For the past few years, I have been eating meat only once a week. God made it possible for us to use animals, and I understand the essential use for leather shoes and vitamin B12 found in meat. But I do not believe we should use other creatures just for our pleasure. What does Judaism say about being a vegetarian, and is there any time that the Torah says we must eat meat?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Judaism permits the eating of meat, provided that proper intent and mindfulness are present: to elevate the Divine energy contained in meat to a higher human level; to use energy derived from eating to discharge spiritual and moral responsibilities; and to serve God through the pleasures of His world.
In Jewish consciousness, the highest level an animal can achieve is to be consumed by a human and used in the service of God. A chicken on a Shabbos table is a very lucky chicken! (see "Tanya" ch. 7)
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (purportedly a vegetarian) writes that man was granted dominion over animals in order to underscore our spiritual superiority and heightened moral obligations. Were man to accord animals the same rights as humans, then just as we don't expect high moral standards from animals, we would, tragically, lower our expectations of humans as well.
In the Temple times, it was necessary for the Kohanim (priests) and the owners of an offering to eat from its meat. For example, at the Passover Seder, each would Jew would eat a piece of roasted lamb (Korbon Pesach).
Nowadays, there is no commandment to eat meat. On Shabbat and Yom Tov, one should eat meat ("Code of Jewish Law" O.C. 250:2). However, if a person does not enjoy meat, he does not have to eat it even on Shabbat (O.C. 288:2).
For a thorough treatment of this topic, see www.aish.com/ci/s/48916842.html