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Many vegetarians and vegans argue that G-d gave humans permission to eat meat only because of a human failing in abstaining anyway. My takeaway from that argument is that, in light of a more traditional approach I've heard, that after the Flood, all animals owed their very existence to humans and therefore humans were placed atop the food chain, and since humans could not overcome the temptation to remain herbivorous anyway, G-d granted us the right to eat meat. I've also heard that in the days of the Messiah, we will no longer eat meat.

But is that really how are to view this permission? I know a direct parallel cannot be drawn from the fact that G-d asks for animal sacrifice, because we are giving in that case, not taking, and the argument over leather also proves virtually nothing. Further, it makes it even more difficult for us to budget for our own consumption if we have to sacrifice part of our flocks to G-d.

Yet we have certain statements with the force of Halachah behind them (whether we Pasken like them or not), that indicate that eating meat is spiritually desirable. I found a reference to Ramban (online, though I cannot trace the source at the moment) indicating that Kosher meat is good for the soul - of course on the other hand, non-Jews are not restricted to such meat, so there's that. But there is the famous statement that there is no joy without meat and wine, and furthermore a requirement (I'm using that term loosely, although some take it very seriously) to eat meat and fish on Shabbath.

Bottom line, is eating meat a good thing, or is it a concession but better not to if we don't have an overwhelming desire to eat meat? Or is there a middle-ground, that since we have the concession it is something we need not worry about and are free to enjoy?

More food for thought (no pun intended): This answer indicates a necessity to eat meat to distinguish humans from animals (possibly even for the animals' sake as much as the humans'). (If anyone can help with general sourcing, it would be greatly appreciated. I've heard R' Kook strongly encouraged vegetarianism (veganism?). If anyone can provide a source for that, I'd appreciate that as well.)

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"The most famous of our sages to speak of a Messianic era without animal sacrifices is, of course, R. Kook, who envisions vegetable sacrifices. He writes this in his commentary to the siddur, Olat ha-Reiyah, vol. 1, p. 292." seforim.blogspot.com/2010/04/… –  b a Aug 30 '12 at 19:35
    
And I don't know the reference to the Ramban, but the Rambam writes something similar at the end of Maachalos Asuros (hebrewbooks.org/…) –  b a Aug 30 '12 at 19:38
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related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/334/759 –  Double AA Aug 30 '12 at 19:41
    
@ba, thanks - I was looking for that R' Kook source! –  Seth J Aug 30 '12 at 19:44
    
@DoubleAA, not a duplicate? –  msh210 Aug 30 '12 at 20:19
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1 Answer

up vote 2 down vote accepted

These two articles on Chabad.org break it down well, see them for full details and sources : "Judaism and Vegetarianism" and "Chassidic Masters - Meat"

In short:

Originally, Meat was forbidden, since man was unable to elevate it [When a person drinks a glass of water, eats an apple, or slaughters an ox and consumes its meat, these are converted into the stuff of the human body and the energy that drives it. When this person performs a G‑dly deed—a deed that transcends his natural self and brings him closer to G‑d—he elevates the elements he has incorporated into himself, reuniting the sparks of G‑dliness they embody with their source.]. After the flood, man was able to elevate the meat (either because man, the animal, or the world became more refined as a result of the flood - possibly all 3).

Meat is a luxury, while bread is a staple. As such, one should only eat it when he is sure he will have a spiritual advantage over eating vegetation. As our sages tell us that an Am Ha-Aretz should not eat meat (Pesachim 49B) and that one should never eat meat out of hunger, but fill up on bread first (Chulin 84A).

However, if one can properly eat meat, it would be cruel for him not to do so, since he is denying the animal the chance to be spiritually elevated. - see here


This covers the Chassidic/Kabalistic approach. The philosophical approach, presented by R' Yosef Albo, is that originally man was told not to kill animals and eat them, since this is a cruel act. The generations preceding the flood mistakenly understood this to mean that animals were equal to man. Therefore, after the flood, G-d commanded man to eat meat, to remind themselves that they were superior to animals, and had a task to fulfill that was not animalistic. When the Torah was given, animals whose meat had negative effects were prohibited.

According to this, eating meat is "necessary, but not desirable".

According to this, Rav Kook said that in the Messianic Era, meat would not be eaten, but "insists that this ideal is not to be assumed as the norm until the coming of Moshiach, when human nature will be completely refined. Until then, he warns, such restrictions may have detrimental effects on man’s moral behavior. (Chazon ha-Tzimchonut veha-Shalom)" - (I didn't look up this source)


Some more reading material:

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Do you know of any discussion surrounding who exactly fits into the heter of pesachim 49b? –  Double AA Aug 31 '12 at 20:27
    
@DoubleAA: Not really, but check out page 4 of the translation of Shevet Hamussar, who takes a very hard line view (after quoting (Berachot 47b) “He who studied and learned extensively if he did not serve the Talmide Chachamim he is an Am HaAretz ". And (although I don't have a source right now) the Baal HaTanya writes that anyone who does not know the laws of Berachot is an Am HaAretz. One could argue that there are different standards for Am HaAretz for different things. –  Menachem Aug 31 '12 at 21:24
    
"One could argue..." I would hope so considering the next few lines of the gemara in Pesachim! :) –  Double AA Aug 31 '12 at 21:33
    
Re: "Meat is a luxury, while bread is a staple. As such, one should only eat it when he is sure he will have a spiritual advantage over eating vegetation." Interestingly, Laḥm in Arabic (the cognate to Hebrew Leḥem) means meat. I've long wondered as to the significance of this. –  Seth J Sep 7 '12 at 13:30
    
+1, and I think I'll grant you the answer as well, although I'm not fully satisfied, since a)nobody has provided any other answer and b)your answer covers a broad range of sources and Hashkafoth. –  Seth J Sep 7 '12 at 13:35
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