<i>Re'eh</I>: The Meating Place

Jews have always had their own cookbooks.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch
"The holy (kodesh) is very hidden in the mundane (chol), until it appears like the totally mundane." -- Orot HaTchiya 27, page 77

"In the early 1800s, with the first stirrings of the present Redemption, the modern world began to develop, so that the Nation of Israel would get the impetus to gain secular wisdom and begin to build a strong basis of chol in our Jewish 'framework of the Holy.'" - Rabbi Oded Vilensky, Even Yisrael, volume 5, pages 25, 28.

"An excellent way to keep fresh meat after the winter is 'salting in snow'... the meat remains as fresh and juicy as when it was first killed." - Salt - A World History, Mark Kurlansky, page 306; from The Good Housekeeper, 1841

"The blood very quickly spoils the meat... (so) use a towel to rub off any blood from freshly slaughtered beef... and rub it all over with salt." (ibid., page 174, from a Russian cookbook of the early 20th century

Jews never thought of their beef as "kill."

Jews have always had their own cookbooks. The earliest is the Talmud, with the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah (Code of Jewish Law) following some 1,200 years later. The Yoreh Deah (sections 69-78) has detailed directions for salting newly shechted meat, but Jews never thought of their beef as "kill." We call slaughtering shechita, and in Halachah, kosher meat is always referred to as basar shechuta. "Slaughter" in the Bible is often denoted as zevicha. The Talmud (Chulin 27a) explains both shechita and zevicha as referring to removal of the blood: "Rabbi Kahana said: How do we know that shechita is done by a cut in the neck? For the Bible says: 'and you shall shachat the bull.' (for the sacrifice; Vayikra, 14:52) From the place at which the animal bends (shach), cleanse it of its blood (chateihu). Rabbi Yeimar (quoting our parsha, Re'eh, Devarim 12:21): 'And you shall zavach from your cattle and flocks and eat as your soul desires' - from the place whence the blood flows (zav), cut it (chat) to remove the blood."

Not only do we see a terminology that relates eating meat to the removal of blood, but it never refers to meat eating as "killing." Our procedures for blood removal involve repeated rinsing before and after heavy salting, which is far more involved than anything in that old Russian cookbook. The Aznayim L'Torah remarks that the fact that our distancing from blood-eating is so strict puts a lie to the dastardly "blood libels" that plagued the Jews from the Middle Ages until the 19th century.

Moreover, Rabbi Shimshon R. Hirsch talks about the origin of the word zevach, as opposed to stress on the killing aspect of the shechita procedure. He explains that zevach is related to sephach (as in the attachment to an Israeli identity card) and denoted joining or connection (also, he claims, related to the word for family, mi-shpachah): "The man, by zevach, brings the animal body, previously belonging to the animal being, into connection with himself."
As attachment is the goal, only higher animals are to be used (hence the listing of kosher and non-kosher animals in our parsha), and only they require shechita. The shechita is not killing, but a "warning that we be aware during shechita and eating that we are to be conscious of the goal of turning animal nerve and muscle into human nerve and muscle, raising them from the realm of physical necessity to the human realm of free-willed moral mastery."

The Torat Chaim (on Chulin 27b) explains that this is why fish require no shechita. If cattle, sheep or deer die naturally, they have been killed by the Angel of Death, and thus their bodies are subject to tumah (ritual defilement of nveila) and issur (prohibition), but if shechita is done, the clean, clear (no chalada; see Rabbi Hirsch ), decisive (no shehiya,
As attachment is the goal, only higher animals are to be used.
hesitation; Rabbi Hirsch) cut of man is what brought about the animal's death, not the Angel of Death, so there is no prohibition. Fish are creatures of the water, a medium that protects from tumah (as in ritual baths) and represents mercy (Ben Ish Chai, Chulin 27b). In many Halachic instances, fish are considered as water (see the laws of chatzitza) itself. Thus their chiyut, their animal-like qualities are less, and so fish require no shechita, as mere gathering from their environment (water) causes a quick death not attributed to the contaminating Dark Angel, who has no dominion over their water nor over them.

The Gutnick Chumash (page 92) mentions a dispute (Chulin 16b): Rabbi Yishmael says that the Jews ate no non-sacrificial meat (bsar ta'avah) during the 40 years in the desert. Rabbi Akiva says they ate even non-shechted meat in the desert, and only when they entered the Land of Israel did they have to shecht bsar ta'avah. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that food becomes elevated when eaten, attaining the status of the holiness of a Jewish eater. For meat, this elevation is difficult, and so requires the preparation of shechita, which the Jews became obligated to do only on entering the Land. In the desert, the Jews were totally separated from all worldly matters, and either ate no non-sacrificial meat or did not need shechita, because meat for these otherworldly Jews was, as was shechita, spiritually irrelevant. Only upon entering the Land were the Jews to elevate the world of nature, the materialistic, animal world, into their holy framework, and so meat, and its shechita, became relevant.

This idea is, not incidentally, crucial to the sin of the spies. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that they wished to remain in the purely "holy" realm of the desert, with no worldly concerns at all (and their punishment was according to their wish: they and all their followers never left their desert Galut).
Rabbi Matis Weinberg stresses the new covenant (brit) between the Jews and the Almighty upon entering Eretz Yisrael, and its connection to bsar ta'avah. Whereas the whole world is an environment in which man acts, the Land is a medium for the Jewish nation's activity - and this medium is created by that activity. We create a Land cursed or blessed by our conscious choice of lifestyle and goals. And even in matters of ta'avah, desire, the desire and passion for the meat "deepens our attachment to the Land, through this meat." As we reach out to make this meat part of us, we become more and more a "part of this world," this medium that we are creating and fixing.

It is interesting to note the difference in orientation of the Lubavicher and Rabbi Weinberg: the Rebbe lived in the Diaspora and spoke of elevating the mundane up to the holy. But Rabbi Weinberg looks from his Eretz Yisrael perspective, as if from the holy-of-holies in Jerusalem (also a theme of this parsha) in its spreading outward to the rest of the nation, to make it holy.
It is interesting to note the difference in orientation of the Lubavicher and Rabbi Weinberg.

But from whomever's perspective, the meat of the issue is Rabbi Kook's idea of "teva b'ma'arechet hakodesh", the mundane is to be incorporated into the framework of the holy. That is the mission of the Nation of Israel during this present Geulah. Rabbi Vilensky (pages 23, 28) mentions that the Vilna Gaon, when he sent his students to the Holy Land in the first decade of the 19th century, ordered the Dayan Rabbi Baruch of Shicklov to translate Euclid's geometry to Hebrew, as the opening move in the educating of a generation of olim engineers, doctors, economists, etc. The Vilna Gaon recognized that "teva b'ma'arechet hakodesh," this bringing of the natural, materialistic world into our Jewish holy environment, was to be the goal of creating a Jewish nation, once more in this Land. The kodesh, holy, is the underlying framework, but without bringing in chol, the mundane, there would be no nation.

Unfortunately, the history of this Geulah was that we had a flowering of chol, nearly totally detached from the kodesh. Even more negative than any spies-like detachment from the real world, the proponents of teva-only, our secular Zionists, have shown a deterioration and suicidal flight from Jewish and Zionist ideals that have not yet reached their nadir. One can only pray that they wake up, "learn the secret from the Torah, how to elevate your possessions" (Dr. Mendel Hirsch) and stop (in the words of the Haftorah) "weighing money for that which is not bread, and toiling for that which satisfies not. Rather, hearken diligently to me and eat that which is good, so that your soul feel delight in the abundance." (Isaiah 55:2)

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