By  Israel Drazin 


The portion Re’eih, Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17, gives us an opportunity to speak about study vs. action, whether the Masorites who established the correct Torah text are always right, and if the Torah prefers that people be vegetarians.


Metaphors, Maimonides, and action

            The Torah is not only a book about God and Israelites, laws and history, but an outstandingly beautiful literary document. It is filled with metaphoric phrases which should be mined to discover their beauty, wealth of meaning, and implications. 11:28, for example, speaks of “other gods that you did not know.” We can imagine that the Israelites knew about idols, and “know” here indicates “worship,” idols you did not worship in the past.

Scripture uses “know” in the sense of action in other instances, such as sex. When one “knows” a woman, he is having sex. Similarly, when people are encouraged to “know” God, they are encouraged to act at all times as if God is watching.[1]

Knowing must have a purpose. Knowing divorced from good work, self improvement and involvement in social justice is vapid, misfeasance, criminal. Therefore, Maimonides wrote[2] that people who read his book on laws need no longer study the Talmud for his book shows how to act, while the Talmud discusses various opinions.[3]


A verse that caused disagreements

            The Masorites[4] of the second half of the first millennia determined how the Bible should be read, but are they always right? 12:5 states that when the Israelites enter Canaan they should worship God in the place that he will choose “out of all your tribes to place his name there, to his habitation (l’shikhno) you should seek, and come there.” We placed the comma after “his name there,” which is how the Masorites indicated the verse should be read and how it is generally translated. Ehrlich disagrees and states that the pause, the comma, belongs after l’shikhno, and the sentence should read: “to place his name there as his habitation; seek and come there.”

What is the place that God will choose? Rashi writes that it is Shiloh where the desert tabernacle resided for many years after the Israelite entry into Canaan; while others say it is Jerusalem. This tendency to identify what the Bible obscures is ubiquitous and unnecessary. Shouldn’t we recognize that the Bible is describing a future unknowable event: a place will be set aside for the tabernacle and temple somewhere in Canaan?


Does the Torah prefer people to be vegetarians?

            It seems that it does. The Bible opens with God’s instructions to Adam and Eve concerning what they can eat. While it notes that there were animals in the Garden of Eden as well as birds that Adam named,[5] God tells the couple they may only eat “of every tree of the garden.”[6]

It was only after the flood, after the realization that people could not be stopped from eating animal flesh, that the Torah allowed consumption of meat, but only under certain restraints, such as not breaking off a live animal’s limb and eating it.[7]

Israelites were given additional restrictions in the Torah to lessen animal consumption and rabbis added to them.[8] It is generally understood that Leviticus 17 prohibited Israelites from eating meat that was not part of a sacrifice to minimize flesh consumption. However, this law could only be enforced when Israelites were living close together in the desert and could easily travel to the tabernacle to offer a sacrifice. It was impossible to enforce when Israelites were scattered throughout Canaan and desired meat.

Therefore, Deuteronomy 12:15 allowed the consumption of meat “in all your gates, as you desire.” The use of “all” seems to indicate that once Israelites entered Canaan, they could eat meat wherever they lived. However, we noted in the past that the Bible uses hyperbolic statements frequently, and “all” does not mean “every, without exception.”[9] Verse 15 should be read in conjunction with verse 21 that appears to limit a violation of the Leviticus restriction only “if the place that the Lord your God shall choose to put his name is too far from you, then you may kill of the herd and of the flock…and eat within your gates.” If this understanding is true as many maintain,[10] then the Torah was still attempting to restrict meat consumption, a prohibition that was soon ignored.


[1] Maimonides agrees, but he also insists that the basic human duty is to know about God; and since knowing about God is impossible, he stresses that humans have a duty to understand the laws of nature that God created or formed so as to improve themselves and society. Guide of the Perplexed 1:1.

[2] Introduction to his Code of Laws.

[3] Maimonides was severely criticized for this statement by people who thought that Talmud study is a religious endeavor, like reading prayers.

[4] These were Bible experts who scrutinized various versions of the Bible text and established the correct text of the Bible, called the Masoretic Text. They also indicated how the text should be read and other things. Maimonides determined that the text now called the Aleppo Text is the most correct Bible.

[5] Genesis 2:20.

[6] Genesis 2:16, but he prohibited the “fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” To imagine that this fruit was an apple, tomato, or any other known fruit or vegetable is a mistake. The Torah identifies it as “the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.” There is no such fruit. This is a parable teaching people to use their intelligence, as Maimonides explained in Guide of the Perplexed 1:2.

[7] Genesis 9:3-4.

[8] Such as how to slaughter animals and the prohibition of eating dairy and meat products together.

[9] For example, Genesis 37:35 states that all Jacob’s children comforted him, but this is not true, Joseph was in Egypt. Exodus 9:25, 26 states that the hail covered all of Egypt, but it did not invade the Israelite area.

[10] Devarim, Olam Hatanach.