The Israelites are in the wilderness for 40 years and in that time they have a few crisis moments that always lead me to the same question. Why don't they just eat their animals?

They ask for meat, when scripture makes it clear they left Egypt with many kosher for eating animals.

They ask for water and make a big deal how the Israelites and their animals are dying of thirst, which again begs the question of why don't they eat their animals?

And then after the death of Aaron many years later, the Israelites and their animals are still begging for water.

So my question is, why don't the Israelites eat their animals when it seems like such an obvious answer to a series of very serious problems.

Edit: In levticus we find that they are then commanded to only eat animals that were offered up in sacrifice. And while this doesn't answer whether they were allowed to eat their animals before, it definitely means they can start eating them after taking them to the Mishkan

  • Were they allowed to?
    – Double AA
    Commented May 23 at 18:17
  • Were they prohibited from eating their kosher animals?
    – Edward B
    Commented May 23 at 19:00
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    Maybe they liked their animals. They make good pets Commented May 24 at 1:33
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    Perhaps they didn't have enough animals to satisfy what was needed for the mishkan and for chullin so karbonos took priority? Interestingly if this was the case perhaps one might say the sin wasn't asking for meat but begrudgingly using the animals they had for mitzvah which would be the opposite of ivdu es Hashem b'simcha?
    – Dude
    Commented May 24 at 18:12

2 Answers 2


The Ibn 'Ezra suggests that they did in fact eat their flocks (Exodus 16:2):

וילונו. במי מרה הלינו על משה לבדו כי הוא לבדו הסיעם וכל ישראל לא התרעמו רק קצתם. על כן כתוב וילונו העם. ועתה במדבר סין וילונו כל עדת ישראל על משה ועל אהרן כי שניהם הוציאום. ובמרה התרעמו על המים ועתה מתרעמים על הבשר והלחם. שכבר אכלו רוב מקניהם וקהל גדול כמוהו לא ימצאו לחם לקנות כי אם ביוקר כי שלשים יום היה להם מיום צאתם

AND THE WHOLE CONGREGATION OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL MURMURED. The Israelites murmured only against Moses at the waters of Marah (Ex. 15:23) because it was he alone who led Israel onward. Only a part of Israel and not the whole nation complained. Scripture therefore reads, And the people murmured against Moses (Ex. 15:24). However, in the wilderness of Sin we find that Scripture states, And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron because both of them had brought them out of the land of Egypt. In Marah they complained because of the water. However, they now complained about a lack of bread and meat because they had already consumed most of their cattle, for thirty days had passed since they left Egypt. A congregation as large as Israel could only buy food at very great expense.

It would appear that according to the Ibn 'Ezra, the flocks could not be replenished at a sufficiently rapid pace to sustain their rate of consumption. Even having left Egypt with great abundance, feeding millions of people in the wilderness was no small endeavor.

  • How do you resolve two tribes asking for their land to not be on the other side of the Jordan because they need pasture land for all their flocks?
    – Aaron
    Commented May 24 at 0:00
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    He states that they consumed most (רוב) of their flock, not all. Presumably they were foresighted enough to preserve some so that they could rebuild their flock numbers and ensure a future livelihood. Commented May 24 at 0:11
  • @Aaron the request for pasture land on the other side of the Jordan was 40 years later, at the end of the 40 years in the midbar, plenty of time for flock numbers to be replenished.
    – Edward B
    Commented May 24 at 12:43
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    @EdwardB agreed. They also presumably acquired some from surrounding peoples as well towards such aims. Trading in livestock is a natural aspect of the pastoral lifestyle. Commented May 24 at 12:45
  • @Deuteronomy Not eating most of your flock is also a natural aspect of the pastoral lifestyle. Also the Ibn Ezra makes the argument that almost everything is eaten by Exodus 15, yet we are still talking about animals in Exodus 34:3 3 And no man shall come up with thee, neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mount.'
    – Aaron
    Commented May 24 at 16:16

The Seforno on Bamidbar 11:22 writes (based on Tehilim 78:18), the reason why they asked for meat was to test G-d's capabilities (apparently not like the "riffraff" who actually desired meat - apparently they did not have animals of their own).

Another interesting answer, from the Rogotchover on Bamidbar 11:31, is that they desired meat that does not require ritual slaughter and the other preparations, so G-d gave them "birds" from the sea, which were actually sea creatures, and therefore did not require ritual slaughter.

  • Int. Risting... Commented May 24 at 1:35
  • @Deuteronomy that's in his commentary on verse 31
    – User123
    Commented May 24 at 12:39
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    Yes indeed! Thank you for the correction :)
    – User123
    Commented May 24 at 14:12

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