In the past, history has shown us that man has always had superiority and stature over the animal kingdom. But what about today? Many contend that man and animal are equal and that man does not have the superior status that he once enjoyed. So, how did that attitude come about? There are three basic areas of man’s predominance over animals, and these areas are being challenged now.
The first area is that fact that man has a superior intellect. We know that man has such an intellect, but research has revealed that some animals also have a developed intellect. Animal rights people then say that this difference between man’s intelligence and the intelligence of animals is only a difference of degree, not of kind, and so there is no moral reason to assert that man is superior.
Secondly, man is created in the image of God. However, western societies are becoming more and more secular and so this assertion does not carry as much weight as it used to. People don’t even think like that anymore. To make an argument based on this assertion is no longer a counter point to the assertions that man and animal are equals. It is a documented fact that animal activists are less likely to have a biblical worldview than others. The majority of animal rights activists profess to be an atheist or agnostic (Animal Rights Crusade, p.38, 1985). This makes sense because to think that man alone was created in God’s image does not fit well with their idea that man and animals are on equal footing.
Then there is the third area that says that man has the faculty to make moral decisions. We know that man has the ability to make moral decisions between right and wrong, but over the years man finds himself in societies where those decisions are muddied up by relativism. Traditional values have been discarded and relativism is now the rule of the day. This makes moral decisions a personal choice, rather than one that would apply to everyone. People can just pick and choose what to follow.
The morality of the korbanot and the questions surrounding it have come out of the last generation or so. Our society has put animals in higher esteem than other generations. If a person wishes to take the life of an animal they must be “worthy.” Since the 1970’s, the man-animal relationship has changed. Man is not as great as he was, and the animals are not so “second class” as they once were. Social forces have forced this change, which we have seen. With that said, let’s look at how God and the Torah sees this position of man and animal and how this view plays a role on the moral issues that surround animal sacrifices and the korbanot.
The biblical view of this relationship can be found in the Jewish view of the korbanot. There are many sources on this subject and there are certain themes that almost always appear in these discussions that will help us understand this issue, the morality of the korbanot.
There is a biblical view that man is created in the image of God, and man alone (Gen 1.27-28). Man’s dominion over the animals is due to his intellect. For Jewish writers and scholars like Sa’adia Gaon, Maimonides and Nachmanides, this is the basis for man to know and worship God. Man has the power of speech and is able to form relationships with others. His intellect allows him to enter into a relationship with God. Animal rights people will say that the differences between the intellect of man and animals is only one of degree, not kind. However, the biblical view says that this attitude shows an ingratitude. Man can express himself in many ways and can communicate to others and relate to others in various ways. This does not place us on equal footing with the animals, this places us in a category by ourselves. We have been made in the image of God and that alone makes us “light years” ahead and superior to the animals.
So, does all this mean we can use animals? We may claim to be superior to the animals but does that mean we can use animals for our own needs? Man has been given dominion over the animals and the earth according to the biblical worldview. Man can legitimately use animals as a function of his dominance. Man and animals are not in “kinship” with each other as the animal activists like to claim. However, just because man has dominion over the animals does not mean he should not act responsibly?
Man must respect animals. He cannot be cruel to them. The sentiments espoused in our society about animals can find their roots in the Bible. Gen 9.4 says we are not to take a limb from a living animal. Deut 22.6-7 says that we are to chase away the mother bird before taking her eggs. And we are told that we are not to muzzle an ox from eating while it is threshing our floor. These are all examples of the mistreatment of animals. Man must show respect to the animals because they possess a soul (nephesh). They have interests, can experience pain and can love. Kindness towards animals is an ongoing theme in biblical thought. These teachings are meant to do two things. First, these attitudes foster genuine concern for the animal. Second, it can foster within the person a compassionate spirit so that he can deal with other people with more kindness.
Man must also recognize that the Lord is the master of the universe (Psa 50.10-11). Man has been given dominion but man must also realize it is the Lord who has ultimate dominion. God gave commandments that clearly illustrate that man’s dominion over the earth and the animal world is only “in part.” Man cannot work his animal on the Sabbath (Exo 20.10) nor during the sabbatical year (Lev 25.6-7). This shows that that the world belongs to the Lord, not man.
Vegetarians and animal rights activists claim that killing an animal shows that man is incorrectly lording his power over an innocent animal. The korbanot tell us something different. The korbanot show that it is God who is the ultimate king of the universe and he is over everything in it. Those against animal sacrifice will say, “Why does an animal have to do be killed to fulfill man’s religious duties?” This notion only has meaning in a society that puts man at the center of the universe, not God. They say that “man is setting his own rules, even when he worships a god. It is unfair to subject an animal to such actions. Sacrifice, therefore, only serves man.”
However, the Torah tells us that God is at the center and that man was created a “little lower than the angels and has crowned him the glory and dignity” (Psa 8.5). Man can make use of all that God has created through his permission, including animals. Because man has been given dominion, he must give up part of his belongings to acknowledge God as the king. God owns the animals and he has given man permission to use certain kinds in korbanot.
Now, what about those who say that man can use animals for food, clothing and medicine but not for sacrificial purposes? By understanding this issue, we can understand the korbanot. Those who wear leather, eat meat, and use medicine from animal sources, also have an obligation to show that their dominion is not complete and that they recognize God’s dominion over this world. When a person brings a korban to the Temple, the korbanot demonstrate the inanimate, vegetative and animate parts of the earth. These areas are the true dominion of the creator God. Bringing a korban shows God that man has been given dominion over these things and can use these things, but it is God who is the creator and ultimate king. Man answers to the Lord.
For people who would use animals for general purposes, we submit that sacrifices would seem to be morally acceptable in another aspect. We have shown that the korbanot were symbols. By taking the life of an animal there is an expiation of sin and a rededication back to God. We also showed that the korban is also related to a covenantal feast with God, a Lord’s Supper. The korbanot were seen as a renewal of the covenantal bond that was started at Sinai. Now, if the taking of an animal’s life is justified in order to feed, clothe and medically treat a person in the physical, then we would certainly approve of the taking of a life for a higher purpose, in accordance with the commands of God in the spiritual.
In Part 7 we will pick up with the procedure of bringing more than one kind of korban.