Whoever avoids eating meat or has chosen a vegetarian lifestyle for the sake of having mercy on animals is wrong, according to Rabbi Dov Lior, a prominent Religious Zionism halachic authority.
"We still are not compassionate towards people in our times, so having mercy on animals is irrelevant," explained the rabbi. "Only when the world ascends spiritually and we have mercy on people will we be able to be vegetarians."
Lior is serving as Kiryat Arba's rabbi and is considered a prominent leader in the National Haredi movement.
Rabbi Lior addressed the issue in a scholarly article published on Saturday in the "Gilui Da'at" pamphlets distributed at synagogues. "There is no objecting to making sacrifices (in the Temple) on claims of cruelty to animals," opened the author in reference to a central topic in the weekly Torah portion.
According to him, "When the Torah allowed the slaughter of animals for human consumption, it thus permitted slaughter for higher needs (for mitzvot)."
Regarding the Torah's permission to kill animals in order to eat them, the rabbi wrote that Jews can "raise up the mundane."
"When a person from Israel eats, if he does so for a holy purpose, he sanctifies the material, something that does not exist among the nations of the world, for whom eating has no connection to holiness," Rabbi Lior explained.
As an example, the rabbi mentioned the Hasidic custom of tasting the rabbi's leftovers after he "discovers sparks (of wisdom) within the food."
Rabbi Lior believes that "the time has yet to come" for vegetarianism out of compassion for animals: "I remember when the Russians sent a dog to space there was an outcry about cruelty to animals. I wonder: How is it that when ships sink in Haifa we do not hear these cries? HaRav Kook said about this that when the world ascends spiritually – we will be vegetarians."
The non-profit organization Anonymous for Animal Rights said in response, "The short and impressive book by Rabbi Kook, 'A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace,' is available for reading on the internet, and we are certain that whoever reads it not out of a clear interest of continuing to eat meat at any price will find a difference spirit presented than the one in Rabbi Lior's statements."
According to Anonymous, Rabbi Kook even took the discussion beyond killing animals for their meat and addressed harm caused to animals used for milk and wool. The organization claimed that if Rabbi Kook "were to see the situation today in which 300 million animals are put to death after lives of constant suffering in Israel every year, he would not think it appropriate to take part in this."
Green Movement said that "Rabbi Lior's response shows ignorance of the subject. Eating meat damages humans first and foremost and their ability to exist on the face of the earth. The environmental effect of the livestock economy is enormous and one of the major factors in the eradication of human's life support systems. Raising animals for food is one of the factors with the largest effect on global warming, deforestation, soil erosion, and contaminated water sources."