” himself from eating meat. Accepting the principle of transmigration of souls, R. Moses Cordovero expresses the concern that the soul of a wicked man may be present in a slaughtered animal and exert a deleterious influence over the person who consumes its flesh. In a footnote appended to that text, the editor remarks that, according to this thesis, one who is imbued with the Divine Spirit, and hence is capable of determining that no such soul is incarnated in the animal he is about to eat, has no reason to refrain from eating meat.
A similar position is attributed to Reishit Ḥokhmah by Sedei Hemed, Asifat Dinim, ma’arekhet akhilah, sec. 1. Reishit Ḥokhmah, p. 129b, is cited as stating that one should not eat the flesh of any living creature. The reference appears to be to the Amsterdam, 5668 edition of Reishit Ḥokhmah. However, an examination of pp. 129b-130a of that edition reveals that, rather than advising total abstinence from the flesh of living creatures, Reishit Ḥokhmah offers counsel with regard to the time of day most suitable for partaking of meat.
Opposition to consumption of meat appears to be a narrowly held view even within the kabbalistic tradition. A number of kabbalistic sources indicate that, quite to the contrary, the doctrine of transmigration yields a positive view regarding the eating of meat. According to these sources, transmigrated souls present in the flesh of animals may secure their release only when the meat of the animal has been consumed by man. The miẓvot performed in preparation and partaking of the meat and the blessings pronounced upon its consumption serve to “perfect” the transmigrated soul so that it may be released to enjoy eternal reward. See, for example Shevet Mussar, chap. 36 and R. Zevi Elimelech of Dinov, Bnei Yissaskhar, Ma’amarei ha-Shabbatot, ma’amar 10, sec. 4, and Sivan, ma’amar 5, sec. 18. Righteous individuals who must undergo transmigration in expiation of minor infractions are incarnated in fish in order to spare them the pain of slaughter. Scripture speaks of fish as “gathered” rather than as slaughtered and similarly speaks of the righteous as being “gathered” to their forebears rather than as experiencing the throes of death. See also R. Moshe Teitelbaum, Yismaḥ Mosheh, Parshat Va-Yeira, s.v. va-yikaḥ ḥemah ve-ḥalav. R. Yechiel Michal ha-Levi Epstein, Kiẓur Shelah (Jerusalem, 5720), p. 161, advises that particular effort be made to eat fish on Shabbat so that the souls of the righteous which may be incarnated in the fish be “perfected” through consumption of the fish by a righteous and observant Jew.
R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson is quoted as having expressed opposition to vegetarians, at least tentatively, on kabbalistic grounds. He is reported to have voiced the concern that refraining from consumption of meat will prevent the “elevation of sparks,” a goal that is central to the kabbalists’ view of man’s purpose in life. See the comments of R. Shear-Yashuv Cohen, published as the introduction to R. Menachem Slae, Min ha-Ḥai (Jerusalem, 5748). In forbidding the eating of meat on the day preceding the ninth of Av because consumption of meat gives rise to joy, the Gemara forbids only the eating of types of meat comparable to that of sacrificial animals. Thus, fowl and preserved meats are not included in this prohibition. It then follows that, according to Rambam who requires the eating of meat on Yom Tov, it is the meat of animals rather than of fowl which must be eaten. Nevertheless, the Gemara, Beizah 10b, explains that doves slaughtered on Yom Tov must be designated for that purpose in advance, lest, if the doves have not been previously examined, they may be found on Yom Tov to be insufficiently fattened, with the result that a person relying upon them for the Yom Tov meal will be lacking in "the joy of the festival." Since, even according to Rambam, the obligatory commandment of rejoicing cannot be fulfilled by eating doves, it is clear that, even absent a normative obligation, the Sages sought to promote the eating of tasty meat on Yom Tov because the consumption of such food enhances the joyfulness and festivity of the day. Thus, even if there is no normative obligation to partake of meat on Yom Tov, abstaining from meat on Yom Tov because of considerations of vegetarianism would not have been looked upon with favor by the Sages.