MEAT (Heb. בָּשָׂר, basar), the flesh of animals permitted for consumption. (For its meaning as human flesh and symbolic connotation, see *Flesh.) The Talmud points out (Sanh. 59b) that according to the biblical account the consumption of meat was forbidden from Adam until Noah (Gen. 1:29) and was specifically permitted first to Noah (ibid. 9:3). Apart from this, however, there is no suggestion of vegetarianism in the Bible. On the other hand, meat is never included among the staple diet of the children of Israel, which is confined to agricultural products, of which the constantly recurring expression in the Bible is "grain and wine and oil" (Deut. 11:14), or the seven agricultural products enumerated in Deuteronomy 8:8. (It has however been suggested that Deuteronomy 11:15 refers to the eating of meat.) In point of fact, meat was regarded in the Bible as a luxury for which the children of Israel would yearn "when the Lord enlarges your territory" (Deut. 12:20), and the lusting of the children of Israel after the "fleshpots of Egypt" (Ex. 16:3 and Num. 11:4) was regarded as highly reprehensible. From Deuteronomy 12:20–22, R. Ishmael (Ḥul. 16b–17a) deduces that during their sojourn in the wilderness the children of Israel were permitted to eat only meat from an animal which had actually been sacrificed and that it was only when they entered the Land of Israel that "meat of desire," i.e., the meat of all permitted animals, could be eaten as desired without the animal being sacrificed. R. Akiva, however, interprets it to mean that in the wilderness any method of killing an animal, even stabbing (neḥirah), was permitted, but that after their entry into the land only the meat of animals which had been slaughtered by sheḥitah could be eaten. All agree, however, that the reference is only to "cattle" which could be offered as sacrifices, but that the meat of "beasts" (nondomesticated animals, the "gazelle and the hart") was freely permitted (cf. Deut. 12:22). That the flesh of birds was permitted is clear from Exodus 16:13 and Numbers 11:31–33. The only limitation on the consumption of meat to non-Jews ("the children of Noah") is the prohibition against meat cut from a living animal (based on Gen. 9:4; see *Noachide Laws). For Jews however only the flesh of "clean" animals was permitted, and that, only after sheḥitah and the removal of forbidden blood and fat. The seething of meat in milk was forbidden (Ex. 23:19 et al.) and interpreted to include eating meat and milk together or deriving any benefit from it. It has been suggested that this prohibition is because such practices were connected with heathen fertility rites (Maim. Guide 3:48; see *Dietary Laws). In the talmudic period, meat was regarded as the diet of the well-to-do, and as a feature of festive occasions rather than a staple diet. It was regarded as obligatory only on Sabbaths and festivals since "there is no joy without meat and wine" (Pes. 109a). The immensely wealthy Eleazar b. Azariah laid it down that only a person who possesses 100 maneh may eat meat daily; otherwise it should be eaten only on the Sabbath. In the amoraic period, however, it seems to have become more common. In Ereẓ Israel, R. Johanan said that owing to the prevailing physical weakness, "whoever has a penny in his pocket should run to the shopkeeper" (to buy meat daily), while the Babylonian Nahman said that one should even buy it on credit (Ḥul. 84a). Its nutritive value was recognized. It was specially recommended for pregnant women as they would thus have robust children (Ket. 60b–61a). On the basis of homiletical exposition of Leviticus 11:46, R. Judah ha-Nasi suggested that only those engaged in the study of the Torah were permitted to indulge in meat (Pes. 49b). Poultry was more highly regarded as a delicacy than meat, and meat than fish (Num. R. 21:25). Of poultry the most delectable was the chicken, of meat, the OX (BM 86b). Among the things to be avoided by a convalescent, since they "bring on his sickness again in a severe form," are "beef, fat meat, roast meat, and poultry" (Ber. 57b). As the consumption of meat was associated with joy, abstention from it was a symbol of mourning. For the same reason meat is not eaten by a mourner on the day of burial or in the period of national mourning from the first until the Ninth of *Av (Sh. Ar., OḤ 551:9). After the destruction of the Temple there were those who sought to adopt asceticism, including abstention from meat, but it was strongly opposed (BB 60b).
Eisenstein, Dinim, 66f.; ET, 4 (1952), 675–741.
[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.