Prohibition of Eating Meat of a Live Animal; Animal Welfare/Humane Slaughter
The Responsibility of Human Dominion over the Animal Kingdom
If meat from certain types of animals is taken for human consumption, G-d has commanded that in the process of slaughtering, it is required to wait until the animal’s life has departed. Thus we see that the Creator requires us to give recognition to the animal’s connection with its spiritual dimension, which is its enlivening soul. This connection departs when the heart has permanently stopped pumping blood. Torah-law teaches that this commandment applies to land mammals and birds, and by extension, that we must respect the life of all creatures by distancing ourselves from treating them cruelly. Kindness requires that we are not permitted to cause unnecessary suffering to any creature.
But we can also look deeper. This connection between the spiritual and the physical is reflected in the class of angels that have “the face of the human, the face of the lion, the face of the ox, and the face of the eagle” (Ezekiel 1:5-10). Can it be a coincidence that we are commanded to take more care when we partake of the flesh of domesticated mammals (represented by the ox), wild mammals (represented by the lion) and birds (represented by the eagle), while consumption of human flesh is always forbidden?
From the Introduction by Dr. Joe M. Regenstein, Ph.D. (Professor of Food Science, Cornell University) to the section on the Prohibition of Meat from a Living Animal, in “The Divine Code”, Part IV:
One of the Noahide Commandments is is referred to in Hebrew as “Eiver Min Ha’hai” (“Limb from a Living Animal”), which prohibits eating flesh that was severed from a living animal. It is an important statement of the limitations imposed on each individual, in light of the broader scriptural permission for humanity to have “dominion” over the animals. It is also a statement of G-d’s concern for the welfare of animals. Humanity’s responsibility for animal welfare is further developed in the Hebrew Scriptures to encompass the broader concept of avoiding the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering upon living creatures, which is the concept of not doing any harm to animals unless there is a good reason to do otherwise. It is thus made clear that in G-d’s judgment, to treat an animal cruelly is wrong. Therefore, Hebrew Scripture, by showing this caring for animals, also teaches by implication how much worse it is to treat people poorly.
Many of the modern public issues being discussed in the realm of animal welfare with respect to slaughter, pre-slaughter handling, and post-slaughter waiting for the animal to die, are covered by the Divine Noahide Code. It is therefore a source for providing guidance to all consumers, along with the regulators and overseers of the modern meat industry, and it challenges us all to be concerned with improving the handling of animals – both on the farm and in our communities, and most importantly in the arena of the compassionate use of animals for human food. The study of the Noahide Laws can help one approach the above concerns in keeping with modern industry guidelines for animal welfare, while also meeting the ancient but continuously relevant rules of “Eiver Min Ha’hai.”
G-d permitted the eating of meat for the first time to Noah and his family after they left the Ark, which is why G-d at that time added the seventh commandment, which prohibits the eating of meat that was severed from a living animal (even if it was stunned and insensitive). This commandment given to Noah is recorded in Genesis 9:4 – “But flesh with its soul, [which is] its blood, you shall not eat.”
Some Details and Related Principles
- The prohibition applies to land mammals and birds.
- The prohibition of separating meat from an animal that is living or in the process of dying.
- Consuming such meat before or after the animal’s death.
- Deriving benefit from meat separated from a living animal.
- Restrictions on causing suffering to a living creature.
- The prohibition of mating different species of animals.
- The prohibition of grafting different species of fruit trees.
Selected general rules of the Noahide prohibition of meat removed from a living animal are presented here, quoted from the text of “The Divine Code,” Part IV:
- In Genesis 9:2-3, Noah and his descendants were granted permission to kill any type of animal in any way they desired, for the purpose of food. Still, it is fitting for a person to have compassion toward animals and to kill them in the most painless manner possible. For mankind was not granted unrestricted permission to cause suffering to a living creature. Moreover, it is fitting for a person to distance himself from cruelty to the fullest extent possible.
- Noah was, however, forbidden to eat meat that was removed from certain animals while they were still living. This commandment in Genesis 9:4 refers to flesh separated from these live animals while their soul is still in their blood; i.e., while the heart is still pumping life-blood within the animal. This prohibition applies only to land mammals and to birds. These are all the animals for which there is a Torah-law distinction between their flesh and their blood.
- There are various outstanding logical explanations which can be put forth for this prohibition. For example, the obtaining of such flesh is likely to be done in a way that would result in great pain to the animal. Furthermore, it is a cruel behavior, which is a trait that people should strive to avoid. Nevertheless, it is from G-d’s statement, “But flesh with its soul, [which is] its blood, you shall not eat,” that we learn that any flesh that is separated in any manner from the animals that are covered by this prohibition, during the time they are alive, is forbidden to be eaten.
- After Noah left the ark, humans were granted permission to kill any animals for food, or for the use of their body parts for beneficial purposes. However, they were not granted permission to injure, kill, or cause suffering to an animal for no useful purpose, and one who does so violates the prohibition of causing unnecessary pain to a living creature. For this reason, it is forbidden to skin an animal or cut out one of its organs during its lifetime, even if one does not intend to eat from the part removed. Instead, if one requires the hide or organ, one should kill the animal first and then take the parts of its body that one needs.