Are Humans and Animals Equal?
by Rabbi Aron Moss
I have been looking into the Seven Noahide Laws. I understand these are the biblical commands to all humanity - the children of Noah - and they provide the basis for ethical living. But looking at the list, there seems to be an odd one out:
1. Do not worship idols - agreed, we have to believe in G-d
2. Do not curse G-d - have respect for Him, I can dig that
3. Do not murder - obvious
4. Do not steal - ok
5. Do not commit adultery - fine
6. Set up courts of justice - needed to ensure the other laws are kept, but:
7. Do not eat the limb of a living animal - what?????????????
Why of all things, include that one? While I have no intention of tearing off any animal limbs, I can't see how that would be in the top seven most important things for all humanity to observe...
Thank you for any help in enlightening this Noahide!
What is the true test of a moral person? How do you know that someone is really good in practice, and not just preaching?
One test is to observe the way they treat subordinates. Someone who can show concern for those who are lower and more helpless than themselves is a person who is truly good.
And so in formulating laws for all mankind, the Torah gives seven commands that should be seen as seven categories of ethical behaviour. The prohibition to steal includes all dishonest and unethical business practices. The outlawing of adultery encompasses all inappropriate relationships. And the ban on eating the limb of a live animal is a general law which commands us to be kind to animals.
These are not arbitrary categories of law. They cover the full gamut of moral obligations toward our fellow beings -respect for G-d who is above us, respect for human beings who are equal to us, and respect for the animal kingdom beneath us.
There is a clear hierarchy here. We are not on par with G-d, and animals are not equal to humans. The myth of equality is only necessary to protect the weak in a world devoid of morality. But moral beings with a clear code of ethics can recognise the innate inequality of nature without exploiting it. Being higher means being more responsible. Nature is here to serve us, but we are here to serve G-d, and that means treating all His creatures, equal or not, with respect.