Curbing our Appetites

The shochet has come to do his workshop. And he said, no, one absolutely does not say Shehecheyanu over an occurrence that involves death. (See “Small Deaths” where I raised that question over a year ago.)

And I have to say, despite the truth of Barry’s assertion that life and death need each other, we as humans are actors on life’s stage with an intentionality and power that most other organisms don’t have. Our respect for death, our treating it seriously and respectfully, is only in part because of our fear of it. It is very much necessary because of our ability to cause it — intentionally or thoughtlessly, for the most carefully-thought-out of reasons or in a blind rage, or — and this is incredibly relevant to kashrut and ecology — simply because of our boundless desire.

Rabbi Kantor said yesterday that the Orthodox rabbi who is in charge of oversight of meat at the OU has said publicly that the ethical violations which occur in OU-supervised slaughter of animals are the result of a huge pressure from the (kashrut-observing) Jewish community for meat.  That’s just one example, within my fairly small community, of the rapaciousness and thoughtlessness with which we treat the earth.  We, meaning my fellow Americans.  Others too, surely, around the world, but we Americans do have a particular mythology of endless abundance (the rolling prairies, endless herds of bison, land for the taking, limitless forests, spacious skies, amber waves of grain undulating to the horizon …  You know what I’m talking about).  The way we live is not sustainable, and we cause small and large deaths, short-term and long-term, in ways that we are utterly oblivious to, all the time.  (See previous post about the deaths inherent in growing vegetable crops on a mechanized scale.)

So it is appropriate that we acknowledge life and life-giving events differently than we do events involving death. It is surely in recognition of our own fears, but also in order to take death seriously and not go around causing more of it than we ought — because we have the ability to do that on world-wrecking scale, whether the wreck comes slowly or fast.