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What is the Jewish view on eating meat?

by Rabbi Simon Jacobson


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The Short Answer: 

   "When G-d your G-d shall broaden your borders, as He has promised you, and you will say, "I shall eat meat," for your soul shall desire to eat meat, you may eat meat to your soul’s desire".1

The Askmoses Answer: 

There are those who contest the "morality" of eating meat. What gives man the right to consume another creature’s flesh? But the same can be said of man’s consumption of vegetable life, water or oxygen. What gives man the right to devour any of G-d’s creations simply to perpetuate his own existence?

Indeed, there is no such "natural" right. When man lives only to sustain and enhance his own being, there is no justification for him to tamper with any other existence to achieve this goal.

Man does have the right to consume other creations only because—and when—he serves as the agent of their elevation.

When a person drinks a glass of water, eats an apple, or slaughters an ox and consumes its flesh, these are converted into the stuff of the human body and the energy that drives it. When this person performs a G-dly deed—a deed that transcends his natural self and brings him closer to G-d—he "elevates" the elements he has incorporated into himself.

There is, however, an important difference between the consumption of meat and that of other foods. The difference involves "desire" and the role it plays in the elevation of creation.

Necessity vs. Luxury

The human being cannot live without the vegetable and mineral components of his diet. Thus, he is compelled to eat them by the most basic of his physical drives—the preservation of his existence. Meat, however, is not a necessity but a luxury; the desire for meat is not a desire motivated by need, but desire in its purest sense—the desire to experience pleasure.

This means that the elevation of meat requires a greater spiritual sensitivity on the part of its consumer than that of other foods. When a person eats a piece of bread and then studies Torah, prays or gives charity, the bread has directly contributed to these deeds. In order to perform these deeds, the soul of man must be fused with a physical body, and the piece of bread was indispensable to this fusion.

Man does not eat meat to live, but to savor its taste; thus, it is not enough that a person lives in order to serve his Creator for the meat he eats to be elevated. Rather, he must be a person for whom the very experience of physical pleasure is a G-dly endeavor. A person for whom the physical satisfaction generated by a tasty meal translates into a deeper understanding of Torah, a greater fervor in prayer, and a kinder smile to accompany the coin pressed into the palm of a beggar.2

Thus the Torah says: "When G-d your G-d shall broaden your borders, as He has promised you... you may eat meat to your soul’s desire." From this the Talmud3 derives that originally they were forbidden to eat 'meat by desire'. It was only after G-d "broadened their borders," granting us a mandate to make "holy" an adjective of "land," that we were enabled to sanctify this most corporeal corner of human life.4

Similarly, our sages have said that "a boor is forbidden to eat meat."5 The license given to man to partake of the world and subjugate it to serve him is not unconditional. It is contingent upon his sensitivity to the spiritual essence of G-d’s creatures, and his commitment to serve them by making them component parts of his sanctified life. It takes an individual with broad spiritual horizons to properly relish a steak.6

Based on an article from - click here to read complete article.


  • 1. Deuteronomy 12:20-23
  • 2. See Talmud, Yoma 76b; ibid., Bava Kama 72a; Tanya, ch. 7. “Bread” and “meat” are employed here as prototypes of necessity and luxury; in this context, a cream pie or a yacht would be a form of “meat,” while a piece of meat eaten to keep body and soul together would fall under the category of “bread.”
  • 3. Talmud tractate Chulin 16b
  • 4. What was the case in Jewish history was also the case in the history of mankind. Originally, man was granted license only to eat from “every seed-bearing herb on the face of the earth, and every tree on which there is fruit-bearing seed” (Genesis 1:29). It was only after the Flood, following which the world was imbued with a greater spiritual potential, that G-d told Noah that “every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.”
  • 5. Talmud tractate Pesachim 49b
  • 6. Based on the Rebbe’s talks, Shabbat Parshat Re’eh, 5719 (August 29, 1959) and Cheshvan 10, 5711 (October 21, 1950), printed in Likkutei Sichot, vol. IV, pp. 1108-1114; Hitvaaduyot 5711, vol. I, pp. 70-71.


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