Over nine billion farm animals are slaughtered each year in the US. They are the victims of our single-use, consumer society, raised to fulfill our food preferences as quickly and efficiently as possible and deceptively packaged in sanitized and neatly wrapped trays and cartons depicting quaint farm imagery.
We need to deeply think and question our responsibilities as Jews: When we engage in the industrial system of raising animals, are we following Jewish law? How can we live as closely to Torah’s ideals as God’s partners in protecting this Earth, through our food choices?
As a vegetarian since the age of nine and an on-again, off-again vegan, I wrestled with this week’s parsha, Vayikra, which offers detailed instructions for animal sacrifices. How do I understand sacrifices (and those who argue that these practices will return during the Messianic period) with my commitment to not eating or harming animals?
Rabbi Brad Artson puts the ancient practice into context. He writes in The Bedside Torah, “Our ancestors turned to animal sacrifice because they saw in it a way to express deep rage, feelings of inadequacy, and guilt. They could, through sacrifice of animals, see their own frailty, their own mortality, and their own bloodiness” (p. 169).
And, sacrifices still offer meaning to us in the 21st century. He explains, “in our age, a period of sanitized religion and everyday violence, the practice of our ancestors has something to teach. And so we read Sefer Va-Yikra, and learn to see our fears in the eyes of an animal going to the slaughter, in the cries of the victim of sacrifice” (p. 169). Continue reading →