Shabbat Table Topics – Parashat Noach

Does the Torah View Vegetarianism as an Ideal?

Set up a debate at your Shabbat table regarding the Torah's attitude towards a carnivorous diet.  What evidence might suggest that killing animals for food is problematic and that vegetarianism is preferred?  What verses might be brought as counter proofs?1  For analysis, see Permission to Eat Meat.  Other points to discuss include:

  • According to the position that Hashem did not originally intend that humans include meat in their diet, what made Him change His mind?  Do you think it is possible that Hashem's will can change?  See Ralbag .
  • R. Kook and others suggest that eating meat was permitted only as a concession to man's degraded morality.  Do you think that the Torah represents an eternal ideal, or might its laws make concessions to human failings?

Cross Cultural Comparisons

The Torah and Judaism did not come into existence in a vacuum. Knowledge of the surrounding cultures of the time helps us appreciate the uniqueness of Israel's values and belief system. Compare the story of the Mabbul as recounted in Parashat Noach with other Flood stories from Mesopotamia. See The Mabbul and Mesopotamian Myths for examples and discussion.

  • What differences do you note? What prompts the bringing of the flood in each story?  How do the heroes of each narrative compare?  What role is played by the deity both during and after the flood?
  • What do these differences reveal about each society's understanding of God and the way the world is run? 

Rebuilding after Failure

If someone you care about has failed you in some way, how does that affect your relationship thereafter?  Do you push them harder, or do you lower your expectations and demand less?  When do you give them a second chance, and when do you give up?  Consider these questions in relation to the failure of the human race and its near annihilation in the Flood:

  • What was the "straw which broke the camel's back" and prompted Hashem to bring the Deluge?
  • How does Hashem's relationship to humankind change after the Mabbul?  Is He more demanding of them or less?  Is His providence felt to the same degree?  
  • What else changed in the post-Flood universe?  Was the world a totally different place than it had been beforehand?  See Undoing and Redoing Creation for elaboration.

Judging Others

  • There are several characters in Tanakh whom we know very little about, and yet, we nonetheless find ourselves labeling them righteous or wicked.  Nimrod is a case in point.  Tanakh shares only five verses about him, but most readers view him negatively.  What leads to this evaluation?  Is there any other way to read his character?  See the analysis of Nimrod and particularly Ibn Ezra there who uniquely claims that Nimrod was in fact a righteous worshiper of Hashem.  Which reading of Nimrod do you favor?
  • How often do you judge a person in a certain way only to find out, after coming to know them better, that your original impression was wrong? What are the factors that go into our initial evaluations of the other? To what degree are we influenced by externals rather than the individual's essence?

Uniformity or Pluralism?

The RanBereshit 11:1About R. Nissim Gerondi and Netziv view the story of Migdal Bavel as revolving around the potential for abuse of power that uniformity and central control bring.

  • What in the text supports this reading of the story?
  • What do you think should be the balance between conformity and plurality of ideas in society?  What dangers are inherent in centralized government?
  • Although the Ran views world unity as a utopian ideal, he posits that until Messianic times, diversity is crucial to Jewish survival. Throughout history, the Jewish nation has depended on being able to find safe harbor in one country after being expelled from another. Do you agree?
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