Carnivorous Animals

Why did God create the world that some animals are carnivorous – and hunt and kill other animals for their food? Couldn’t the world have been created differently?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for raising the good issue. In fact, you are completely right. When God first created the world, all animals were herbivorous. In Genesis 1:29-30, God tells Adam that both he and the animals were permitted to eat the fruits of the trees and plants of the fields. At the time of creation and the ideal state of the world was that no creature – man or animal – was permitted to kill another living being for food. Presumably, it was not the nature of animals to eat meat at all. (Man was permitted to bring an animal as a sacrifice to God, as Abel did – Genesis 4:4.)

It’s interesting to note that the prophet Isaiah appears to say that the world will return to this ideal state in the End of Days. See Isaiah 11:7: “The cow and the bear shall graze… the lion, as the ox, shall eat straw,” as well as 65:25. Some of the commentators understand these verses literally – that in the future the world will revert to the ideal state of Creation when all animals were herbivorous (see e.g. Nachmanides to Leviticus 26:6). Others, however, understand such verses figuratively – that nations which were formally warlike and aggressive will become peaceful (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 12:1).

(Note that even after the Messiah arrives, we will still bring animals as sacrifices to God in the Temple – something we in fact pray for today daily – although even that may change much later, after the Resurrection. See this past response regarding that topic.)

All of this changed with the Flood, after which God permitted both man and the animals to kill other animals for food and other beneficial purposes – see Genesis 9:3. Today it is the nature of animals to hunt and kill their prey, and likewise God felt it was necessary for man to be permitted to eat meat – and it is even preferred to eat meat at certain times, such as on the major festivals. (See this past response for a fuller discussion.) Thus, although it is completely natural and proper for both man and animals to eat meat today, it is worth noting that this is only a reflection of the fallen state of the world. Ideally everything should exist in harmony and there should be no notion of killing any other living creature for food or for any other non-sacred purposes.

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