The Law of the Torn Limb

You shall not eat any abominable thing. - Deuteronomy 14:3

The Seven Commandments, like the Torah's Ten Commandments, all serve as headings or broad categories of moral principles and laws. One sees how this works in regard to the Noahide "dietary commandment," the so-called Law of the Torn Limb (in Hebrew, "eyver min ha'chai"/limb from the living).

I will not eat oysters. I want my food dead. Not sick, not wounded, dead. - Woody Allen

Every living creature eats. God requires man to treat the animals he eats - and also, ultimately, every creature subject to human control - with some self-control, self-respect, and at least the semblance of a decent regard for other life. By His Law, He sweeps away the taboos of paganism. He has given men and women complete dominion over His earth (Genesis 1:26). "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; even as the green herb, I have given you everything." (Genesis 9:3). But this awesome gift is no license for depravity or piggishness: freedom imposes responsibilities. The Compassionate King Who elevates us above the animals forbids us from acting like animals:

God commands all mankind: you shall not eat any meat or flesh torn, cut, or pulled from any creature while it still has the breath of life in it.

Cultivate gentleness - Talmud, Ta'anit 4a

People must kill their food - or have it killed - before they eat it. This is not something to be left up to individual taste or preference, either; this is no mere personal moral stricture; people everywhere are obligated to enforce this prohibition legally, to outlaw the conduct it forbids. Pursuant to the Noahide Law against anarchy - the Noahide obligation to enforce the Noahide laws and to pursue justice (and prevent oppression) - God requires every human society to make this a matter of enforceable law.

The Lord [HaShem] is good to all, and His tender mercy lies over all His works. - Psalm 145:9

This law exemplifies all the universal laws. Every nation is divinely obligated to outlaw violations of the bare-bones Universal Commandments. So every nation is required, by God, to criminalize - literally, to outlaw - these perverse and vile violations of His Law. Whenever an act violates His Universal Law, He makes each human society responsible for enacting and enforcing laws to prohibit it.

Speak to the Earth, and it shall teach you. - Job 12:8

God didn't put man at the top of the earth's food chain and give us dominion over earth's lesser creatures so that we could eat them alive. To violate the Law of the Torah limb is subhuman - and every human society is obligated to condemn it by outlawing it. However, there is more to God's Way - His Law, the Universal Torah - than the mere avoidance of criminality.

A righteous man regards the soul of his beast. - Proverbs 12:10

A righteous person should always endeavor to do righteousness, beyond merely avoiding commiting crimes. A righteous person tries to do the opposite of whatever the Universal Law forbids. How can one discover what that is? By going to the Torah.

In Torah, God tells man: you shall neither eat nor drink blood (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 3:17, 7:26, 17:12). Even though this is not a part of the explicit, bare-bones Universal Law, one who seeks to refine himself and please God will refrain from eating or drinking blood. He will also look into the other statutes and ordinances of the Torah, concerning eating, drinking, and the kind treatment of animals. They exist to raise Israel to holiness, but God calls everyone to holiness.

Israel's prohibition against eating pork is a good example of where holiness may take us.

Certain animals, the Torah teaches, are kosher or (literally) fit to eat. If they are mammals, they must be animals that 1) have cloven hooves and 2) chew their cud. This includes goats, sheep, oxen and cows, giraffes, buffalo, antelope and deer. These animals are all vegetarians, they are all herd animals, and they all can be slaughtered - according to the Torah's rules for the humane slaughter of animals - practically painlessly. They are all relatively unintelligent animals and they can (when everything is done right) all be directed to the slaughterer without frightening them. They don't smell or sense the coming of death. Even if they smell blood that's spilled from the animals that precede them, it doesn't scare them or particularly put them off. Neither do they react badly to the sight of their fellow animals being slaughtered (See Rainbow Covenant, p. 122; Dr. Temple Grandin, Thinking in Pictures)

They are slaughtered by a single quick sweep of the slaughterer's razor-sharp sword, making a horizontal, more or less complete cut across both the air- and food-pipes. This causes the animal to lose consciousness instaneously, due to the tremendous loss of blood pressure; the heart continues to pump out blood but the animal is already dead.

[This issue comes up occasionally: God never holds Noahides, non-Jews, to higher standards than He does Jews. Noahides can rely just as Jews do on a rabbinic certification that food is kosher. While Noahides should try to avoid even the appearance of violating any of the Seven Commandments, including the Law of the Torah Limb, if food is kosher as far as Jews are concerned it is kosher for Noahides as well.]

To kill any of the non-kosher mammals - a pig, a rat, a cat, a horse, or a dog, say - in this manner would be practically impossible. Except for horses, they are not herd animals and wouldn't do well being herded to a slaughtering pen. They all smell and react strongly to the smell of blood, even when it is not the blood of their own kind. They are all sensitive to death's sights and sounds; they all react badly to the sight, sound and smell of the death of their own kind.

People who claim to know say that these animals sometimes even seem to "smell" the coming of death. So they cannot be slaughtered painlessly, in any practical context: they can't be slaughtered economically, as the kosher animals can, without terrifying them. Neither can they be killed painlessly in any other manner, because it is necessary - for the sake of holiness, according to the Torah - to remove as much as possible of the animal's blood, and the only way to do that is through kosher slaughter. (If one aspires to purity or holiness, the Torah teaches, one should endeavor not to eat or drink any blood.)

The main body of the Torah is contained in the Seven Commandments with their details. - Rabbenu Menachem ben Shlomo Me'iri (c. 1270 CE)

This is important knowledge. This is how the Universal Law, however bare-bones it may seem to be on first impression, leads to Torah.

You shall not eat any abominable thing. - Deuteronomy 14:3

Israel is forbidden to eat meat from animals that weren't slaughtered properly. If an animal died on its own, due to disease, fire or flood, say, Israel may not eat it but should not waste it when people hunger: it should be given away to one to whom it isn't prohibited. However, a Noahide who isn't desperate for food would do better to refrain from such food - even though the Noahide isn't explicitly commanded to avoid it.

Israel is forbidden to eat any but true fish - fish that have both fins and scales. Catfish, shark, shell-fish, reptiles, amphibians - all are forbidden. Noahides may eat such foods, since there is no Divine prohibition commanding them against it. Nevertheless, one who seeks purity might do better to avoid them.

Fish are considered edible once they are pulled from the water - which shocks them into insensibility. Eating a fish out of water does not violate the Law of the Torn Limb. Similarly, fish "blood" is regarded as mere tissue.

Kosher birds, with few exceptions, are chickens, grouse, quail, geese, pigeons or doves, turkeys, and ducks. No song bird, none of the birds that build interesting nests, and no bird "with cruel habits" - which uses its talons to clutch or spear its prey - is kosher. So none of the carrion eaters, no ostrich, swan, owl, hawk or eagle are kosher. Noahides may eat them; but - if hunger isn't an immediate pressing concern, why would one want to?

And God said to Adam: 'Behold My works! See how beautiful and commendable they are. All that I created, for your sake I created it. Pay heed that you do not corrupt and desolate My world, for there is no one to repair it after you.' - Midrash, Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28


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