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Judaism: Noah Was a Vegetarian

Noah's character, his vegetarianism's place in Judaism and why the list of his progeny is repeated.
Published: Thursday, October 27, 2011 11:01 AM




Noah's Character

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Building Noah's Ark, painting by James Tissot, c.1896
 
The character of No’ach is described in these famous words: “No’ach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; No’ach walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). What is the difference between righteousness and perfection? According to Ibn Ezra, “righteous” indicates No’ach’s actions, and “perfect” his attitudes. What the Torah is telling us is that character is measured by two criteria – what you do, and what you believe.

In the case of No’ach, this is made clearer when we look at the Hebrew word tamim, which some translators render as “perfect” but others, more correctly, translate “wholehearted”. Tamim is connected with the heart (in Biblical terminology, this means the mind) in a number of passages in the Bible, especially in the Psalms. Nachmanides thinks that tzaddik, “righteous” and tamim are interconnected: i.e. what kind of man was No’ach? A tzaddik tamim, a completely righteous man.

Maybe this helps us to understand why the Torah also says of No’ach that he was tzaddik tamim “in his generations”. As against the view of Nachmanides and others that only when measured against No’ach’s corrupt, unrighteous contemporaries was he really so upright, the words “in his generations” tell us that in himself, objectively, he was a great man – regardless of his times – and this expressed itself in the deeds he performed in his own particular set of circumstances. As they say, “Other days, other ways”.

Whatever the times would have required, No’ach would have found the way to enrich his environment.

Noah Was a Vegetarian - Can You Be One on Shabbat?

Q. I heard that you don't eat meat, but isn’t there a Talmudic requirement to eat meat on Shabbat and Yom-Tov?

A. God’s original plan for mankind was vegetarian (Genesis 1:29). Nonetheless the Torah permits meat-eating. It lists animals which may be eaten and how to slaughter them, and it establishes animal sacrifice as part of Temple worship. Most people cannot imagine living without meat, as it gives a feeling of fullness and satisfaction, which is where the Talmudic assertion, “There is no simchah… without meat” (Pesachim 109a) comes in.

Let’s look in detail at the Talmudic discussion about meat on Shabbat or Yom-Tov. Though the Talmud says, “eat meat sparingly” (Chullin 84a), this is not an argument against the principle of meat eating, only the quantity. Pesachim 109a tells us, “Our rabbis said, ‘A person is obligated to make his children and household rejoice on a festival... With what does he make them rejoice? With wine... Rabbi Yehudah ben Batyra said, ‘When the Temple stood there could be no rejoicing except with meat... but now that the Temple is no longer in existence, there is no rejoicing except with wine, as it is said, ‘Wine gladdens the heart of man’ (Psalm 104:15)”. In other words, meat is no longer essential to simchah, and the rule is not about meat but wine. There certainly can be no simchah if meat eating causes a feeling of distress.

Maimonides endorses meat eating on festivals “if one can afford it” (Hil’chot Shabbat 30:10), which recognises that a different menu would be acceptable if one were poor or it gave a person pleasure. The Shulchan Aruch reports that people who fast every day would feel pain if they were forced to eat on Shabbat and Yom-Tov, and we could likewise say that vegetarians would feel pain if they had to eat meat (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 288:1-3).

The best tableware and the finest food are appropriate on Shabbat and Yom-Tov. The food should be special too. For vegetarians there is no need to have meat.
 

A  New Heading

 
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Some very important literary discussions about the Torah took place in the days of the ancient sages. The Talmud records a view (Gittin 60a) that Moses received the Torah m’gillah m’gillah, “section by section”. If this assertion is true it helps to explain the series of announcements that punctuate this week’s reading, “These are the generations of...” – i.e. regarding each one as the opening of a new section.
 
M’gillah m’gillah does not in itself define the length of each section, so some sections could be quite short and others rather longer. One of the longer sections would clearly be the “These are the generations of No’ach” which introduces the Flood story.

This approach also explains why sometimes we find certain information repeated. For example, we already know the names of No’ach’s children, but the information is given again because it is germane to the whole new episode that begins with “These are the generations of No’ach”. We see the same thing at the end of the Book of B‘reshit, where we find Jacob’s family in Egypt; the information is repeated at the beginning of Sh’mot where the details of the family are needed as the introduction to the story of Moses and the Egyptian enslavement.