Thursday, October 2, 2008

On Hunting and Our Fitness To Eat Meat

Before Rosh HaShanah I was busy posting articles on my sites. Just before candle lighting, I glanced at an article about female hunters. It was on Lemon Lime Moon and contrasted the admiration of the hunters for the beauty of an elk with the gloating that followed their subsequent killing of such a splendid animal.
"One woman was in a hunting blind ooowing and ahhing to her gal pal over a big Elk," Lemon Lime Moon recalled of a documentary on female hunters. "She was amazed by its size and majesty and beauty. She praised how alive and wonderful and full of spirit it was. Then she shot it."

I have had many discussions with vegetarians and hunters. While neither group has won me to their ranks, both have moved me to question my own practices.

I grew up in a home with dogs. I have had rodents of various sorts as pets. One summer, we watched a nest full of robin's eggs hatch under the loving care of their parents. In my world view, the animating life force is refracted through the prism of myriad species. As a husband and father, I sometimes feel a sense of commonality with other life forms whose emotions and issues seem to resemble my own.

Because I am a city dweller, I am able to compartmentalise my view of meat so that it is almost unrelated to barnyard creatures. When looking looking at cows and sheep in a petting zoo with my children, I distanced myself from the awareness that these were species that provided meat. During kapporos, I try to confront this boundary , to feel a commonality with the rooster that is dying at the beginning of what I hope will be another full year.

The rationale for eating meat is that an animal achieves a higher level existence through the person who eats it. Eating meat on Rosh HaShanah is a time that is particularly appropriate to such reflections. The closest I can come to a philosophical embrace of vegetarianism is the thought that much human conduct affords the slaughtered beast a descent from its prior level of existence. What sort of cosmic lottery directs a steak to the table of a gangster or a prophet?

Most of humanity banishes the image of a sheep or cow from the mind's eye as part of the preparation for consuming its flesh. Hunters seem to cultivate an awareness of a living creature even as they kill and consume it. They seem to have a different process of separation from animals than those of us who buy meat packaged in styrofoam and shrink wrap.

The image of a woman as a hunter jars one's sense of women as the nurturing half of the human species. Whatever negative feelings one might have towards a male hunter are greatly magnified if the hunter is a woman.

There is a time to kill. We read Koheles at Sukkos time . Its words seem particularly relevant to this question.


To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. (Koheles Ch 3)

When it is a time to kill, one must of necessity deaden oneself to certain feelings. Soldiers and police officers are necessary to the peace we take for granted. In order to do their job properly, they cannot meditate upon the common humanity they share with a criminal or an enemy soldier. To a certain extent, they identify the enemy as a threat and then think of them as a target.

Those of us who eat meat delegate the task of psychological separation to a professional who slaughters the beast we use for food.

The disturbing question that occurs to me in seeing a hunter standing over an animal they have shot is what effect it has on their emotions and on their psyche.
I wonder if those who collect rare books or Indian Head pennies are taking their hunting instinct in a different and more benign direction.

We are supposed to be the pinnacle of creation, the top of all living creatures. When I look at an automobile or a laptop computer, I have no trouble believing that. Reading an article about war crimes trials in the Hague and Florida leaves me with the sickening knowledge that humans can sink far below the level of animals.

Lemon Lime Moon expresses some strong emotions towards the female hunters, cursing them out with an adeptness that I envy.

"I don't think she would ever see my blog, Lemon Lime Moon says in her article" but on the very off chance she ever does, this is for her:
Lady, and I use the term loosely you lard encrusted bimbo,... you're a jerk, a moron and an empty headed spittoon. From now on may all your hunting be for Kodiak bear with an unloaded gun and may the ever regurgitating sewers of Rangoon back up into your breakfast". Amen."

If the hunters left the carcass to rot, I would have no trouble saying" amen" to such a blessing. If, however they took the meat home, they are only showing me the fate of homelier but no less sentient creatures than the elk.

I do not take the welfare of animals lightly. One of the Seven Universal Noahide Laws deals with the welfare of animals.

The same sensibilities that move me to question human worthiness to consume the meat of animals moves me to seething anger at humans who hunt humans such as the Liberian man on trial for war crimes in Miami including cannibalism, torture and disfigurement. If he is convicted, such an artful curse as quoted above would not suffice as even a down payment on his portion of eternal misery in hell's lowest reaches.

Alleged Liberian War Crimal on trial in Miami

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