“What kind of God asks for the blood of the innocent?”

“What kind of God asks for the blood of the innocent?”

God’s Covenant with Animals:
A Biblical Basis for the Humane Treatment of all Creatures
by J.R. Hyland
107 pages. $14.00 paperback.

The Bible According to Noah:
Theology as if Animals Mattered
by Gary Kowalski
128 pages. $12.00 paperback.

Judaism and Vegetarianism
by Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
256 pages. $18.00 paperback.

All from Lantern Books (1 Union Square W., #201, New York, NY 10003), 2001.

Ordained evangelical minister J.R. Hyland brings to her work among prisoners and farmhands an enduring passion for animals and feminism. Her previous books include The Slaughter of Terrified Beasts: A Biblical Basis for the Humane Treatment of Animals (1988), and Sexism is a Sin: the Biblical Basis of Female Equality (1995). From 1996 through 1998 she edited the magazine Humane Religion.

A reprint of The Slaughter of Terrified Beasts forms the opening section of God’s Covenant With Animals, which digs deeply into troubling aspects of Biblical history that some of us might prefer to forget. Hyland first extensively covers animal sacrifice in Judaism. She explains that just as Judaism forbade human sacrifice, Jesus tried to end animal sacrifice. She postulates that Jesus overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, his only recorded aggressive act, because the slaughter of animals in the temple offended him. The sale of animals for ritual sacrifice was, however, the economic foundation of Jerusalem. Just four days later Jesus himself became the “sacrificial lamb” of Christianity on the cross.

Hyland goes on to compares her interpretation of the intent of the 10 Commandments with actuality. Hyland points out that even in times of peace, “Thou shall not kill” is not obeyed in the Christian world, where hunting is not only tolerated, but is often even encouraged as a church activity. “Thou shall not covet or steal” is not followed either, Hyland argues, when people wear furs to church. Unfortunately, the people who may need Hyland’s sermons most are those least likely to attend them or read her writings.

Hyland argues that God intended for humans to be vegetarian. “The eating of flesh is a pervasion of God’s law,” she writes, “indulged in by a fallen human race.” Animal activists may find her study useful in preparing for outreach to religious communities, such as the Northwest Animal Rights Network pro-vegetarian leafleting campaign outside Seattle churches. In 2002 NARN plans to send speakers to address Unitarians and members of other progressive Christian denominations.

Gary Kowalski, author of The Bible According to Noah, also wrote The Souls of Animals, a 1991 category best-seller, and Goodbye Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost A Pet (1997). A Harvard-educated Unitarian minister, Kowalski exhibits a prolific imagination and a poetic nature. The Bible, for Kowalski, is just a point of departure. Each chapter opens with a Biblical excerpt, but he then goes off on many tangents, sometimes only
casually related to the Biblical passage, and ends the book with his own biocentric rather than human-centered interpretation of Biblical teaching.

Though I share Kowalski’s views about the obscene way that animals are treated, I found some of his digressions rambling to the point of discomfort. He seems to use Biblical reference mostly just to tie together the many important things he has to say. Nevertheless, Kowalski packs many engrossing facts about nature, stories of indigenous people, and personal reflections into this small volume.

Kowalski explores blind obedience to authority, from Nazi doctors experimenting on Holocaust victims to current laboratory animal research, through the example of Abraham agreeing to sacrifice his son Isaac to win the favor of God.

“The greatest strength of the modern animal rights movement,” Kowalski writes, “has been its willingness to raise fundamental and far-reaching questions–questions that had been studiously ignored or considered settled beyond dispute for far too long. It is almost as though a long conspiracy of silence has been broken, or as though Abraham had suddenly cast off his docile demeanor and begun to raise objections: ‘What kind of God asks for the blood of the innocent?'”

Kowalski imagines many things that might have gone through the old man’s thoughts as he stood trembling at the altar; but that finally, “Abraham fingered the razor’s edge and looked into the little lamb’s eyes [the animal in the Biblical version is a ram], before putting down the knife.” We can envision Issac and the lamb walking away unharmed from the sacrificial table and now everyone can cheer.

Theology as if animals mattered is what Kowalski offers. His epilogue beautifully describes the lost paradise of Biblical times, when abundant wildlife roamed a region which is now mostly desert. The Middle East then formed a land bridge between the animals of Africa and the similar but now long separated species of Asia. Mesopotamia, in modern-day Iraq, was especially fertile ground. Here, however, archaeology reveals that the domestication of goats and sheep brought about one of the first human-made ecological crises, as deforested hills eroded, allowing silt and salt to ruin
the land. Kowalski’s hope is that the rest of the planet does not go the same way, and that through drawing on the wisdom of all beings we can revise our spiritual traditions to avoid destroying whatever is left of Eden.

Adopting vegetarianism is imperative, and Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., shows the way in his latest of several updated and revised editions of his 1982 classic Judaism and Vegetarianism. Schwartz covers all the basics: a vegetarian view of the Bible; how Jewish vegetarians can help animals, their own well-being, the struggle against hunger, the environment, and the cause of peace; the history of Jewish vegetarianism, including the stories of many well-respected rabbis; biographies of other well-known and often much-loved Jewish vegetarians; and the details of how to be an observant Jewish vegetarian, along with facts about vegetarianism and health.

I wish that every rabbi and synagogue could be given this valuable book. It can inspire and guide Jewish people in taking the next obvious step, for those who are not already vegetarian, toward the way of peace that Judaism teaches, and in the direction that the laws of kashrut (kosher) lead.

Schwartz explores some intriguing ideas from various rabbis as to how human meat-eating began, and came to be condoned by the Bible. The Torah prescribed how animals should be killed and meat should be prepared, since humans were determined to eat meat, but many passages indicate that vegetarianism has always been a more holy
choice, and that once the Messiah arrives, the whole world will be vegetarian.

In view of the ecological devastation wrought by livestock agriculture, the notorious health problems meat eating brings, and the pain inflicted upon animals by modern agribusiness, which makes authentic kashrut impossible, Schwartz asks the obvious question: Why not become vegetarian now?

Schwartz even covers one little known Jewish esoteric reason for eating meat, which may be summarized as the notion that a holy person could, by consuming flesh, elevate the “sparks” of the being who is consumed toward higher consciousness. This is part of tikkun, or healing-of-the-world, and explains the phrase, “Only one who understands the Torah can eat meat.” This belief somewhat parallels the Tibetan Buddhist rationale for eating meat. Yet in both cases
these esoteric teachings are often misunderstood by those who cite them, and have absolutely nothing to do with present-day meat consumption. Here one can argue how much more of a mitzvot (blessing) it is to save an animal’s life, rather than try to help the spirit of the animal after it is dead.

Schwartz reviews Jewish and non-Jewish views of the link between heavy meat eating and violence among people, and how vegetarians can fit into and influence both the Jewish and non-Jewish world. He also includes information about Jewish vegetarian societies and Israeli animal rescue groups.

Jim Mason, co-author with Peter Singer of the 1980 classic Animal Factories (revised 1990), opines in the November/December 2001 edition of Veg News that it is not too far fetched to imagine that churches, mosques and synagogues will pray for animal liberation in the near future because there are signs that these religions are reawakening to the concept of compassion for all beings that Hyland, Kowalski, and Schwartz argue was within Judeo/
Christian religious teachings from the beginning, albeit corrupted by centuries of meat-eaters trying to rationalize their behavior.

These and other recent Lantern Books titles explain from a variety of theological perspectives what we did to exile ourselves from the Garden of Eden, and what we must do to get back there.

–Eileen Weintraub

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