Moral Decisions in a Complex World

"The problem is not values. Whether secular or religious, citizens of the 21st century have plenty of values. The problem is with implementing these values in a complex global world...

The system is structured in such a way that those who make no effort to know remain in blissful ignorance, and those who do make the effort find it very difficult to discover the truth... The problem is that it has become extremely difficult to discover what we are actually doing.

One can try to avoid the problem by adopting a "morality of intentions." What's important is what I intend, not what actually do what I do.

However in the world in which everything is interconnected, the supreme moral imperative the imperative to know." - Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, p. 228 - 231


Option A: Access Wisdom, Ancient and Modern


(כט) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹקִ֗ים הִנֵּה֩ נָתַ֨תִּי לָכֶ֜ם אֶת־כָּל־עֵ֣שֶׂב ׀ זֹרֵ֣עַ זֶ֗רַע אֲשֶׁר֙ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י כָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וְאֶת־כָּל־הָעֵ֛ץ אֲשֶׁר־בּ֥וֹ פְרִי־עֵ֖ץ זֹרֵ֣עַ זָ֑רַע לָכֶ֥ם יִֽהְיֶ֖ה לְאָכְלָֽה׃ (ל) וּֽלְכָל־חַיַּ֣ת הָ֠אָרֶץ וּלְכָל־ע֨וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֜יִם וּלְכֹ֣ל ׀ רוֹמֵ֣שׂ עַל־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־בּוֹ֙ נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֔ה אֶת־כָּל־יֶ֥רֶק עֵ֖שֶׂב לְאָכְלָ֑ה וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן׃

To Adam and Eve: (29) And God said: ‘Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed—to you it shall be for food.

(ג) כָּל־רֶ֙מֶשׂ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר הוּא־חַ֔י לָכֶ֥ם יִהְיֶ֖ה לְאָכְלָ֑ה כְּיֶ֣רֶק עֵ֔שֶׂב נָתַ֥תִּי לָכֶ֖ם אֶת־כֹּֽל׃ (ד) אַךְ־בָּשָׂ֕ר בְּנַפְשׁ֥וֹ דָמ֖וֹ לֹ֥א תֹאכֵֽלוּ׃

To Noah, after the flood: (2) The fear and the dread of you shall be upon all the beasts of the earth and upon all the birds of the sky—everything with which the earth is astir—and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hand.

(3) Every moving thing that liveth shall be for food for you [in addition to] the green herb have I given you all. (4) You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it.

Seeing the devastation wrought by the deluge, the survivors of the flood worry about dying of starvation. Taking note of their fears, God effectively answers, “If there is no fruit for you to eat, take from the animals for your food.” (Rav Isaac Abravanel 1437-1508


According to Rav Kook, because people had sunk to an extremely low level of spirituality (in the time of Noah), it was necessary that they be given an elevated image of themselves as compared to animals, and that they concentrate their efforts into first improving relationships between people. He felt that were people denied permission to eat meat, they might eat the flesh of human beings due to their inability to control their lust for flesh. He regarded the permission to slaughter animals for food as a “transitional tax” or temporary dispensation until a “brighter era” is reached when people would return to vegetarian diets. Perhaps to reinforce the idea that the ideal vegetarian time had not yet arrived, [many claim that] Rav Kook ate a symbolic small amount of chicken on the Sabbath day.​ - Richard H. Schwartz


While permission is given to eat meat, the Torah goes on to significantly limit its consumption to only a few species and only by ethical slaughter, not eating the blood, not causing pain to animals, not eating limbs from living animals, etc:

R. Yom Tov Alshabili, Pesachim 49b

Gemara: "One who doesn't study Torah is forbidden to eat meat" - R. Yom Tov explains that this is because of his ignorance, that he doesn't know how to slaughter, salt, and clean the meat appropriately.


“A person should only eat meat on rare appointed occasions, and the reason is that a person should not become accustomed to eating meat, as it is written, ‘You shall eat meat with all your desire. Eat it, however, as you eat the gazelle and the deer…’ (Deut. 12:21-22) This means that you should eat meat by circumstance rather than in a set way. For the gazelle and the deer are not easily found around human dwellings...

Consequently, since one eats them rarely, he will not come to habituate himself to eating ordinary meat since it gives birth to cruelty and other bad qualities in the body of a the person. For it is the birds of prey that kill and eat meat, and the lion that kills prey and eats. Therefore it says that in the future, ‘The lion like the ox will eat straw. For there will be peace between all living creatures.’ (Isaiah 11:7)” (Kli Yakar on Chulin 84a)


וְהָאֲנָשִׁים אוֹכְלִין בָּשָׂר וְשׁוֹתִין יַיִן שֶׁאֵין שִׂמְחָה אֶלָּא בְּבָשָׂר וְאֵין שִׂמְחָה אֶלָּא בְּיַיִן.

[We must rejoice and be happy on Jewish holidays...]

the menfolk should eat meat and drink wine, for there is no real rejoicing without the use of meat and wine.

תנו רבנן חייב אדם לשמח בניו ובני ביתו ברגל שנאמר ושמחת בחגך במה משמחם ביין רבי יהודה אומר אנשים בראוי להם ונשים בראוי להן אנשים בראוי להם ביין ונשים במאי תני רב יוסף בבבל בבגדי צבעונין בארץ ישראל בבגדי פשתן מגוהצין תניא רבי יהודה בן בתירא אומר בזמן שבית המקדש קיים אין שמחה אלא בבשר שנאמר וזבחת שלמים ואכלת שם ושמחת לפני ה׳ אלקיך ועכשיו שאין בית המקדש קיים אין שמחה אלא ביין שנאמר ויין ישמח לבב אנוש

Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira says: When the Temple is standing, rejoicing is only through the eating of sacrificial meat, as it is stated: “And you shall sacrifice peace-offerings and you shall eat there and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 27:7).

And now that the Temple is not standing and one cannot eat sacrificial meat, he can fulfill the mitzva of rejoicing on a Festival only by drinking wine, as it is stated: “And wine that gladdens the heart of man” (Psalms 104:15).


The modern, mechanized, commercial animal factories that process most of the animal flesh we consume utilize methods that transgress the fundamental Jewish principle of “tsa’ar ba’alei chaim” - responding to the suffering of animals - and violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the kosher dietary laws.

The contemporary commentator Rabbi Pinchas Peli, in Torah Today, writes that “the laws of kashrut come to teach us that a Jew’s first preference should be a vegetarian meal. If, however, one cannot control a craving for meat,...” the dietary laws should “...serve as a reminder that the animal being eaten is a creature of God, that the death of such a creature cannot be taken lightly. (Rabbi Jonathan Rubenstein, The Jewish World)


Option B: Investigate

God wished us to be perfected and the state of our societies to be improved through Torah laws regarding actions. Now this can come about only after the adoption of intellectual beliefs... [requiring] a study of natural science. - Maimonides, Intro to Guide to the Perplexed


"Make the effort to read the relevant scientific literature (peer-reviewed articles, books published by well-known academic publishers.) Science obviously has its limitations, and it has gotten many things wrong in the past. Nevertheless, the scientific community has been our most reliable source of knowledge for centuries. If you think the scientific community is wrong about something, that's certainly possible, but at least know the scientific theories you are rejecting, and provide some empirical evidence to support your claim." - Harari, p. 249.


Option C: Meditate on It

Step away from the stream of thoughts,

and into your higher consciousness.

What is your heart telling you?