DIVREI TORAH

Nazis Were Vegetarians

The animal rights movement has such impetus now.

And much of that impetus – believe it or not - stems from Adolf Hitler, may his memory be cursed.

Hitler, a vegetarian himself, was greatly concerned about animal rights. So much so, that he turned animal rights into a cornerstone of Nazi legislation.

That’s documented in the following excerpt: “In Nazi Germany…people who mistreated pets could be sentenced to two years in jail. The Nazis banned foie gras (because of cruelty to fowl). They also banned docking animals without anesthesia and severely restricted invasive animal research. They established the first laws protecting animals used in films … and also mandated humane slaughter (they were particularly concerned with how lobsters suffered in restaurants)… and euthanasia for terminally ill pets…and instituted school curricula for the humane treatment of animals …”

“Heinrich Himmler once asked his doctor, who was a hunter, ‘How can you … shoot … poor creatures browsing on the edge of a wood...it is murder.’ Perhaps the most chilling episode in the bizarre annals of Nazi animal protection was a 1942 law banning pet-keeping by Jews. As a result, pets owned by Jews were rounded up and humanely euthanized … Jews themselves were not covered by humane slaughter legislation.”[1]

Yes, Nazis protected animals. And there are many reasons as to why they did this.

Firstly, protecting animals afforded them a patina of respectability. That obscured some of their evil. That was especially important at the beginning of their reign when they were still coalescing power. And that’s why Nazis obfuscated one of their first antisemitic legislations - the banning of shechita in April of 1933 – as an act of “animal protection.”

Once such protection was embraced, it was hard to abandon. And that’s one factor as to why such protectionism embedded itself in Nazi culture.

Another reason for Nazi vegetarianism lies - believe it or not – in vegetarianism’s capacity to validate murder.

How does vegetarianism do that? How does it validate murder?

This question’s answer lies in the abyss of deranged Nazi logic.

That logic dictated that extending “human rights” to animals would equate them with humans. That logic also dictated that by establishing such an equation, we can treat humans and animals alike. That means that “lower humans” - Jews, according to Nazis, were lower humans - can be exterminated like “lower animals.”[2]

Yet another factor motivating Nazi animal protectionism was concern about those Germans who found murdering innocent Jews to be repulsive. Nazi leadership saw that repulsion emanating from some type of innate morality.[3]

Nazis theorized that letting people express moral feelings on animals would “unencumber” them from those feelings. And that would free them to commit the murders that the Nazis wanted them to commit.[4]

Nazis, then, deliberately misdirected people's moral feelings. On towards animals. And away from humans.

That led to unimaginable horrors then.

And that can lead to unimaginable horrors now.

Because, even today, all too many people misdirect moral feelings today. So many people lavish attention on pets. While ignoring a needy neighbor. Or not talking to a family member.

It’s not that we’re meant to be cruel to animals. Quite the reverse. We’re meant to be kind to animals.

That kindness is displayed in so many ways. It displays itself in how the animal slaughter mentioned in our parsha can only be done in the least painful of manners.[5]

That kindness is displayed in how we repudiate sport-hunting.[6] That’s because hunting, which kills animals without providing food, causes animals pain without providing any tangible gain.

That kindness is displayed in how we’re commanded to shoo a mother bird away before taking an egg from a nest. That’s done, according to some, because taking babies in front of the mother causes “pain …to the mother bird.”[7]

That kindness is displayed in how a certain blessing is made on all new garments - other than leather garments. It’s the blessing: “Wear it until it’s worn out and then make a new garment.”[8] Why not on leather garments? Because to “make a new” leather garment – which is made from dead animals - means to kill an animal. And we don’t want to kill animals – so we don’t make that blessing.

This also explains why, as per the following possuk, meat was proscribed to early humanity: “Hashem said ‘I’ve given you all herbage…and every tree that has…fruit to eat.’”[9] Early man could eat herbage and fruits – but not meat or fish.[10]

Yes, meat was eventually permitted. That permission, though, was only granted because of a nutritional necessity – one that arose after the Great Flood permanently damaged the Earth’s topsoil and climate. These damages, which stripped vegetation of much nutritional content, made consuming nutritionally rich meat a necessity.[11]

And that’s why some authorities say: “Meat was only allowed because of need… it was banned in early human history...it’s like wine…one who abstains from it is called holy.”[12]

Eating meat, then, isn't an ideal. Probably because it involves killing animals.

All these sources demonstrate that we really care about animals.

We just care more about humans. And that’s because there’s a “hierarchy of moral responsibility.” And humans are higher on that hierarchy than animals.

And that causes you to ask. Should this hierarchy only distinguish between animals and people? Shouldn't it also distinguish between different types of people?

Spouses should be more important than friends. Parent’s needs should override community needs. And a child’s event should outweigh a friend’s event.

And that’s where so many of us go wrong. And cause so much damage.

We’ll allot time to community that should’ve been allotted to family.

We’ll find kinship with friends while neglecting siblings.

And we’ll violate that “hierarchy of moral responsibility” in so many other ways.

Not that we shouldn’t focus on friends and community. We should. We should just focus on family more.

Lets do good for everyone.

But let’s do that good within the hierarchy of moral responsibility.

That will ensure that our good is really good.

[1] Psychology Today, Nov. 17, 2011 quoting “Understanding Nazi Animal Protection and the Holocaust”

[2] Ibid.

[3] “The Theory of Ideas,” Rene Descartes

[4] Such repulsion seems to exhibit itself even in eight-month-old babies. Seattle Times, February 1, 1996, “Eight -Month-Old Babies Recognize Wrongdoers and Seek to Punish Them, Time Magazine, June 22, 2022

[5] Moreh Nevuchim 3:48

[6] Noda be-Yehuda, Yorah Deah 2:10

[7] Ibid, although see Berachos 33b

[8] Rema, Orach Chaim, 223:6

[9] Bereishis 1:29

[10] Sanhedrin 52:

[11] Sforno, Bereishis 6:13, 8:22.

[12] Sefer Ikkarim 3:12

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