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This dichotomy has always bothered me.

(1) No predators are kosher. The Ramban went so far as to say that we may not eat them because they are cruel and we do not want to absorb their bad traits. In the Torah, God promises that if we follow His commandments, He will spare us from them:

וְהִשְׁבַּתִּ֞י חַיָּ֤ה רָעָה֙ מִן־הָאָ֔רֶץ -- I will remove evil beasts from the land. [Leviticus 26:6]

Yet:

(2) In the Torah, Jacob compares some of his sons to predators. Judah is identified with a lion [Gen. 49:9], Dan with a serpent [Gen. 49:17], and Benjamin with a wolf [Gen. 49:27].

In the Talmud, Rabbi Yehudah ben Teima said:

Be bold as the leopard, light as the eagle, swift as the deer, and strong as the lion, to do the will of your Father in Heaven. [Avot 5:20]

Familiar expressions glorify carnivores and vilify domesticated and useful herbivores. For example, being called a lion, a tiger, an eagle, a fox, or an owl, is a compliment. Lions and tigers convey strength, eagles convey majesty, foxes convey cleverness, and owls convey wisdom. But being called a pig, or a dog, or a cow, or a weasel, or a chicken, or a turkey, or an ass, or an elephant, or a goat, or a monkey, or a rat, or a shrimp, or a toad, or a worm, is a grave insult!

Is this disconnect ever discussed in the Sources?

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    fish are predators. birds feed on whatever they can swallow – user813801 Jan 25 at 21:04
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    Why is it any more of a "disconnect" than, say, the fact that the dead body of a Jew is treated with great respect, but at the same time is a major source of impurity? Or - to take an example from today's Daf Yomi (Pesachim 65a) - that tanners smell bad, but perform an essential function? In short, different creatures serve different purposes, and what's good in one context isn't good in another. – Meir Jan 25 at 21:05
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    @MauriceMizrahi We may eat predatory fish (eg tuna) – Joel K Jan 26 at 4:44
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    @TurkHill (first comment): scarcely a word of what you wrote is true. If "the Bible wanted us to be vegetarians," it wouldn't have told us in every one of the five books of the Torah that we can eat meat (Gen. 9:3, Ex. 16:8, Lev. 11:2-3, Num. 11:18ff, Deut. 12:15 and 21), and even commanded us to eat the meat of sacrifices (Ex. 12:8ff, for starters). The Flood was because of robbery and sexual immorality, not because people ate meat (were that the case, it would have been nonsensical for Him to allow it right afterwards). What will happen in the messianic age is something else altogether. – Meir Jan 26 at 18:52
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    And, second comment: you do realize that what you saw or didn't see doesn't determine how things are in the rest of the world, right? You could at least consult Wikipedia and learn that some predatory birds do hunt live prey - examples given there include kites and some types of eagles. – Meir Jan 26 at 18:55
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There is a difference between learning from an animal and ingesting it. We can learn to be bold as the leopard to serve G-d, while not taking its predatory nature. And Jacob can bless Judah with the strength of a lion, without telling him to be predatory in nature. But when you ingest something, you get it in its entirety, good and bad. And so the Torah forbids us to eat predators, lest we ingest their predatory nature.

Jacob also compares Joseph to a bull, Yissachar to a donkey, and Naftali to a deer, so comparing people to prey animals is not inherently bad.

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  • Apparently, we ingest their predatory nature when Eve ate a fruit! My understanding of the rabbinical statement is that we should not eat meat. This is what the Torah prefers. – Turk Hill Jan 26 at 19:21

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