Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On the Ethic and Morality of Eating and Experimenting on Animals

On pure business ethics, I once published this commentary: http://www.jewishjournal.com/articles/item/the_price_of_freedom_20010202/ I have published others like it, too. Thus, on Torah ethics, we are commanded to be honest, to be decent, to be square with our measures and scales.

We also are encouraged to do acts of kindness, the good deeds that are called “chesed,” acts like visiting the sick, housing the wayfarer, helping the bride to marry, attending to the needs of the deceased. The Torah even builds in forms of charity – leaving the corner of my field untilled, leaving behind the sheaves I drop when I gather in the field – so that the poor can gather. I am supposed to lend to the needy without interest. I am not supposed to stand on my brother’s blood.

But I am not obligated, nor am I expected, to be self-sacrificing as a raison d’ĂȘtre or philosophy of life. When we are called for judgment, not only will we be asked whether we conducted our financial affairs honestly and whether we made time to study Torah – but we also will be challenged as to whether we sufficiently enjoyed G-d’s world and whether we participated sufficiently in all there is to enjoy. Sure, we are not supposed to enjoy pork or meat-and-milk together. But G-d gave us fruit to enjoy and vegetables – and meat. To go through life without wine is sinful, and the Nazirite who takes upon himself such abstinence needs to bring a sin-offering for the sin of having failed to enjoy that which G-d permitted us in His world.

G-d permitted us to eat animals. After the Noah Flood, He determined that this was a concession to human needs. He established parameters – kosher slaughter, for example – but He permitted us to eat animals, to have complete dominion over them. They exist for our benefit, for our comfort – to be friends and pets, but also to carry loads as beasts of burden, to provide transportation, to be our clothing. We may not wear leather footwear on Yom Kippur, which implies that leather is appropriate for footwear throughout the year.

He created some animals very much like humans. For secularists, they see in that parallel an argument for evolution, that we evolved from monkeys. That is the ideology that allows Hitler to justify mass murders – “extermination” – of “races” that do not meet his Aryan definition of “fully evolved” . . . and it justifies Mengele experimenting on humans as though they were rabbits or laboratory mice. But for believing Jews, G-d created certain animals with systems like our human systems – digestive systems, circulatory systems, excretory systems – so that, through them, we could indeed experiment and learn more about the functioning of the human body, ultimately to improve and even save lives.

We are bidden not to torture animals. When plowing the field with oxen, we may not muzzle them; it is torturous for them to be denied the chance to nibble on what they plow. We must feed our pets before we sit to eat. One of the seven cardinal “Noahide laws” that applies even to non-Jews is the ban on eating the limb of a living animal. But that’s where it stops. If shechitah is humane slaughter, it remains slaughter for the purpose of killing animals to provide a pleasure and enjoyment for humans. Contrary to one slogan, animals are not people, too. They are animals. And a Torah Jewish life is not about asceticism but about enjoyment. One can enjoy life while doing acts of kindness for others, and one can do acts of kindness without missing out on life. The two are not exclusive, and Judaism advocates a golden mean.

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