Balancing our evolutionary and biological realities

I haven’t written as much on the Torah portions after two years of working pretty steadily at them. With my focus on the relationship between human beings and other animals, it was inevitable that I would have to struggle with the “meaning” of animal sacrifice.

What was sacrifice supposed to accomplish? How did people feel as they prepared an animal for sacrifice? As they experienced sacrifice as a non-priest? Saw the sight of a terrified animal slaughtered, dissected and burned? There is no way to construe a sacrifice as anything other than a violent act — yet it is presented as drawing close to G-d.” How can I reconcile these things?

Some source-critical examination (a technique I don’t usually favor) helped me some with this problem but in the process caused me even greater difficulty. So did an article I read recently about Passover and the Levites, which inspired a post I have not yet finished.

But I have also turned to looking at the problem through a different lens, the lens of evolutionary biology, and amazingly, it is beginning to give me a new appreciation for the insights of the Torah and rabbinic tradition. I will write a post about this eventually too.

For now, I just want to mention some books that have been very important to me in this journey: Richard Wrangham’s Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, Barbara King’s Personalities on our Plate, and Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens and Homo Deus.

Most recently I’m reading Not So Different: Finding Human Nature In Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. Just to give you a sense of the topics covered, the chapter headings are: Why do we play? Animal systems of justice, Moral animals, Sexual politics, Do animals fall in love?, The agony of grief, Jealous beasts: the darker side of love, Darker still (envy, greed and power), Afraid of the dark, The richness of animal communication.

This isn’t an esoteric pursuit for me. I don’t believe we evolve beyond our basic evolutionary and biological realities. I don’t believe we are “saved” from who we are through faith except to the extent that it encourages a constant practice rooted in balancing these evolutionary drives. And although I read and appreciated Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, I don’t think it deals (or to be fair, intended to deal) with the reality of who we are as human beings and the sustainability of a culture that sets as its highest value the harmonious well-being of all life. Yes, we may have a lower rate of violence progressively through history, at least superficially and temporarily, we may be more educated and have a lower rate of poverty. All indicators may, statistically speaking, be better, but I think I could make an argument it’s not as a result of human nature evolving, and therefore I don’t trust its sustainability.

Human nature is what it is — and every religious culture and many non-religious cultures seek and present us with ways to deal with the reality of human nature and guide us toward something more than the cycle of prey and predator, something more than acting mindlessly or on instinct. These considerations seem particularly relevant today when the world is gripped — in mythic terms — by the darker side of our nature.

Every culture, every ideology, every religion demonstrates that in particular conditions, groups will arise that generate “other” hatred and violence and display and encourage an utter lack of empathy. I believe that attachment to one’s group and what goes along with that — asserting superiority over other groups, feeling and acting dismissively toward the needs of other groups, and ultimately violence toward other groups, including non-human animals — is rooted in our evolution and biology. But so is cooperation and empathy — among both humans and non-human animals. Not So Different helped connect me to the science behind what I perceive and gives me a new appreciation for the insights of the Torah.

I hope I have time in my life to study how each religion offers opportunities to work with the reality of who we are as human beings and shapes and educates us to maintain a world-sustaining balance. The chances are good, though, that I will only have time to explore this issue in the kind of depth I would like in the framework of my chosen religion, Judaism. I may not even get past the Bible with that. In fact, I may not even get past the first five books, the Torah.

But no matter how far I’m able to follow this line of study, one thing is clear to me: the darkness that many of us feel in the world today with right wing populism ascendant is the result of giving precedence and unfettered freedom to a biological drive toward greed and an us-them mentality. It is the failure to balance that survival-centered drive with other biological realities like group cooperation and empathy that ultimately leads to violence. This is not a problem of the “right” or the “left,” though, or of any particular religion or culture. It is an imbalance that can occur within any human being and within any society or religion or ideology.

The antidote to violence and hatred in the world is cooperation and empathy, taught and nurtured through daily experience and practice. And what my religion teaches me is a mindful practice that takes us on a path between the extremes, between the drive for self-preservation and the drive toward cooperation and empathy. There is a way we can strive not toward perfection but toward a balance based on realities of human nature the Torah intuited and science now proves.

Hummus with my Instant Pot

Many evenings, Andy and I just prefer to snack for dinner. Hummus is always a sure hit. This time I tried it with my Instant Pot. The only cooked part is the dried chickpeas, but my Instant Pot makes Hummus-making a great spur-of-the-moment dinner-snack.

I also tried out a new technique for super smooth hummus like the restaurants make. It worked great! This hummus was amazing. Read on for the hint . . .

Ingredients

  • Dried chickpeas, 1 lb.
  • Garlic, 2 tsp. or 2 lg. cloves
  • Tahina, 1 cup
  • Lemons, 1/2 cup juice, about 2 lg. lemons
  • Extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup
  • Bean liquid, 1- 2 cups, depending on how much water beans absorbed during cooking (dilute bean liquid with water if too strong)
  • Sea salt, 2 scant tsp
  • Cumin, 2 tsp.
  • Szeged hot paprika, 1 tsp.

Directions

  1. Rinse the chickpeas, and place in a wire mesh insert in the Instant Pot. If you don’t have a wire mesh insert, just place them directly into the pot. Add three quarts of water, close the lid and vent and Pressure for one hour.
  2. Perform a Quick Release . . . or release the pressure naturally. Either way is fine. These beans can’t really get too soft.
  3. Remove the wire mesh basket with the chickpeas from the Instant Pot, drain, and place in a bowl in the sink. Reserve the bean cooking liquid that remains in the Instant Pot.
  4. Hint for beautiful, smooth hummus: Run cold water into the chickpea bowl and rub the chickpeas between your hands as the bowl fills and the water continues to run slowly. The chickpeas should remain at the bottom of the bowl, and the “skins” will float to the top where you can scoop them up and remove them. You might have to help this process along a little, but you should be able to remove most of the skins. It’s worth it!!
  5. Drain the chickpeas again and place in the food processor.
  6. Reserve the bean cooking liquid that remains in the Instant Pot.
  7. Add all other ingredients except reserved bean liquid to the food processor bowl (garlic, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, tahina, seasonings).
  8. Pulse and blend briefly.
  9. Measure two cups of the reserved bean liquid.
  10. Begin adding bean liquid as the processor is running, , through the feed tube. Keep an eye on the consistency. It will thicken as it cools, but it’s easier to add liquid later than to add too much now and have liquidy hummus.
  11. When desired consistency is reached, let processor run for 2-5 minutes more to make the hummus as smooth as possible.
  12. Remove hummus from processor, put on a plate, garnish with olive oil, parsley, paprika, sumac, za’atar or additional chickpeas as desired.

I was in the mood for homemade bread with my hummus and happened to have my Spelt Ciabatta rising on the counter for a couple of days. I forgot that I meant to use more liquid this time in relation to the flours, but it was good anyway, with a nice sourdough kind of aroma and flavor. The bread is so incredibly easy that it occurred to me I should just keep one going so I can pop some into my Dutch Oven a couple of times a week to enjoy with whatever we’re eating. Rolling it in a mix of seeds would also make an interesting variation.

Oh, and one more tip — that leftover chickpea cooking liquid you have? Try making Aquafaba. Whip the chickpea juice until it makes white peaks, just like whipped egg whites. And then let your imagination go to work on ways you can use it for desserts, matzah balls, whatever.

Instant Pot! Israeli White Bean Soup

This is another of my old favorites that I reworked for my Instant Pot. Although I already halved the recipe from what I made in the Cafe, I had to halve it again to fit my pot. It should now actually make a gallon (I mistakenly indicated it would make a gallon in the original recipe).

ISRAELI WHITE BEAN SOUP FOR THE INSTANT POT

Ingredients 

  • Olive Oil, 2 TB – 1/4 cup
  • Garlic, 2 large cloves, minced
  • Spanish onion, 1/2 lg, petite diced
  • Celery, 1 (lg) or 2 regular stalks, bias cut
  • Carrots, 1 (lg) or 2 regular, bias cut
  • Potatoes, 3 size “A” potatoes, 1″ dice, skin on
  • Cumin, 1/2 TB
  • Tomato, 4 lg plum tomatoes, petite diced, or one  19 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
  • Tomato Paste,  2 level TB or to desired thickness
  • Salt, 2 tsp or to taste
  • Szeged hot paprika, 1/2 tsp
  • Cilantro, 1/2 bunch, chopped
  • White beans (Navy Pea Beans or Canellini), 1 lb. dried
  • Water, 2 quarts to start

Directions

  1. Rinse beans well, and put into Instant Pot with 2 quarts water. Close the lid and vent, and Pressure the beans for 15 minutes.
  2. At the end of the cooking time, hit Cancel, and do a Quick Release. Remove the beans with their water to a bowl and set aside.
  3. While the beans are cooking, mince the garlic, petite dice or chop the onion, slice the celery and carrots on the bias, and cut the potato into 1” chunks. If using fresh tomatoes, petite dice the tomatoes.
  4. When the veggies are ready and the beans with their liquid removed from the Instant Pot, add olive oil to the pot.
  5. Set Instant Pot to Sauté and add the minced garlic. Stir briefly.
  6. Add the onions next, and saute until soft, then the carrots and celery. Sauté, stirring, for a moment or two longer.
  7. Add the potatoes to the pot along with the petite diced tomatoes and reserved  beans and cooking liquid, and 2 TB of the tomato paste. Leave the Instant Pot on Sauté to bring the mixture to a simmer.
  8. While waiting for the mixture to come to a simmer, add the seasonings: cumin, salt, hot paprika.
  9. Cancel Sauté. Put the lid on the IP and close the vent. Set to Pressure for 15 minutes.
  10. At the end of the cooking time, hit Cancel, and do a Quick Release.
  11. Check the consistency of the soup. When finished, the soup should be thick with veggies and beans but with enough broth to be soup. Add remaining TB of tomato paste if desired, more water if desired, and adjust the seasoning.
  12. Check the consistency of the potatoes and beans, which should be tender (usually Cannellini beans cook fairly quickly). If needed, set the pot to Sauté, cover and select either Sauté to continue cooking at a more rapid rate or Keep Warm to continue at a slower rate. I like to cover it with my glass Instant Pot lid at this point so I can see what’s happening.
  13. When the soup is ready, either Cancel or Keep Warm (if you’re not eating immediately). Add chopped cilantro — and serve and enjoy.

P.S. If you need to thin the soup, just add water at the end of cooking (or when you reheat after storage) until it reaches the consistency you like. You will probably need to adjust the salt as well.

Where do we fit?

I’m interested these days in the relationship between human beings and other animals, how we fit into the fabric of nature, how we managed to get from a mediocre position in the food chain to top spot, and what we have done with that position.

Today I was thinking about two traits that seem to me distinctively human and wondered if I could disprove that theory or if they are indeed defining traits: greed and wastefulness. I found this very interesting article on wolverines that suggests greed, at least, is not limited to human beings: “Wolverines Give Insight Into The Evolution of Greed.”

I can find nothing about wastefulness among other animals, although there’s plenty about the appalling 30-40% waste in the human world. I imagine this either means that no one has researched this particular issue — or that there’s nothing to research, that is, animals don’t typically waste. If anyone finds an article or a report on some research, I’d appreciate knowing about it. You can email me at leslie@vegetatingwithleslie.org or share to my Facebook page. 

On the theme of more desirable traits, Sierra Club featured this beautiful article in their March / April 2019 issue: “Does A Bear Think In The Woods?”

A side note: in the past five years, there have been more than 190,000 publications about various aspects of animal intelligence.

 

Quinoa and Veggies Teriyaki – Instant Pot

At least once a day I comment how much I love my Instant Pot . . . every time I open it up to throw in some beautiful organic whole food items and anticipate something yummy in a few minutes. And it’s so easy to clean!

So I used this technique once when I had a bunch of summer squash and peppers I needed to use up. This time I just had peppers — the pretty little multi-colored mini-peppers. Since the dish was a hit at my house the first time, I decided to make it again with just peppers. And it was good again — but I don’t have exact measurements, just a picture.

Quinoa & Veggies Teriyaki – Instant Pot

Ingredients

  • Extra virgin olive oil, 2 TB
  • Garlic, 2 large cloves
  • Onion, one large
  • Mini-peppers, 1 lb. bag
  • Quinoa, one cup dried
  • Water, 2-1/2 cups
  • Salt, 2-3 tsp.
  • Teriyaki sauce, 1/4-1/2 cup

Instructions

  1. Prepare the veggies: mince the garlic, slice the onion into pie-shaped wedges and break apart or petite dice, remove stems from peppers and cut in half.
  2. Add the quinoa, 2 cups of water (the additional half cup or so is for making the sauce the veggies cook in) and 2 tsp. salt to the Instant Pot, set to Pressure, close the lid and vent, and Pressure for 15 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally.
  3. Spoon the quinoa into a serving bowl.
  4. Can Pressure. Set the IP on Saute for a few minutes. Add the olive oil to the pot along with the minced garlic and onion. Saute for a couple of minutes, then add the peppers and continue to saute for a minute or two  more.
  5. Add 1/2 cup water to the veggies in the IP with 1/4-1/2 cup teriyaki sauce. Put the lid on (I used a see-through IP lid for this part) and Steam for a couple of minutes until the veggies reach the degree of softness you prefer.
  6. Be sure the veggies are plenty saucy. If you need to, add more water and teriyaki sauce as they cook.
  7. When done, adjust the seasoning with a little more salt if needed.
  8. Spoon the veggies and sauce over the waiting quinoa.

Although we like the veggie and quinoa fresh out of the Instant Pot, this dish is fine cold as well.

Instant Pot Cauliflower and Broccoli Curry Soup

I got a little behind on the broccoli from my CSA box this week and had to use that and the head of cauliflower I received as well. I found what looked like a quick and easy recipe on Pinterest, made a couple of modifications to it, and  it came out very nicely, a lovely creamy vegan soup.

Instant Pot Cauliflower and Broccoli Curry Soup

Ingredients

  • Extra virgin olive oil, 2-3 TB
  • Garlic, 2 cloves
  • Onion, 1/2 large
  • Cauliflower head, small, broken into florets
  • Broccoli florets, 2 cups
  • Red bell pepper, 1 small, thinly sliced
  • Potatoes, five or six very small red or blue potatoes quartered
  • Coconut milk, 1 19-oz. can full fat or 2 cups fresh
  • Water, 2 cups
  • Vegeta, 2 tsp.
  • Cumin, 1 tsp.
  • Thyme, dried, 1 tsp.
  • Curry powder, 1-2 TB to taste (My curry powder called itself “hot” — ok — but since I have spice sensitive people, I started with 1 tsp and ended up with 4. The original recipe also called for 1 tsp. cayenne. I prefer hot paprika, but I left it out since the curry had enough bite for my group).
  • Cilantro, fresh, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Prepare the veggies: peel and mince the garlic, petite-dice/chop the onion, cut the pepper into 1″ strips, break or cut the cauliflower and broccoli into florets.
  2. Whisk the seasonings into the coconut milk and set aside.
  3. Add the Vegeta to 2 cups hot water and set aside.
  4. Add the extra virgin olive oil to the Instant Pot and turn on to Saute for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the minced garlic and onion to the pot and saute briefly until softened.
  6. Cancel Saute. Add the water mixed with Vegeta to the pot.
  7. Add the remaining veggies to the pot. I have a mesh basket insert, and I think it’s easier to place the veggies in the basket and put the basket into the pot.
  8. Close the lid and set to Steam for three minutes. When finished, do a Quick Release and open the lid. If you used a basket insert with the veggies, lift it out. Otherwise spoon out most of the veggies into a bowl.
  9. Whisk the coconut milk and seasonings into the water that remains in the bottom of the Instant Pot, and return the veggies to the pot (this time without the mesh basket).

Serve, slurp, savor . . .

Quick Instant Pot Soup From Kitchen Basics

Last year was the “Year of the Pulse.” Fancy word for beans. Despite the low-carb craze, beans are still an incredibly potent health food. They were good before the carb thing, during it and yes, are still good. As one writer said, they “scour” your veins. And that’s not to mention they are loaded with B-vitamins and iron (in case you don’t get enough from your cast iron cookware). Now those are important vitamins and minerals in a vegan household.

My Instant Pot lets me throw in dried beans and usually have them perfectly cooked within half an hour (with the exception of chickpeas, which usually cook longer, and lentils, which usually cook shorter). So I said to my husband, Andy, “We should eat more beans.” To which he responded, “I don’t like them.” To which I responded, “Trust me.”

The only problem is, I haven’t been in the mood for cooking as much lately, winter doldrums maybe, after long weeks of zigzagging temperatures from -60 degrees (with the windchill) to +30 degrees overnight, ice, snow, salt, slush and high winds. Oh, and did I mention the coyote having a party in my backyard? So I needed something quick and easy.

I looked through my kitchen library of beans and chose lentils because they cook quickly, small red beans (really, Goya calls them that) because they’re pretty, and then I thought barley might be a nice, chewy and substantial addition. I had almost a pound of Crimini mushrooms I needed to use up before my new CSA box arrived from Andy’s office, and as always I had carrots and celery in the ‘fridge and onions. And that’s all I needed plus five minutes prep-time and thirty minutes Instant Pot time.

Oh, and one more thing: I always keep Vegeta in the cabinet. I usually make my soup broths from the veggies I saute when I start to make a soup, but every once in a while, I throw in the Vegeta, and it’s very good! I can county on Andy liking something when I use the Vegeta, and since I was making a point with the beans, I figured that would help me make my case.

One thing I should have used but didn’t this time was turmeric, which I should be putting into our food every day for best benefits and beautiful dishes.

Quick Instant Pot Soup From Kitchen Basics

Ingredients

  • Extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup
  • Garlic, 1 large clove
  • Onion, 1/2 large
  • Carrots, 3 med.-large
  • Celery, 3 stalks, med.-large
  • Mushrooms, Crimini, 3/4-1 lb.
  • Lentils, 1/2 cup
  • Barley, 1/2 cup
  • Small Red Beans, 1/4 cup
  • Water, 3 quarts
  • Vegeta, 1 tsp/cup water (4 TB)

Instructions

  1. Prepare the veggies: peel and mince the garlic, petite-dice/chop the onion, slice carrots and celery on the bias, dry-wipe the mushrooms to clean them and slice.
  2. Add the extra virgin olive oil to the Instant Pot and turn on to Saute for 10-20 minutes.
  3. Add the veggies in this order and saute briefly after each addition: minced garlic, chopped onion, sliced carrots and celery, and finally, sliced mushrooms.
  4. Add 3 quarts of water to the Instant Pot along with 4 TB Vegeta, and continue cooking on Saute.
  5. Rinse the lentils and beans and add to the pot along with the barley (I wanted a brothy soup, but if you like a thicker soup, just add more beans and barley).
  6. Cancel Saute. Set Pressure to High for 30 minutes, and close the lid and vent.
  7. At the end of the cooking time, you can do either a Natural Release or a Quick Release, and check the beans. These small beans and the barley should be cooked at this point, but if they’re not, put them back under Pressure for a few minutes longer.
  8. If you’d like to add some fresh greens, chop and add them when the soup is ready to serve.

Guess what? This soup took me no time, was delicious, and had beans in it. And best of all . . . Andy liked it!

All the world is a narrow bridge…and the main thing is not to be afraid

Tuesday evening the wind picked up in the wetlands where I live. As it grew dark, I heard it whistling around our home, shaking the windows. The back door was frozen shut. A lot of things come to mind on nights like this, but before there was time for my imagination to go to work, the coyote who live out in those wetlands started their shrilly jubilant yelping and howling when they caught some poor creature for dinner.

The sound of the coyote always terrifies me. As a person with an imagination that works overtime on picturing catastrophe, I can’t get the image out of my head of my little 12 pound dog accidentally slipping out the door to the wetlands. He must also picture catastrophe because his head always pops up when the coyote cry, and often he will retreat to a safe and snuggly corner of our home.

I try to counter the terrible things that go through my head by picturing coyote pups waiting for their mom and dad to come home with food for them. They need to eat too, I tell myself. But I wish things were as the first three chapters of Genesis describe them. I wish all creatures were vegan and that we lived in safe and loving harmony with each other.

In these moments I also think of the Torah portion Shelach (Numbers 13:1-15:41). The Israelites are poised outside the Land of Israel. Spies go ahead and return with their report, some describing it as a land of milk and honey, others describing it as a terrifying home of giants, all in terms that make clear that the Israelites, like their fellow creatures on the planet, can as well be prey as predator:

“ . . . the evil report of the spies is framed in terms of food: “The land, through which we have passed to spy it out, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof…” (Num. 13:32). The people pick up that motif and view themselves as “animal food” for predators: “And wherefore doth the LORD bring us unto this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will be a prey…’” (Num. 14:3) Joshua and Caleb reverse that theme, turning it on the current inhabitants of the land, when they say, “…neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us…’

“Finally G-d picks up the theme, returning to the idea of the Israelites as animal food: “…your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness.” (Num. 14:29) … and “…your little ones, that ye said would be a prey, them will I bring in…” (Num. 14:31), and then, “But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness” (Num. 14:32) and “…until your carcasses be consumed in the wilderness (Num. 14:33).”

This acute awareness, that one can be prey as easily as predator, probably shapes a different perspective on things. Certainly part of one’s worldview would be a constant and profound sense of vulnerability. That is an environment and a worldview that doesn’t so much inspire as demand faith. And that turns out to be the message of that portion as G-d exercises some tough love with the Israelites, denying those who falter the opportunity to enter the Land, telling them their worst fears are self-fulfilling: as prey, they will become carcasses.

Ironically entering the Land is a first step in a journey toward greater security and away from vulnerability, a first step in the Israelites’ separation from the wilderness where they are both predator and prey and toward civilization.

Today we are far down that path. Most of us have never worked on a farm much less lived in the wilderness. We are little connected to the sources of the food that sustains us. And it’s worth considering that as our sense of vulnerability decreases, as we are more alienated from our natural world and our food sources, faith is no longer a demand or requirement for forging ahead in a dangerous world but a choice. And because the easier choice is not to think about it too much — just as it’s easier not to think too much about life and death and our vulnerability in the economy of nature — we are perhaps less likely to experience the kind of profound faith described in the Torah.

Conversely, I know from my own experience of depression that engaging with one’s own survival, that is with food (planting it, growing it, harvesting it and cooking it), is a strong antidote to depression. Yet any full time independent farmer knows the fear that accompanies a season when the crop fails from too much or too little rain or pests destroy it or fires ravage the land. In the hunter-gatherer life that preceded the agricultural revolution, perhaps symbolized by the wilderness, life was less dependable, sudden fears in the night closer, and faith an imperative to moving forward.

So back to the coyote who live behind me. I do work on a farm, and I’m very much aware of the sources of my food — all of it. I’m aware of how much work is involved in it. But I am not dependent on the farm to support myself or my family, and my engagement in this work is physically taxing but still a luxury. That has a different effect on my worldview than if my life and the lives of my family members were dependent on it.

Maybe the coyote are my reminder that under the veneer of culture and technology, there are more basic and primitive realities for all of us. That we too are vulnerable to becoming prey as much as we are predators. But for an accident of birth and through no merit of my own, I could have been a coyote in that wetland behind me — or the meal that caused such terrifying jubilation Tuesday evening. These are realities that for a human being drive not only fear but faith and a profound sense of gratitude.

These are also realities to consider when I make decisions about what I eat. To enter life as a human being is an unearned gift, just as it was an unearned gift to enter the Land of Israel. Our gift of humanity requires faith, humility, gratitude — and compassion.

If we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others, why wouldn’t we? – Pam Ahern, Edgar’s Mission

Mushroom Wraps for Dinner from My Air Fryer

I got an Air Fryer for my birthday! It’s not quite as quick a study as the Instant Pot, but I do better with it once I put out of my head that things are going to taste exactly as though they were deep-fried. But it is a good kitchen tool, and I feel as though I’m just at the beginning of learning what I can do.

Pictured are some Mushroom Wraps I made for dinner last night (and am enjoying right now for lunch). I used a simple filling — very simple — my favorite for anything I stuff, cabbage, peppers, and now this:

Mushroom Filling

Ingredients 

  • Brown Basmati rice, 3 cups cooked
  • Mushrooms, sliced and pan roasted, 1 lb.
  • Salt, 1/2 tsp.
  • Za’atar, 1-1/2 tsp. (Za’atar is a Middle Eastern mix of herbs, available in bags at Butera, Garden Fresh and online – substitute with thyme and oregano to taste)
  • Olive oil, 1/4 cup
  • Tomato juice
  • Lemons, juice of 1-2

Directions

  1. Cook 1 cup of dried brown Basmati rice with a teaspoon of salt in the Instant Pot or with your usual method (which will make 3 cups cooked).
  2. Pan roast the sliced mushrooms until the liquid cooks off — or Saute in the Instant Pot.
  3. Cut up the mushrooms loosely and pulse two or three times in a food processor.
  4. Add the rice, 1⁄4 cup of olive oil, seasonings, lemon juice and a half teaspoon of salt to the processor, and pulse a
    few times. The mixture should be gravelly and cohesive. Do not over-process.

I used wonton wraps, wrapped up the mushroom filling in each one and brushed lightly with extra virgin olive oil. I set the air fryer at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

Next time I’ll use something larger because it was a little tedious to wrap all of these, and I don’t have that much patience. They could have been a little more beautiful if someone with more patience had been doing it.

Another time I’ll also make a sauce. Maybe a mustard sauce would be nice. And I’ll reduce the air frying time. Ten minutes would probably have been enough.

But they’re still good! Now back to the Instant Pot for my evening meal with Manali’s Instant Pot Aloo Saag, which I love, love, love.

Torah Ecology: Bingo — Shofetim (Deut. 16:18-21:9)

February 1, 2017, I began a Torah study project. These words described my intention: “Today I begin a new project of looking at the weekly Torah portions, searching for insights on food, ‘animal rights,’ agriculture and ecology.”

The name of the section I created to hold my weekly notes suggested my starting assumption based on prior studies: “Ecology is the “study of interactions among organisms and their environment.” It is a study, therefore, of relationships, and one thing I’m pretty sure I’ll find again and again as I study these pages is that Torah is a study of relationships. There are three domains in Torah:  Transcendence/G-d, human, the rest of creation . . . I want to look at relationships between and within those categories, Torah ecology.”

Over time my focus narrowed to the relationship between human beings and other animals.  One of my key questions as I entered this stage of my study was, what rationale does the Torah provide for the superiority of human life over animal life? Because my assumption was that only a hierarchical notion of value could provide a moral basis for killing animals in sacrificial rites or for food. As so often happens in a course of study, I discovered I was asking the wrong question. What I should have asked (since I have some familiarity with Hebrew scripture) was, what compelling experience drove the constant assertion of the supreme value of human life to the extent that it became an overarching theme of scripture?

As a way of organizing my study, I used the framework of Torah portions, which initially I moved through on pace with the Jewish calendar of weekly readings. Somewhere in Numbers it became more difficult to keep up. I missed Deuteronomy during the first year — and again during the second year when I got stuck in Leviticus — but am returning to it now. Too bad! It might have brought me more quickly to the heart of the matter, but it makes no difference. It is the journey it has become, and that has been extraordinary in many ways.

KEY UNDERSTANDINGS

Other than discovering I was asking the wrong question, here are key points in my journey:

  • According to the Torah, animals, like humans, are both body (basar/carcass) and “soul” (nefesh/breath of G-d/being).
  • Only one statement is made describing humans that doesn’t describe other animals: in the image of G-d (b’tzelem/image). Brown, Driver, Briggs offers the following definition/s of b’tzelem, which as nearly as I can understand it suggests a shadowy version of the body of G-d (see The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel by Benjamin D. Sommer):
Strong’s Number: 6754 Browse Lexicon
Original Word Word Origin
~lc from an unused root meaning to shade
Definition
  1. image
    1. images (of tumours, mice, heathen gods)
    2. image, likeness (of resemblance)
    3. mere, empty, image, semblance (fig.)
NAS Word Usage – Total: 16
form 1, image 5, images 6, likenesses 3, phantom 1
  • The Torah tells a story in which animals “begin” on an equal plane with humans — all are part of a whole system in which each has unique capabilities and all live in harmony. A serpent, like humans and unlike its fellow beasts of the field, is hairless, talks and has the ability to plan strategically. All animals, including humans, are vegan, and there is no death. The ideal vision that begins the Torah story is one in which all of creation is interdependent and creation itself is interdependent with G-d/transcendence.
  • The ongoing Torah story following the third chapter of Genesis is of a real world in which humans are permitted to “use” animals even though they are required not to waste and to exercise compassion for these other beings who, like them, have souls in addition to physical bodies. Meat-eating is ringed with prohibitions, and the Israelites are chastised, sometimes sarcastically, for gluttony.
  • In the vision of the Garden and in the ongoing Torah story, animals are morally accountable (evident in the Noah story).
  • Periodically the underlying vision of creation surfaces as in the Ten Words/Commandments (where domestic animals also rest) or the story of Balak and Balaam (and the talking donkey, who sees what his human counterpart, a “seer,” cannot and who experiences moral indignation).

Still, I was left with nagging questions, how could a text that puts forward such an extraordinary vision of creation in its first words also put forward such a barrage of clinical detail about dissecting living beings at its center? For not only is Leviticus placed (structurally) at the center of the Torah narrative, but the Yom Kippur ritual of the two goats is at the center of the Leviticus narrative. Of course, there is the supreme value of human life, but how did a text that has a different worldview at its root (that all beings sit at the spiritual round table) arrive at that position? In addition, what was the source of the pervasive sense of sin that permeates the text of the Torah alongside the idea of the goodness and sanctity of human life?

I thought perhaps I could find some understanding if I became emotionally embedded in the text of Leviticus. Maybe I would come to understand how it could possibly be religiously or spiritually meaningful to experience the sights and aromas of terrified animals taken to and killed on an altar and dissected and burned. I read slowly and imagined deeply. I simply couldn’t get there, and on my second reading in this particular cycle of studying Torah, I had to stop. I was overwhelmed with the horror that stood behind the clinical details I read. It wasn’t a spiritual or religious experience for me, and I couldn’t grasp how it was for anyone.

DEUTERONOMY: RE’EH

After an extended hiatus, I returned to Deuteronomy to try to complete what I began, a reading of the Torah from a particular perspective. Something was missing for me in terms of understanding. I could feel it but couldn’t place my finger on it. It centered around the emotional and spiritual meaning of sacrifice, something deeper than an intellectual rationale. Why the clinical focus on sacrifice at the structural center of a text that began with the aspirational vision of Gen 1-3?

By the time of my re-entry, we were reading Re’eh (Deut. 11:26-16:17). As I read the rationale “for the harsh destruction the Israelites bring to the inhabitants of the Land and their altars: the Canaanites who preceded them performed “for their gods every abhorrent act that the Lord detests; they even offer up their sons and daughters in fire to their gods,” I realized something: “With Moloch worship (child sacrifice) in the background, animal sacrifice was a step forward in consciousness.” Reading about Moloch worship deepened my sense of shock with regard to this practice but also provided me a clue to unravel what puzzled me, what drove the intense biblical focus on the superiority of human life despite so much material that suggests another worldview.

A consistent theme in Deuteronomy is that it centralizes sacrifice, removing it from the daily life of ordinary Israelites. At first, I thought the primary effect of this might be to routinize killing animals. Then I realized another possible intention of the text: “If the Torah represents a step forward in consciousness in its vehement assertion of the superiority of human life in a context where child sacrifice is the norm . . . “ Deuteronomy might represent “another step forward in consciousness as it attempts to wean the Israelites from a dependence on a sacrificial cult and the idea that human beings can transfer their sins to another living being who pays in their place.”

Anyone who reads the Torah understands that meat-eating was allowed as a concession to the violence in human nature. The idea was to channel that violent impulse and limit killing. The important understanding I missed until I grasped the reality of Moloch worship and child sacrifice is that the concession wasn’t based on an intellectual abstraction but on a real practice that horrified segments of the population that saw it. I can’t help but think of the projects of many animal rights activists, whose work I could not do, who seek to expose horrifying practices with animals on factory farms to the general public, making the crime visible and real.

SHOFETIM

I had a professor once who told me the way to write a paper is to write it, then take the conclusion and move it to the beginning, then be certain that every paragraph that follows builds an irrefutable case leading to a repeat of the conclusion at the end. With that in mind, I’ll share here that the next step in my understanding of the biblical project came with Shofetim when I began to understand the text as both polemic and compromise “constitution.”

Shofetim returns to the Moloch theme in two passages, one direct and one indirect through use of the word “abhorrent” (to’evah), a word that occurs more frequently in Deuteronomy than in any other book of the Torah much less the Bible. We might say that Deuteronomy, in comparison to the rest of the Torah text, is obsessed with ridding the nation of “abhorrent” practices, primary among them child sacrifice:

Deut. 16:21-17:7

לֹֽא־תִטַּ֥ע לְךָ֛ אֲשֵׁרָ֖ה כָּל־עֵ֑ץ אֵ֗צֶל מִזְבַּ֛ח יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר תַּעֲשֶׂה־לָּֽךְ׃

You shall not set up a sacred post—any kind of pole beside the altar of the LORD your God that you may make—

וְלֹֽא־תָקִ֥ים לְךָ֖ מַצֵּבָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר שָׂנֵ֖א יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃

or erect a stone pillar; for such the LORD your God detests.

לֹא־תִזְבַּח֩ לַיהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ שׁ֣וֹר וָשֶׂ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִהְיֶ֥ה בוֹ֙ מ֔וּם כֹּ֖ל דָּבָ֣ר רָ֑ע כִּ֧י תוֹעֲבַ֛ת יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ הֽוּא׃

You shall not sacrifice to the LORD your God an ox or a sheep that has any defect of a serious kind, for that is abhorrent to the LORD your God.

כִּֽי־יִמָּצֵ֤א בְקִרְבְּךָ֙ בְּאַחַ֣ד שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֣ן לָ֑ךְ אִ֣ישׁ אוֹ־אִשָּׁ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר יַעֲשֶׂ֧ה אֶת־הָרַ֛ע בְּעֵינֵ֥י יְהוָֽה־אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לַעֲבֹ֥ר בְּרִיתֽוֹ׃

If there is found among you, in one of the settlements that the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman who has affronted the LORD your God and transgressed His covenant—

וַיֵּ֗לֶךְ וַֽיַּעֲבֹד֙ אֱלֹהִ֣ים אֲחֵרִ֔ים וַיִּשְׁתַּ֖חוּ לָהֶ֑ם וְלַשֶּׁ֣מֶשׁ ׀ א֣וֹ לַיָּרֵ֗חַ א֛וֹ לְכָל־צְבָ֥א הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־צִוִּֽיתִי׃

turning to the worship of other gods and bowing down to them, to the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly host, something I never commanded—

וְהֻֽגַּד־לְךָ֖ וְשָׁמָ֑עְתָּ וְדָרַשְׁתָּ֣ הֵיטֵ֔ב וְהִנֵּ֤ה אֱמֶת֙ נָכ֣וֹן הַדָּבָ֔ר נֶעֶשְׂתָ֛ה הַתּוֹעֵבָ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

and you have been informed or have learned of it, then you shall make a thorough inquiry. If it is true, the fact is established, that abhorrent thing was perpetrated in Israel,

וְהֽוֹצֵאתָ֣ אֶת־הָאִ֣ישׁ הַה֡וּא אוֹ֩ אֶת־הָאִשָּׁ֨ה הַהִ֜וא אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָ֠שׂוּ אֶת־הַדָּבָ֨ר הָרָ֤ע הַזֶּה֙ אֶל־שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ אֶת־הָאִ֕ישׁ א֖וֹ אֶת־הָאִשָּׁ֑ה וּסְקַלְתָּ֥ם בָּאֲבָנִ֖ים וָמֵֽתוּ׃

you shall take the man or the woman who did that wicked thing out to the public place, and you shall stone them, man or woman, to death.—

עַל־פִּ֣י ׀ שְׁנַ֣יִם עֵדִ֗ים א֛וֹ שְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה עֵדִ֖ים יוּמַ֣ת הַמֵּ֑ת לֹ֣א יוּמַ֔ת עַל־פִּ֖י עֵ֥ד אֶחָֽד׃

A person shall be put to death only on the testimony of two or more witnesses; he must not be put to death on the testimony of a single witness.—

יַ֣ד הָעֵדִ֞ים תִּֽהְיֶה־בּ֤וֹ בָרִאשֹׁנָה֙ לַהֲמִית֔וֹ וְיַ֥ד כָּל־הָעָ֖ם בָּאַחֲרֹנָ֑ה וּבִֽעַרְתָּ֥ הָרָ֖ע מִקִּרְבֶּֽךָ׃

Let the hands of the witnesses be the first against him to put him to death, and the hands of the rest of the people thereafter. Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst.

Deut. 18:9-14

כִּ֤י אַתָּה֙ בָּ֣א אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֣ן לָ֑ךְ לֹֽא־תִלְמַ֣ד לַעֲשׂ֔וֹת כְּתוֹעֲבֹ֖ת הַגּוֹיִ֥ם הָהֵֽם׃

When you enter the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations.

לֹֽא־יִמָּצֵ֣א בְךָ֔ מַעֲבִ֥יר בְּנֽוֹ־וּבִתּ֖וֹ בָּאֵ֑שׁ קֹסֵ֣ם קְסָמִ֔ים מְעוֹנֵ֥ן וּמְנַחֵ֖שׁ וּמְכַשֵּֽׁף׃

Let no one be found among you who consigns his son or daughter to the fire, or who is an augur, a soothsayer, a diviner, a sorcerer,

וְחֹבֵ֖ר חָ֑בֶר וְשֹׁאֵ֥ל אוֹב֙ וְיִדְּעֹנִ֔י וְדֹרֵ֖שׁ אֶל־הַמֵּתִֽים׃

one who casts spells, or one who consults ghosts or familiar spirits, or one who inquires of the dead.

כִּֽי־תוֹעֲבַ֥ת יְהוָ֖ה כָּל־עֹ֣שֵׂה אֵ֑לֶּה וּבִגְלַל֙ הַתּוֹעֵבֹ֣ת הָאֵ֔לֶּה יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ מוֹרִ֥ישׁ אוֹתָ֖ם מִפָּנֶֽיךָ׃

For anyone who does such things is abhorrent to the LORD, and it is because of these abhorrent things that the LORD your God is dispossessing them before you.

תָּמִ֣ים תִּֽהְיֶ֔ה עִ֖ם יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃

You must be wholehearted with the LORD your God.

כִּ֣י ׀ הַגּוֹיִ֣ם הָאֵ֗לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ יוֹרֵ֣שׁ אוֹתָ֔ם אֶל־מְעֹנְנִ֥ים וְאֶל־קֹסְמִ֖ים יִשְׁמָ֑עוּ וְאַתָּ֕ה לֹ֣א כֵ֔ן נָ֛תַן לְךָ֖ יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃

Those nations that you are about to dispossess do indeed resort to soothsayers and augurs; to you, however, the LORD your God has not assigned the like.


Scholars argue about the existence of this practice of child sacrifice, the extent of its existence in Israel and whether it is indigenous to Israelite religion or copied from surrounding cultures. The scholarly work and rabbinic traditions that confirm its existence are authoritative for me. The extent of the practice and whether or not it is indigenous to Israelite religion are not material questions from my perspective. What is material is the effect of the practice in shaping Israelite consciousness, the Torah text and other biblical books.

A Little Sourcing
Those who follow my posts know I’m not a friend of source criticism of the text and prefer to read it as a whole and unified story. I am better able to get at meanings in that way. This is one place, though, where source criticism and historical context does contribute meaning for me.

For the historical setting and provenance of the books of the Torah, in particular Deuteronomy, I’ll quote from summaries in various Wikipedia articles, first a Wikipedia article on Deuteronomy: “Presented as the words of Moses delivered before the conquest of Canaan, a broad consensus of modern scholars see its origin in traditions from Israel (the northern kingdom) brought south to the Kingdom of Judah in the wake of the Assyrian conquest of Aram (8th century BC) and then adapted to a program of nationalist reform in the time of Josiah (late 7th century BC), with the final form of the modern book emerging in the milieu of the return from the Babylonian captivity during the late 6th century BC.[3]

So hypothetically Deuteronomy came into its present form and location in the text in three stages: 1) 8th century northern kingdom, 2) 7th century Judah under Josiah, 3) 6th century post-exilic Judah.

It seems to me that Deuteronomy shares themes with J (the Jahwist) who provides Gen 2, a key part of what I have called the aspirational vision of Gen 1-3: “Michael D. Coogan suggests three recurring themes in the Jahwist tradition: the relationship between humans and soil, separation between humans and God, and progressive human corruption.” Conversely the Priestly text shares themes and motifs with the Elohist of Gen 1, most obvious to me the ritualized nature of the creation process.

The Wikipedia article on the Jahwist indicates 7th century Judah as the earliest possible date (and historical context) for the work: “. . . a crucial 1976 study by H. H. Schmid, Der sogenannte Jahwist (“The So-called Jahwist”), argued that J knew the prophetic books of the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, while the prophets did not know the traditions of the Torah, meaning J could not be earlier than the 7th century.[14]A number of current theories place J even later, in the exilic and/or post-exilic period (6th–5th centuries BCE).[15] 

. . . The modern scholarly consensus is that the Torah has multiple authors and that its composition took place over centuries.[21]This contemporary common hypothesis among biblical scholars states that the first major comprehensive draft of the Pentateuch was composed in the late 7th or the 6th century BCE (the Jahwist source), and that this was later expanded by the addition of various narratives and laws (the Priestly source) into a work very like the one existing today . . .

. . . According to Jewish tradition, Torah was recompiled by prophet Ezra during Second Temple period,[23][24]and he recited it to the assembled Israelites in order to enforce the observance of Torah.[25]

In short, this leads to a very general hypothesis that several streams of Torah traditions emerged during the 8th to 7th, even 6th, centuries bce. Another Wikipedia article on the Deuteronomist diagrams the geographical and timeline links between J and the Deuteronomist with a northern kingdom point of origin that transferred to the southern kingdom during and after the Assyrian conquest.

In any case, these traditions were formulated into a “unified” document (i.e., redacted with additional creative material) during the 6th to possibly even the 5th centuries bce. Some scholars propose that this creative redaction occurred after 538 when Persia not only authorized a return to the Land from the first (Babylonian) exile but hypothetically mandated a constitution of sorts that would allow the returnees to form a unified nation. This possibility suggests Persian, therefore Zoroastrian, influence on the final redaction.

Back to Shofetim
And this brings me to my point. As difficult as it is for Americans to understand, who are weaned on separation of church and state and who generally view sacred scriptures as “religious” or “spiritual” documents, the biblical text is as much political as it is religious. There were many voices in ancient Israel just as there are today in, for example, the United States. In stressful times, those voices are sometimes more diverse and strident — and sometimes more unified. A historical time period that witnesses a civil war (between northern Israel and southern Judah), two national destructions, first of the Northern Kingdom, then of the Southern Kingdom, a local exile from north to south, a national exile and a painful and difficult return to reestablish a nation, is nothing if not stressful. The Torah reflects those stresses and a diversity of voices woven together into an extraordinarily unified text that served far beyond its hypothetical original purpose of building a unified nation.

In the contemporary study of religions, we say that religions are embedded in culture, time and place, and culture, time and place are embedded in religions. This means there is change over time or they would not be relevant to future generations — and there are inherent contradictions. Religions are not static. This fluidity and richness with all its complexity, depth, and contradiction is in evidence in the Torah story. It is what makes the Torah story relevant more than two-and-a-half millennia later.

So as I again came to this theme in Deuteronomy of abhorrent practices and, in particular, child sacrifice, the thought occurred to me that the entire Torah story, indeed the entire Bible, is first, polemic, and second, political compromise. My hypothesis became clear to me through my increasingly narrow focus on the relationship between humans and animals. This view of Hebrew scripture, that it is both polemic and political compromise, is the missing piece for me and is explanatory.

A hypothesis is just that: an idea about what something might be. And now I’ll need to go back once again and review the evidence of the text, examine if that’s really where it leads. But first, I’ll point to a couple of details in addition to the Moloch material that brought me to this hypothesis.

Polemic
In documents that frequently use chiasm as a literary structure, priestly material and, in particular, animal sacrifice have pride of place in the Torah story, at the center. Or do they? Deuteronomy and compatible material in Gen 2, along with some Priestly material that complements it in Gen 1, envelopes the story. Deuteronomy coming last among the five books points toward a different future, much like the function of II Chronicles at the end of Hebrew scripture and Malachi at the end of the Old Testament. In regard to animals and animal sacrifice, it seems related to the worldview of Gen 2, beginning to apply that idea of the interrelatedness of all of creation and the value of all life in the real world through compromise steps. That would make the chiastic arrangement of material one example of a compromise between different traditions as they are woven into a whole.

Deuteronomy rails against the abhorrent practices (toevot), primary among them child sacrifice, at the very least known, tolerated and even recognized to be effective, in other portions of the biblical text. Whether or not child sacrifice was inherently part of Israelite tradition or was imitative, at some point, it was part of Israelite religious culture, and significant portions of the text refute it vigorously and consistently. It is refuted not only in the strong words of Deuteronomy but in the basic and overriding message of the entire text, the sanctity of human life. It is as if there is a basic Torah instinct that recognizes all life is precious — but the reality of child sacrifice is so critical that it requires a massive and comprehensive reaction that includes a hierarchy of value in regard to life and replacing human sacrifice with animal sacrifice and its corollary, meat-eating. The sanctity of human life is one theme of the text that provides an overarching unity to it.

Shofetim ties the practice of human sacrifice, child sacrifice in particular, to expulsion from the land/soil of Israel. Continued presence in that space depends on expelling that and related evils from the community — and the entire community must participate in removing it through stoning the guilty human being/s.

Finally, the one characteristic attributed to humans that differentiates them from animals and thereby provides the rationale for human superiority is that they are “in the image” of G-d. As the vocabulary shows, this was a shadowy idea, and it’s completely unclear to me what that means — but from my perspective the most obvious meaning flows from an idea of G-d with a body. Deuteronomy rejects this notion unequivocally, saying G-d has no body, and this became the dominant voice in rabbinic Judaism. Logically that rejection sweeps away a rationale for valuing human life on a higher level.

So the polemic behind the biblical text is that in its overall thematic thrust and structure, it vehemently rejects the notion of human sacrifice through a variety of mechanisms, including valuing human life over all other life.  This polemic explains sufficiently for me how animal sacrifice became central to Israelite religion, at least as the Torah story tells it. It also portrays vividly how religious cultures change with time and situation.

Politics
And this brings me to the politics behind the text. In Re’eh, I noted with regard to the centralization of sacrifice theme that it desacralized Israelite daily life. On the one hand, that concentrated power and wealth in the hands of a priestly aristocracy in Jerusalem. It had another important effect, though, and that was to diminish reliance on priests and a sacrificial system in Israel generally.

Change happens slowly over time, but I believe that had the Temple not been destroyed by the Romans, animal sacrifice would have disappeared eventually anyway. The destruction only hastened the process the Deuteronomist put in motion. This is the power of acculturation. Was it a Deuteronomist plan as they worked out the compromise that included a system of animal sacrifice at the heart of the text? I think so. As animal sacrifice was in the center of the text literarily, it also moved geographically and physically to the center of the land, making it inaccessible and increasingly irrelevant in the daily lives of Israelites.

The structure of the Torah story, the way common and diverse motifs and voices are woven together, reveals a common impulse among most of the leading voices in ancient Israel, a polemic against human sacrifice. It is a polemic that overlays another strand of thought, that all life is equally precious, all is animated with a soul, the breath of G-d. But life is never simple, and moving forward toward the aspirational vision of justice and harmony throughout creation happens in small steps involving fierce political struggles to arrive at a compromise represented in the very structure of the Torah story.

Of course another possibility is that the strand of thought that has all creatures at the spiritual round table was not indigenous to the text but was influenced by Zoroastrianism. In this scenario, it would have been back-edited into the text by the redactors along with the version of the Binding of Isaac story that we have in which Abraham is prevented from sacrificing his son. This possibility would be consistent with a Deuteronomist who so vehemently opposed child sacrifice, constructed a program to desacralize Israelite life and marginalize the priestly sacrificial system — and, I think, ultimately get rid of it.

If everyone who could testify directly to the meaning of the Constitution of the United States disappeared from the earth, and beings from outer space arrived on our planet and discovered the document — they would study the document deeply to understand what it said and what motivated its composition. They would see the shards of the struggle with a historical circumstance that resulted in an intense emphasis on individual liberty and rights. Although they might be puzzled by the amendments, they might also catch in them a glimpse of the same theme from somewhat different positions in history. Ultimately the grandeur of the concept and its expression would move them in their own time and place even as they struggled to understand the specifics and apparent conflicts.

That is our position today with regard to ancient Israel. Behind the American Constitution is a polemic. The Constitution is a lofty document that represents a compromise between the voices speaking at the time of its composition with amendments as history progresses and situations change. Most importantly, The Constitution is a process, not a static document, and in the same way, the Bible is a process which those who read it are invited to continue today.

And now that I have finally arrived at a point of answering some questions I have about the text with regard to the relationship between humans and animals, it’s time to begin. I am reminded of the story about Rabbi Hillel when asked to explain Judaism while standing on one foot. He said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the commentary. Go and study it.” (דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד. זו היא כל התורה כולה, ואידך פירושה הוא: זיל גמור) – Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat 31a