The Vegetarian Commandment

And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. (Genesis 1:29)

It does not take much imagination to assume from this original commandment that God’s intention was for humans to be vegetarians.

—Rabbi Dr. Gabriel Cousens, Conscious Eating (2000), Chapter 17, ‘Judaism and Torah (Old Testament) Teachings on Vegetarianism.

And the Lord God commanded the man saying: of every tree of the garden, thou mayest freely eat … (Genesis 2:16)

… and thou shalt eat the herbs of the field. (Genesis 3:18)

In Exodus 20:13 it says, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ This sixth commandment is basic in terms of its compassion and love for all creation.

The exact Hebrew translation reads ‘lo tirtzach.’ This word refers to any sort of killing, and not just of humans. The practice of this commandment not only keeps the fundamental order in the world of nature, but supports the basic principle of compassion and love for all of God’s creation that is taught in the Torah. It clearly supports the essential observance of vegetarianism.

—Rabbi Dr. Gabriel Cousens, op. cit.

Vegetarianism is the basic and unitary commandment on diet. It is a blueprint, in essence, of the basic diet needed to support a spiritual life in harmony with all of creation. It gives us a context to understand Genesis 9:3, the first of several concessions to people’s lust for flesh: ‘Every moving thin that lives shall be food for you; as the green herb have I given you all.’ (Rabbi Dr. Gabriel Cousens, op. cit.)

Only flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof shall ye not eat. (Genesis 9:4)

The following is adapted further from Rabbi Dr. Gabriel Cousens, op.cit.

Directly related to the temporary concession to the carnal desires of humanity, we see an immediate result in a decreased life span. Humanity is forced to pay a price for its blood lust. Within one generation of the Genesis 9:3 statement to Noah, the life span decreased to one-third of its previous length, from approximately 900 years to 300 years, and then eventually to 70 years. Our current medical research has documented that a flesh-centered diet has a detrimental effect on health.

During Exodus, it appears that God tried to make the Jews return to vegetarianism by just giving them the manna in the desert. Again, however, the flesh lust of the people made them rebel from the diet. They demanded flesh food from God.

And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting; and the children of Israel also weeped on their part, and said, ‘Would that we were given flesh to eat.’ (Numbers 11:4)

Although Moses was frustrated with the lust of the people, God granted their request by providing them with quails blown in by the wind. But God’s anger at their rebellion and their flesh-eating desires brought a plague to the people who ate the quail.

While the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague. (Numbers 11:33)

Many died and the place where this took place was called the ‘Graves of Lust,’ there they buried the people that lusted. (Numbers 11:34)

It is hard to interpret this concession of eating the quail as supportive of a flesh-centered diet. It is far easier to interpret this incident as evidence of God’s direction that the people be vegetarian and that the consequence of meat-eating would be poor health and a shortened life span.