By Rabbi Avi Shafran
I have an abiding appreciation of animals. My family has shared living space at one point or another over the years with: a small goat, a large iguana, a beautiful tarantula, an assortment of rodents of various sizes, and scores of tropical fish (the latter our only current pets).
We didn’t choose some of those creatures. Several were Purim gifts from talmidim of mine when I served as a rebbe. The boys meant well and I came, in time, to appreciate each present. The only one we didn’t keep very long was the goat, which repeatedly escaped from our back yard to feast on a neighbor’s lawn. (We sold her-the goat, that is-within a few weeks to a girl who lived on a farm.)
We always treated our animals well-buying and feeding the tarantula the live crickets it craved and making sure the mice and hamsters got their exercise and fresh air. (The untimely demise of that one member of the order rodentia left too long in the sun was entirely an accident, Chana; there is no reason to feel bad.) And I try to be careful, as per the Talmud’s exhortation regarding animals, to feed our fish before I sit down myself to dinner.
But my appreciation of all living things is accompanied by the constant realization that human beings are in an entirely different realm from the rest of the biosphere. And that we humans, while we are forbidden to cause unnecessary pain to animals, are permitted to work them and even to kill and eat them (well, we Jews, some of them).
There are, however, those who believe otherwise, that, in the words of PETA’s president Ingrid Newkirk, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”
She’s wrong. Only the boy is a boy.
In truth, Ms. Newkirk’s conviction is the unavoidable belief of any consistent atheist, whether or not he chooses to be as blunt about is as she.
For if humanity is a mere offspring of random forces (a timely falsehood-it is the Amalakian credo), then humans are no more inherently worthy than any of chance’s children. Species are species.
And what follows from the proposition that humans are biological accidents is that right and wrong have no more meaning than right and left. To be sure, social contracts can be made but in the end all that really remains is the cold calculus of survival.
Which is not to say that atheists necessarily engage in amoral behavior, only that their belief can present no compelling essential objection to it.
Equating animals with people can easily lead to the devaluing of human life. That contention, self-evident as it might seem, routinely brings wolf-howls of outrage from people like Ms. Newkirk.
They would do well to consider Meredith Lowell, a 27-year-old animal rights activist who once wrote that she sees nothing wrong with “liberating” animals from fur factory farms and laboratories since “soldiers liberated people from Nazi camps in World War II.” She was recently charged in Columbus, Ohio with soliciting a hit man to shoot or slit the throat of a random fur-wearer, according to federal authorities.
The FBI discovered that, under an alias, Ms. Lowell offered money for the killing of a victim of at least 12 years but “preferably 14 years old or older” outside a library near a playground in her hometown. She allegedly e-mailed her hire, an undercover FBI agent, that “you need to bring a gun that has a silencer on it” or a knife “sharp enough to stab someone and/or slit their throat to kill them.”
According to an affidavit, she told the covert employee that she wanted to be there when the slaying took place so she could distribute “papers” afterward. She hoped to be arrested so she could call attention to her beliefs and to get out of the home she shared with her parents and brothers who eat meat and eggs and use fur, leather and wool, investigators said.
No, most animal rights activists don’t try to kill people. But many nonetheless proudly subscribe to the credo “meat is murder.”
And those three simple words harbor a most dangerous conceptual seed.
© 2012 AMI MAGAZINE