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Adam wasn't allowed to eat meat. After the mabul (Flood) we were suddenly permitted to eat (Bereshit 9:3). What changed (ie what was the reason we weren't allowed to before, why are we allowed to now and what changed after the flood)?

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Tosafot (Sanhedrin 56B) says that Adam HaRishon was able to eat meat that had died by itself he just was not able to kill the meat and eat it. However, if one of the limbs of the animal fell off by itself, he was not allowed to eat it, because of the prohibition of Ever Min Hachai.

Rambam holds that Adam wasn't given the prohibition of Ever Min Hachai. The Kesef Mishna explains that this is because Adam wasn't permitted to eat meat at all.

Rashi on Chumash (Genesis 1:30) says that Adam and Chava were not allowed to "kill animals and eat meat", and commentaries disagree on the exact scope of this prohibition. The Gur Aryeh (quoted here) says that Rashi is saying that Adam was forbidden to eat meat at all. The Mizrachi says that Rashi is saying that humans were only not allowed to kill animals, (quoted here, original here).

R' Yehuda Ben Besaira says (Sanhedrin 59B) that while Adam HaRishon was in Gan Eden, the angels roasted meat for him.

See here and here.

Here are the stages of eating meat:

  1. Adam: According to Tosafot, Adam was allowed to eat meat that had died on their own, but was not able to kill animals and eat them. According to others, he was not able to eat meat at all.

  2. Noach: The Ramban (Genesis 1:29) explains that all the animals were supposed to die in the flood. Since they only survived because Noach saved the animals from extinction, Noach was given the right to kill meat and eat it, but was not allowed to eat the limb of a living animal. As the Ramban puts it, Noach was only given control over the animals body, not the soul. This prohibition included not drinking the animals blood while the animal was still alive (Bereshit 9:4 and Rashi there).

  3. Jews: The Torah was given and the Jews were given additional restrictions.

    1. They were not only not permitted to eat the limb of a living animal, but even after the animal was dead they were not allowed to eat the blood, since the blood is the soul (Vayikra 17:10 and on).
    2. They had to ritually slaughter the meat, they were not allowed to just kill it. (Devarim 12:21 - see Rashi)
  4. Jews in the Desert vs. Jews in the Holy Land: While the Jews were in the desert, there is an argument (Gemara Chulin 16B-17A) between R' Akiva and R' Yishmael regarding whether the Jews were able to eat regular meat (Called "Meat of Desire" as opposed to sacrificed meat). R' Yishmael says that the Jews were not allowed to just slaughter an animal and eat it. The only way they were allowed to eat meat was by offering a sacrifice and then eating the leftovers. (Vayikrah 17:1-9 - and Rashi on Devarim 12:20).

    Once they entered the land however, they were permitted to slaughter and eat meat without having to bring a sacrifice, since the distance to the Beis Hamikdash was too great to expect the Jews to go to the Beis Hamikdash every time they wanted to eat meat. This is the opinion Rashi brings (Devarim 12:20-21).

    R' Akiva disagrees. He says that the laws of Shechita didn't start until the Jews entered the land. In the desert they were able to just kill the animal and eat it. Only a sacrifice had to be ritually slaughtered. Once they entered the land, they were only allowed to do Shechita before eating the animal. The Rambam rules according to Rabbi Akiva in Hilchos Shechita 4:17-18.

    In Likkutei Sichos Volume 4, Parshat Re'eh (this is in Yiddish, if anyone has a link to a hebrew translation, please add it), The Lubavitcher Rebbe notes that Rashi brings the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael, but also brings the reason of Rabbi Akiva. The Rebbe explains the root of their disagreement, how Rashi could combine the two opinions and teaches how we can apply that to our daily service and spiritual endeavors. (See an English translation here).

As an aside, here is an interesting article from the Journal of Halachah and Contemporary Society regarding Vegetarianism From A Jewish Perspective. This article also touches on some of these issues.

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see also Kli Yakar to Bereshit 27:3 (pointed out by YDK in the comments judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/10616/…) - hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14020&st=&pgnum=340 – Menachem Oct 11 '11 at 6:22

The Sforno says the world had been in a state of perpetual spring before the flood (hence lifespans in the hundreds of years), and thus the world was such that humans didn't need to eat meat to stay healthy. After the flood, it was needed.

I believe it's Rav Kook who suggests that before the flood, people forgot that there was any distinction between them and animals; after the flood came the reminder, yes killing animals for food, no killing people.

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" the world had been in a state of perpetual spring before the flood (hence lifespans in the hundreds of years), and thus the world was such that humans didn't need to eat meat to stay healthy" how one step follow the next? where is the Seforno? Furthermore, the alleged Seforno does not explain the need for a prohibition of eating meant before. – mevaqesh Sep 6 '15 at 20:34
Allowing meat so mankind could recover in a post-Flood world: Sforno's introduction to Genesis, paragraph "VeSiper Shlishit." hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=9597&pgnum=8 Perpetual spring pre-Flood: Commentary to 8:22. hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=9597&pgnum=133 . I'm not aware if he addresses why it was previously prohibited. – Shalom Sep 6 '15 at 23:53

The Midrash Agadah (attributed to Rabbi Mosheh HaDarshan), also quoted by Torah Temimah (note 66), answers that the reason why Adam wasn't allowed to eat meat was because before he sinned, everyone (including animals) was supposed to live forever. Therefore, he wasn't permitted to remove a life from the world. After his sin, it was determined that everyone (including animals) would eventually die. Therefore, from the time of Noach, he was allowed to kill an animal for his benefit since it would die anyway. The reason why it wasn't permitted to Adam immediately after his sin is so that a person doesn't rise in status as a result of his sin.

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Rav Simcha Wasserman explains why after the Mabul he began to eat meat. R’ Wasserman says this indicates the new lower level of Kedusha. The sin of that generation was stealing. After the Mabul, the world continued but on a new lower spiritual level. Man now had to depend on another creature’s flesh for survival, Mida K’neged Mida for the sin of stealing. The meat, representing heavy physicality, reminds us of where we are and where we could be. Although this represents a bleak picture for mankind, there is a tikkun, for everything in Judaism. The potential for tumah has an equal potential for kedusha. When a righteous individual is nourished by food derived from an animal, the food is elevated immeasurably.

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Noach's generation had forgotten the difference between humans and animals (in the generation of the flood, people drew up marriage contaracts between two men, or between people and animals). Telling Noach that people could eat the flesh of animals was intended to drive home the distinction between humans and animals.

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where is the source of this? – juanora Jun 23 '13 at 12:48

The basic answer is since Noach representing Humanity as a whole feed the animals and Kept them alive so to now they6 feed us and keep us alive even though the Gemara says an Am Haaretz should not eat meat.

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In addition to the sages' thoughts on this, as mentioned by other answers here, another possibility is from the Tenakh itself, in Bereishit 3, as animals were used for human purposes:

"Then Ad-nai El-him made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them."

Additionally, shortly after the garments of skin, the first instance of divine approval of animal death for sacrifices appears:

"And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. Ad-nai looked with favor on Abel and his offering."

If, by this time, animals were being used for clothing and for offerings, and both were approved by G-d, one may suggest using animals for food was likewise approved.

edit: And by Bereishit 9, G-d formally approves of eating animal flesh for food. Whether animals were used for food prior to this is speculation based on Bereishit 3 and 4, where animals are used for clothing and sacrifices.

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Although usually I am a big believer in the freedom of derech hap'shat even in contrast to chazal, here you are contradicting the simple meaning of Bereshis 9, which implies a novel permission to kill animals for food. There is no reason to extend the permissiveness regarding using animals as offerings to God to using them for human consumption, and that's assuming that Abel offered animals that were not already dead or even that he offered the animals themselves instead of just their wool and/or milk etc., which itself is an assumption.... – jake Jun 17 '11 at 19:39
....Certainly with regards to the clothing, there is no reason to say that the animals were killed for this purpose. Either the animals were already dead like many commentators explain, or they were made from cotton or wool (translate: "clothing [for their] skin" instead of "clothing [made of] skin") as per Bereshis Rabbah 2. – jake Jun 17 '11 at 19:39
Thanks for offering a reason for the down-vote, at least. :-) Regarding your objection, it's true G-d formally approves in Bereishit 9. However, my answer doesn't contradict that, rather, it suggests that humans may have been killing animals before then. When animals are being used for clothing and sacrifices, it's a reasonable assumption they were being killed. And if they were being killed, is it not possible they were used for food? That's what my answer is saying: animals may have been used for food soon after Adam and Chavah ate from the tree. – Judah Gabriel Himango Jun 17 '11 at 19:50
Regarding the assumption that Abel offered already-dead animals as a sacrifice seems to defeat an important part of the text: "Abel offered fat portions from the first-born of his flock." This is a common theme in Torah: a pleasing sacrifice was one that offered the best the worshiper had, the first born of the flock, or the first fruits of the field. If the animal is already dead, it's hardly the best the worshipper had; in fact, it's the opposite. – Judah Gabriel Himango Jun 17 '11 at 19:59
First, that is not my down vote, but I thought I'd offer an explanation for it anyway. Second, I would agree with you that taking the usage of animals for clothing and offerings alone, it is a reasonable assumption that they were used for food as well. However, in the context of the previously-quoted Bereshis 9, and especially in light of Bereshis 1:29, it is not a reasonable assumption that animals were killed for food prior to the flood, and thus the previous (reasonable) assumption is no longer reasonable. – jake Jun 17 '11 at 20:05

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