Shemini–The Earth is the Lord’s

“Say to the people of Israel, These are the creatures that you may eat from among all the land animals.”  (Lev. 11:2)

I was intrigued to read the following this week in Nehama Leibowitz’s New Studies in Vayikra (Leviticus).   She begins by quoting Rabbi Moshe Sofer  (1769-1832): “Scripture opens [in the verse quoted above] with the permitted foods and thus also concerning the fishes and grasshoppers, implying that in principle we ought not to eat any living being. Hence the introduction: ‘Speak unto the children of Israel saying, these are the living things which you may eat,’ which constitutes an innovation.”   Leibowitz continues, “Had not certain species been permitted, we would have had to abstain from all meat, for the world and its contents are not ours, to benefit from it at will.”  (155)

This conforms with the Priestly account of Creation, where God gives humankind and animals only vegetation for food (Gen. 1:30) .  It also strengthens the connection between sacrifice and eating meat.   In both priestly ideal and early Israelite practice, animals that were eaten were killed by means of a formal sacrifice on an altar.  As David Wolpe puts it, “Sacrifice induced awe. The full import of taking life was borne in upon the supplicant.  Nothing in God’s creation was mere commodity.”

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