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Please note that I am not an authority on Halakha (i.e. Jewish Law). What follows are just my own thoughts on this subject. For many years I was a vegetarian and had to grapple with this topic. Those seeking halakhic rulings on this topic are encouraged to look elsewhere, for instance here.Prior to the global flood all humans and animals were vegetarian if not vegan according to the Book of Genesis. Here is the first reference to food recorded in the Torah:Genesis 1:29: And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food.Likewise to the animals:Genesis 1:30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creeps upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for food: and it was so.Hence for both humans and animals the ideal foodstuff upon creation was vegetarian. Meat was not given for human nor animal consumption in the beginning. This is confirmed here:Genesis 2:9 And the Lord God caused to sprout from the ground every tree pleasant to see and good to eat, and the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.This is what was eaten by both humans and the animals. Then there came the day when Noah was called to prepare the ark. Note God's instruction:Genesis 6:21 And you, take for yourself of every food that is eaten and gather it in to you, and it shall be for you and for them to eat."Note that Noah brought "food for you, and for them..." Humans still did not eat animals, nor did the animals eat each other.
After the world was completely flooded and the people left the ark, God allowed Noah and his family to begin eating animals. Arguably this was because there would have been nothing to eat for a year or more until the plants reseeded, but this is conjecture.Genesis 9:3 Every moving thing that lives shall be yours to eat; like the green vegetation, I have given you everything.Here Noah is told that even as humans were previously given vegetation to eat, now they would be allowed to eat animals under certain conditions.
Rashi notes: shall be yours to eat: (Sanhedrin 59b) For I did not permit the first man [Adam] to eat meat, but only vegetation, but for you, just as the green vegetation which I permitted for the first man, I have given you everything.4 But, flesh with its soul, its blood, you shall not eat.
5 But your blood, of your souls, I will demand [an account]; from the hand of every beast I will demand it, and from the hand of man, from the hand of each man, his brother, I will demand the soul of man.
Verse four gives the fundamental condition: The blood must be completely drained. Other requirements were added under Jewish Halakha. These rules are delineated in Kashrut. Noahides (i.e. the righteous Gentiles) are not under Jewish Halakha. They are however commanded regarding the honor and protection of animals under rule Ever Min HaChay: i.e. the prohibition on removing and eating a limb from a live animal. For the Seven Laws applicable to non-Jews see my study here.
Note that the life is contained within the blood. That life is what must not be consumed. Even if a piece of meat is properly drained of its blood according to the strict rules of Orthodox Kashrut, there is still no way to remove it all. Therefore when meat is eaten one consumes a portion of the creature's life. This realization moved some ancient cultures to perform various rites of acknowledgement. For instance some Native American traditions require one to request forgiveness before eating an animal. Many people in India and elsewhere view eating animals as equivalent to cannibalism. This sacredness of life encourages many mindful Jews to embrace vegetarianism or veganism.
There is a price for this dietary allowance. Notice what happens: "But your blood, of your souls, I will demand [an account]; from the hand of every beast I will demand it, and from the hand of man, from the hand of each man, his brother, I will demand the soul of man."
In the beginning humanity was free, pure and at peace with all other life forms. As the foundational generation passed away this began to change. Humanity gradually darkened as it moved ever farther away from HaShem's goodness and original design. Now, in part as a result of eating animals, violence of all kinds increased within and without human society. Note that nowhere are humans commanded to eat our fellow creatures, we are merely allowed to do so, with a cost.
It is an observable fact that those societies that encourage the eating of their fellow creatures, especially those that have reduced animal life to a market commodity, usually have higher crime rates, wage more wars of aggression and so on. Violence begets violence. Eating animals, according to the Bible, is directly related to increased violence. History demonstrates that this is true. As the factory farming of animals replaced the previous ranch models in the US the country fundamentally changed and become more aggressive.
Balance is required.
I am not advocating the prohibition of meat eating with this study, merely being conscious about what one eats. Meat eating is allowed in the Bible for Jews and Noahides. Both groups are commanded to drain the blood of the animals they eat and to not eat still-living animals (see my study on the Seven Noahide Laws for more on this).
For Noahides standard butchering methods suffice. Noahides may eat anything they wish as long as the blood is drained and the animal is dead. Most Noahides voluntarily abstain from pork and shellfish and many take the extra step of looking for a kosher symbol on the products they buy. The Torah further moderates what Jews may and may not consume. Rabbinic Halakha adds several additional requirements and restrictions to those in the Torah, including how this bleeding process is to be done and by whom. Observant traditional Jews require an approved shechitah (kosher butcher) to prepare their meats.
Most meat eaten today does not meet the minimum Jewish kosher requirements (the need for a shechitah aside). Recent undercover investigations have demonstrated that frequently these requirements are not satisfied even by so-called kosher slaughter houses, although they do meet the less stringent Noahide requirements.
Once HaMashiach comes balance will be restored to the earth as 'the lion lays down with the lamb' etc. (Isaiah 11). Then all beings will return to a peaceful vegetarian diet. In the meantime the decision is ours. One does not sin by eating nor by not eating meat.
Here is what HaShem really wants from us:Micah 6:6 Wherewith shall I come before HaShem, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
7 Will HaShem be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what HaShem requires of you, only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Now, here's that Burger you ordered!