God and Animals: Friends, Not Food

Why did God create animals?

What does our tradition and Torah have to say on this subject?

Given that the Torah grants us permission to eat meat, can we deduce that God created animals to be a food source for us?

Definitely not. 

Let’s go back to the beginning—Genesis 1 and 2.

The first two chapters of the Torah present two accounts of Creation. In Genesis 1, we see animals created and in existence before the arrival of human beings, who are immediately told to take care of the animals (Genesis 1:26) and to eat plants, and only plants. 

In Genesis 2, God creates the animals to provide companionship for Adam, the first human being. Adam proceeds to name the animals. 

God did not permit human beings to eat animals until after The Flood, in Genesis 9, approximately 1,000 years into the Biblical story. But this permission is granted with both reluctance and restrictions. 

And here’s the kicker: In Genesis 9—just after we’re granted permission to eat meat—we’re told that animals have a covenantal relationship with God, just as human beings do. And this animal-inclusive covenant is repeated five times in Genesis 9, just to make sure we take notice. 

It’s about relationship. God not only enters into a covenant with animals, God created Earth with animals in mind. As we’re told in Psalms 104, “The high mountains are for wild goats; the crags are a refuge for badgers.” In other words, elements of Creation exist for the benefit of animals. 

And, as is the case with any good relationship, there is reciprocity. The animals express their gratitude, according to Psalms 150, which states, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

As anyone who lives with a companion animal knows, the relationship is reciprocal for us, too. We take care of dogs and cats, who respond with love and affection, helping to meet our emotional needs. Cows and chickens, when given a chance, show us love and affection, too. 

It’s as if God knew that the Earth would be greatly diminished without the presence of animals. As partners with God, we must fulfill our obligation to care for animals. They are our friends, not food.

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