D’var Torah: May 6, 2016

Dear Friends,

An interesting question for you: are Jews allowed to hunt?

As we are amid the primary election cycle, and 2nd Amendment discussions have arisen in many of the debates, the question of our relationship with weapons is, at the very least, interesting.

Hunting appears very infrequently in our sacred text, but it does appear in this week’s Torah portion (Parashat Acharei Mot, Leviticus 16:1-18:30). Earlier, it appeared in Genesis when we read of Esau who went out hunting, while his homebody brother, Jacob remained behind, cooking a lentil porridge. The implication in Genesis was that hunting was abhorrent, as it was linked to Esau when he spurned his birthright, trading it to Jacob for a bowl of lentils, after returning from an unsuccessful hunt.

Another reason to reject hunting would stem from the dictates of the laws of Kashrut. These commandments require that blood be removed from the meat of any animal which one eats, which of course, also must be a kosher animal. Hence, hunting and killing an animal in the wild to procure food likely would obviate the possibility of slaughtering the animal according to such laws of Kashrut.

Which, therefore, is why today’s verse is fascinating. It reads: “If any Israelite… hunts down an animal or a bird that may be eaten, that person shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth.” (Lev. 17:13) Thus, Torah sanctions hunting, but applies to such game the same laws of preparing the meat – by removing and covering the blood from the animal – as apply to meat gained from a kosher-slaughtered animal.

We learn to look carefully at our expectations, our values, and our texts. Jewish text – though often indicted as being strict and demanding – might be surprisingly flexible and allowing, and in the most unexpected domains. As we navigate the political world unfolding before us this spring, perhaps our Torah portion would ask us to consider, and reconsider, the situation out there, as America ‘hunts” for its next presidential leader.

Our task, it seems Torah is teaching, is to try to be flexible and open, especially when circumstances might seem to lean otherwise!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Douglas Kohn