Prohibition of Eating Meat of a Live Animal; Animal Welfare/Humane Slaughter

The Prohibition of Eating Meat Taken from a Live Animal
The Responsibility of Human Dominion over the Animal Kingdom

The Meaning

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?

The following is 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:

For most of us, the story of Noah and the ark ends with the rainbow as G-d’s sign of his covenant with Noah. However, a covenant requires the input of two parties, so, yes, there are also the rules that humanity is required to obey as their contribution to the covenant. Although most of the precepts in the Hebrew Scriptures only apply to Jews, the Seven Noahide Commandments are considered a covenant with all of humanity – therefore it is important for everyone to understand these Divine laws, so that all may uphold their part in the covenant.

One of these Noahide Commandments is that which in Hebrew is referred to as “Eiver Min Ha’chai” (“Limb from a Living Animal”), which is the prohibition against eating flesh that was severed from a living animal. On the surface this seems like an easy concept to grasp, and it is. 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 (“tza’ar ba’alei chayim” in Hebrew) 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. So, it is clear that by including “Eiver Min Ha’chai” as one of the Seven Noahide Commandments that are incumbent on all humanity, Hebrew Scripture is making a very powerful statement of G-d’s vision for humanity.

In our generation, humanity has begun to re-examine many of its core values, and one outcome has been an increasing concern for establishing governmental and corporate standards for animal welfare (and for some, the relevance of animal rights in this process). So it is important that we now look closely and seriously at the guidance provided by the Torah’s Noahide Code in this important area.

As has been the practice in Jewish law over the approximately 3300 years since the giving of the Torah through Moses, the implementation of any one of G-d’s commandments has always been very carefully considered, including all of its details and ramifications. Throughout Jewish history, this process has been applied to the Noahide Code, just as it was to virtually all other subjects within the oral tradition of the Torah. Various expert Sages and Rabbis over the course of time taught and recorded their codifications, commentaries and responsa, and thereby provided clarifications and explanations of the fundamental texts of the Oral Torah, which include the Mishnah and Talmud, the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (Rambam), etc. Furthermore, new situations arise over the generations that need to be ruled upon, based on the principles of the existing rulings that cover the full spectrum of Torah Law. Over time some opinions are accepted by the majority of leading Rabbis and become normative, while others are not widely accepted and assume the status of minority opinions.

This important volume reviews the many available traditional sources that deal with the issues of the Noahide Code for Gentiles. This section of the work then takes the broad principle of “Eiver Min Ha’chai” and presents the “meat” (pun intended) on this issue, covering its many details and extended topics in the traditional format of Rabbinical scholarship. The author has applied foundational principles from many sources to these issues, and in this process he has thus resolved standing differences of opinion on key points of practical observance, in regard to permission or restriction, and strictness or leniency. Thus, this work provides the reader with the most comprehensive and up-to-date guide for meeting, and understanding, the requirements of the Noahide Code.

For those seeking to live in accordance with the eternal commandments that G-d gave through Moses, the need to understand the implications of both the entire Noahide Code and this particular section is critical. As readers will see, 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 expire, are covered by this detailed and well-written text. It now becomes 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. With the release of this work, this can now be approached in keeping with modern industry guidelines for animal welfare, while also meeting the ancient but continuously relevant rules of “Eiver Min Ha’chai.”

Scriptural Sources

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

Adapted from the Table of Contents under The Prohibition of Meat from a Living Animal, in “The Divine Code”, Part IV:
  • 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.

More Information

AskNoah Q&A Forum on Forbidden Meat, and Issues Regarding Treatment of Animals

Practical information on humane slaughter and possibility of meat removed from stunned animals

Scientific report by Dr. Regenstein on humane slaughter including Kosher and Halal (submitted to but ignored by the anti-religious Netherlands Parliament)

Share