I recently learned of this festival that will be happening this week that I had never heard of called YuLin, but since I first heard about it the event news has gone viral. For anyone not familiar:
— Michelle Carr ·o. (@mcarr2k) June 18, 2015
Now, if everything that is being reported about this festival is true, this would clearly be an event that we as rabbis could sanction for anyone. Forget about kashrut (Jewish dietary law):
- Gluttony: As much as Jewish festivals involve food, and they do, the focus is not the food (believe it or not). The meal is the setting by which we discuss and express the lessons of the day. The best example of course is matza, the lechem oni. Lechem oni means poor man’s bread, but with a slight vocalization change to lechem ahni becomes the bread of answering (Maharal), the bread that we discuss the Exodus over. There is no Jewish festival where the purpose is to binge eat on a food as an end unto itself.
- Animal Cruelty: Although there is no specific verse that says “don’t mistreat animals”, the sentiment is expressed in a number of different mitzvot (commandments) such as the mitzah not to allow an animal of your enemy to buckle under its load and the mitzvah to give an animal food before you eat. The Aruchot Tzaddikim is clear the prohibition on animal cruelty is Biblical. The packing in of multiple dogs into a single cage such as is seen in the pictures would seem to violate this ordinance.
- Theft: Reports on the dog meat trade have shown that often it is not just farm-raised dogs that are consumed but any dogs that dog meat traders can get their hands on. This can mean stealing pet dogs for the purpose of resale as meat. The industry is not regulated and there is no one to check where the meat came from. While it is not clear to me if the prohibition of lifnei ivir (causing someone else to sin) apply here in a strict sense (the laws are quite complicated and I need to make a further study of them), demanding a product that causes others to do wrong in order for you to get it is probably not a product you should consume if avoidable.
Still, I wanted to ask a sort of hypothetical question, given the fact that one of the main arguments for stopping it is that there is something unconscionable about eating man’s best friend. Is it more wrong to eat a dog than a pig or a cow? From the standpoint of kashruth, there is no difference eating a pig or a dog. Both are non-kosher animals and are therefore forbidden for a Jew to consume while the cow is fine even for Jews, as eating meat is permissible according to Judaism. The only restriction that Judaism places on non-Jews (to the extent that a non-Jew would listen to what we have to say) is the restriction to eat meat torn from a living animal, which is one of the seven mitzvot of Bnei Noah, seven commandments given to all of Mankind. The fact of the matter is that the entire concept of a dietary restriction is a very recent development in human history, rather than the obvious restriction of scarcity.
I realize some of what I’ve said to this point might be considered upsetting to some. “Isn’t there something special about dogs and cats?” some may ask. Well, the fact of the matter is that according to Judaism everything in Creation has something special. There is a midrash (early rabbinic work) called Perek Shira*, which quotes a verse from the Bible that each plant and animal “sings” as praise to G-d. In addition, there are other rabbinic works that discuss the virtues that different animals have. So I shall share a bit about the dog and the cat, perhaps to explain why they are so special to us.
The Dog: The Hebrew word of Dog is kelev, which can be broken apart to mean ‘close to the heart’. Dogs in fact are close to the hearts of people, and have been for millennia. One special things that the Torah mentions is that dogs have a special merit that they did not screech and howl as the Jews left Egypt during the Exodus.
The Cat: Cats are praised in the Talmud for having the special virtue of modesty. Anyone who has a cat knows they are fastidious and clean up after themselves in their litter boxes. The Torah also takes time to mention how a soldier should carry a spade to clean up after himself (Dt. 23:13). We learn from this that there is a special protective power to being modest, and we should be very careful in this regard. *h/t to Rav Lazar Brody for the free translation