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Shabbat Parashat Acharei Mot Kedoshim 5778

Parashat Hashavua: On the Centrality of Yerushalayim and on Vegetarianism

Harav Yosef Carmel

In this week’s Torah reading, we learn of a prohibition to slaughter an animal and not bring it as a sacrifice (Vayikra 17:1-7). In Parashat Eikev, the Torah allows one who is at a significant distance from the Mikdash to slaughter an animal and eat it locally (Devarim 12:21).

Great Tannaim disputed the answer to the questions of what prohibition the earlier p’sukim are discussing and how the two sets of p’sukim interact. The mishna in Chulin (15b) states that “we always slaughter,” and the gemara (ibid. 16b-17a) tries to figure out the context of this statement. Rabba says that the author of this statement is Rabbi Yishmael, who said that during the period in the desert, it had been forbidden to slaughter an animal and eat it unless it was brought as a korban. Only when they entered Eretz Yisrael did this become permitted. Therefore, the mishna stressed that now it is always permitted.

Rav Yosef says that the change in procedure was regarding the practice of nechira, killing an animal not in the manner of halachic shechita. This had been permitted in the desert and was forbidden when they entered Eretz Yisrael. There had been some reason for conjecture that it would become permitted in a period of exile, and therefore the mishna states that it is always necessary to perform shechita.

According to Rabbi Yishmael, there was never a possibility to eat meat without shechita, and in the desert only in the process of bringing a korban, which is a demanding process, was it possible to eat meat. The reason (as explained by Rashi) it became permitted to eat without that exacting process was that it would have been too much to expect from people around the country (and in the diaspora) to be able to eat meat only after coming all the way to Yerushalayim. Certainly those who are inspired by the ideas of vegetarianism see themselves preferring Rabbi Yishmael’s approach.

According to Rabbi Akiva, shechita was originally necessary only in the context of a korban. The p’sukim in Vayikra deal with the prohibition of doing korban-like activities outside the Mikdash, and the pasuk in Devarim introduces the laws of shechita as applying to preparation for the eating of all meat. The Rambam (Shechita 4:17) accepts Rabbi Akiva’s approach, whereas the Ramban prefers Rabbi Yishmael’s approach.

Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva both agree that it is forbidden to bring a sacrifice outside the Mishkan/Mikdash. Unfortunately, despite this prohibition, during the course of centuries, many Jews did bring sacrifices throughout Eretz Yisrael on personal altars. In the future, we will discuss why it was so difficult to fight this practice, which was practiced even during the periods of righteous kings.

Let us pray that in our generation, the centrality of Yerushalayim will be strengthened in Israel specifically and throughout the Jewish world.        


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