Monday, October 18, 2021

Chickens and International Warfare

For most of us, it's pretty obvious that wars, of the kind that took place over most of history, are a Very Bad Thing. Killing people, enslaving them, stealing their resources, are all terrible crimes. Right?

But what about chickens?

Most people in the world eat chicken and eggs. And yet chickens are genetically developed and raised in such a way that they live the most appalling lives of suffering.

This is not a blog post about encouraging people to be vegetarian. (And I am not vegetarian.) It's about facing up to what our moral code actually is. We are perfectly ready to inflict harm upon certain types of "others" when it's for our own basic well-being. And I'm not saying that there's anything necessarily wrong with that, neither from a Torah nor a secular moral perspective. From a Torah perspective, there are definitely hierarchies which allow one group to take advantage of others - such as people taking advantage of animals. And from a secular perspective, the entire biological drive is based on trying to improve the lot of your own group, regardless of others.

A similar argument is developed in detail by the late distinguished political scientist Felix E. Oppenheim, in an article titled "National Interest, Rationality, and Morality." He points out that it only makes sense to talk about moral choices when there are different options realistically available. When there are no options available - such as when there is only one course of action that can ensure survival - morality is simply irrelevant. The international relations scholar Arnold Wolfson stated that "Moral advice not to submit to the necessities of survival... would be advice to commit national suicide" - but Oppenheim adds that it would suffer the more basic problem of not being rational. "Given that the national interest is the only valuational standard practically available to statesmen, acting accordingly is to be characterized as rational, but not as ethically right or wrong."
 
Of course, history is rife with examples of this being abused. False claims of "national security" have been used to justify all kinds of unjustifiable atrocities. But this doesn't mean that it is never correct to use this approach. The fact that people sometimes are lying when they claim "I killed him in self-defense" does not mean that it is not legitimate to kill in self-defense!

Rav Yaakov Ariel points out that the Gemara (Berachot 3b) rates engaging in military action to ensure national survival - even in terms of economic survival - as perfectly normative. This only sounds shocking to some of us today is because we don't understand what economic survival really means. It doesn't mean avoiding a market crash. It means avoiding starving to death.

The only reason why we condemn warfare is that we have the luxury to do so. And we have the luxury to do so because we live in an era where our basic needs for survival can be easily met, and never require us to fight others in order to attain them. As Yuval Harari brilliantly explains in Sapiens, one of the results of science and technology on society and the economy is that warfare dramatically declined. Most nations can easily provide for their own needs, and whatever problems they have wouldn't be solved by waging wars on others. In today's world, you're much more likely to improve your nation's economy by forging trade partnerships with your neighbors rather than by invading them. 

If we were in a situation where we and our countrymen were starving to death, and the only way to save us all would be to raid another country, you can bet your bottom dollar that we would all be in favor of that. There would be no objective standard by which to judge it as "right" or "wrong" - it would simply be the only rational course of action (just as the only rational course of action by the neighboring country would be to defend itself).

If you disagree, then I expect you to say that you don't eat chicken or eggs.

(UPDATE: From the initial reactions to this post, I see that a lot of people are making unwarranted assumptions. I urge everyone who thinks that they find something here disagreeable to read Oppenheim's article, published in Political Theory, at this link.)

 

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29 comments:

  1. I disagree in principle - and I also don’t eat chicken or eggs.

    When nations invade other nations, they don’t just enter to take their money. They rape young girls, mutilate babies in their mother’s arms, and commit unspeakable acts of cruelty and inhumanity. We ought to speak about that in very explicit terms if we attempt to defend it, not just gloss over it generically.

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    1. We all eat chickens and eggs even though it is technically immoral, we do it anyway. If you were starving to death you'd eat anything, including non-kosher foods if that's what was only available, including invading another country, raping women, mutilating babies, and killing enemy soldiers, you — yes — Avi Hoffman, would do all of that to feed your family. As the rabbi wrote, it is only because we live in luxury that we don't have to "bother" doing all those "cruel unspeakable acts," thanks to technological advancements made in science by the west. Yuval Harari is right.

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  2. Agreed. What you said here is logical. The problem, as by now everyone is aware, is that logic no longer seems to matter.

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  3. "If you disagree, then I expect you to say that you don't eat chicken or eggs."

    And a lot of "progressive" folks on the left definitely do not eat chicken or eggs.

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    1. A lot of "progressive" folks on the left are also nuts!

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  4. I have for years grappled with the morality found in the Torah, namely why its ok to declare war at will, or kill minors. Sure times have changed and what was the norm 3 thousand years ago is no longer. but isn’t Torah Nitschi - eternal?

    Your explanation that it was a life and death issue - not going to war would mean death does help but falls short for "milchemet reshut" it also does not explain why its ok to marry female prisoners its not necessary for survival. Ditto for Anshei it hanidachas, arba misos beis din and much more.

    Still grappling

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    1. Precisely. The bronze age was not a good time to loose tribal warfare skirmishes with neighbors.

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    2. *Lose note loose.

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    3. If you were the Dr. Delivering Hitler ym's or Mengele ym's, would you hesitate to suffocate these babies to death?
      God in the Torah, gave prophecy that these babies would be evil. Is that so far fetched to comprehend?

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    4. Yefas Toar, at worst, was a concession to warfare norms. Instead of raping multiple women and leaving them and possibly their resultant children, and/or grabbing women and bringing them home as slaves, the Torah says that a Hebrew soldier may bring one woman home and marry her properly. And before the marriage, she is to allow herself to become unattractive, so that the soldier ends up setting her free. Whether there is a single act of bi'ah that occurs on the battlefield with this woman is I think a machlokes, but even so. It is a step up from the Genghis Khan-style that other armies behaved in.

      Milchemet Reshut had limits that Milchemet Mitzvah did not have. Women and children were spared, I think. I got no comment on the reasons to perpetrate a milchemet reshut.

      Ir Nidachas already is questioned by the Gemara. There are explanations, I think, that one can give as to why and how we can wipe out a whole town, but there is that opinion of "it never happened," right?

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  5. Huh? Why is comparing a decision that chickens are not "others" to going to invade other countries remotely similar? I think invading another country (meaning killing the inhabitants and taking their stuff) is really different from eating chicken.

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  6. “If we were in a situation where we and our countrymen were starving to death, and the only way to save us all would be to raid another country, you can bet your bottom dollar that we would all be in favor of that.“ I would not at all be in favor. Such thinking has been used to justify wars since time immemorial. RNS are you Joking ? ACJA

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  7. This is literally dehumanising content. It's also childish.

    Humans - even Palestinians, which this terrible piece is obviously about - are more morally significant than chickens.

    That I agree with Rabbi Kook the Elder's ethical vegetarianism is a separate and unrelated point.

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    1. I also agree with Rabbi Kook's vegetarianism but the fact is that we live in a society heavily influenced by western civilization where reason prevails. Thanks to the west, we have the luxury to sit back and judge our ancestors who had no such luxury.

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  8. Were the people starving in the time of King David? The Gemara implies that warring on neighboring peoples was an almost daily occurrence.

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    1. Anaph Yoseph says that it only happened once. Ben Yehoyada mentions that David had wars "tamid" ....

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  9. Can you clarify the jump in logic at the end of the post? What does being against invading another country have to do with eating chicken? The first is human life vs. human life, and the second is not.

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    1. And the obvious corollary of your very correct statement is that countries only generally engage in war out of desperation, while they consume chicken (and other meat) as a matter of course. If meat production were banned, no one would starve, although it would be very annoying. That is far from waging war.

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  10. Maybe be we should accept that גזרת המקום, הזן את העולם כולו בחן בחסד וברחמים. If He doesn't want to provide for us, His message is that we are off the derech in His eyes. We should die quietly rather then resort to, say, cannibalism. Hishtadlus is futile against the Divine will.

    מגירסא דינקותא: תורת השם תמימה - לא התחילו לגעת בה. בשם בעש"ט

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  11. I echo the other commenters here that this comparison doesn't make any sense. Because you care about human suffering, you must also care about animal suffering? Animals and humans are equal? Is this one of your "tricks" to prove a point, which you will show in your next post?

    Anyways, let me try that type of logic. If you support teaching Gemara to women, then you should also support the removal of Israeli settlements. Because, uh, both are modern, progressive values. Did I do it right?

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    1. Rambam wrote that we should care about animal suffring.

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  12. Let us not forget that the Torah commands (present tense) Jews to annihilate another nation, man woman and child, even if its members do not constitute an actual threat.

    That is considered "moral" because by definition God said so.

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    1. It was a mitzva because God said so. That does not at all make it moral. There can be other considerations other than morality in determining what to do. For example, I think only a crazy person would say that if a kohen's wife is raped, it is "moral" that she be divorced from her husband, at the time when she needs him the most, no less. But God decided that there is some value related to the kehuna that overrides the moral concern.

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    2. That's why King David regularly sent out war parties to raid neighboring countries.

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    3. And this too Chazal defanged, by removing the title of Amalek from any living nation.

      And when you say "actual threat," clearly the Torah felt that yes, Amalek would ALWAYS be considered an actual threat - as Amalek could always be counted on to perpetrate a sneak attack.

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    4. Amalek in different points in the Tanach was attacking Israel.

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  13. Its a question of insensitivity. Those outside of Israel are less sensitive to the plight of Jews inside. Even inside, those in Tel Aviv who (naively) thought themselves immune from Arab violence, were less sensitive to it until it came to their doorstep.

    You are guilty of this too, Professor. You didn't hesitate to butt in to American politics last year, and were happy to call people "racists". Not living in America, you are less sensitive to what Americans actually living there have to deal with. Even within, the naive people in places like Vermont are always less sensitive to problems until it comes to their own doorstep.

    Sensitivity. That's all it is.

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  14. In the times of Dovid Hamelech there were unconquered parts of Eretz Israel, so it's natural that there was famine caused by the Divine Wrath on that account. The correct response was to go to war and conquer the rest of the land and to exterminate the enemy. Quite possibly now that the famine was caused by not completing the conquest of the land. But once the land is conquered and there is peace with the neighboring nations the proper response to a famine, with all the Hishtadlus by natural means, is שק ואפר, תשובה ותפילה, צדקה ומעשים טובים, not conquest and war, or at least this is what I think.

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  15. The problem with this sort of analysis is that it presents a very extreme and unlikely case and makes it sound reasonable.
    And by doing so, it implies that less extreme cases may also be reasonable - and some readers therefore think that actions that may (stress may) be acceptable in extreme and unlikely situations could also be acceptable in less extreme circumstances.

    It also ignores context. Extreme circumstances like the one described only happens if things have been messed up for a long time before that. In other words, if you get there, then you've made some fairly bad choices in the interim.

    So rather than saying that such actions are theoretically OK, it's much more responsible to point out the dangers of such situations and encouraging people to avoid them altogether.

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