But whenever you desire, you may slaughter and eat meat in any of your settlements, according to the blessing that the Lord your God has granted you. – Deuteronomy 12:15

In reviewing the laws and rules (hachukim vehamishpatim) that will apply when they enter the land, Moses expands his previous instructions to the Israelites regarding the consumption of meat. First, he reiterates that burnt offerings are to be made only in the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribal territories (Deut. 12:13). He explicitly permits local animal slaughter to provide meat in two situations: when a person has an urge to eat meat and says, “I shall eat some meat” (12:20) or when one who is obligated to sacrifice a cow or sheep lives too far to travel to God’s designated location (12:21).

Moses specifically mentions slaughter prior to eating meat. Many commentators interpret this as the expression of a religious problem posed by intentionally taking the life of an animal in order to satisfy a human desire for meat. Some conclude that a vegetarian diet is the most desirable or only acceptable solution. More often, the problem is recast as a challenge addressed by the laws and practice of shechitah, the ritualized process by which permitted animals are slaughtered by a highly trained shochet who uses a purposefully sharpened, special knife to cut the esophagus and trachea (mammals) or one of the two (birds):

“[The] reason for slaughter at the neck and with an inspected knife is so as not cause excessive suffering to living things, for the Torah permitted them to humans on account of their preeminence, so that they might be nourished by them and for all their needs, but not to cause them gratuitous suffering.” (Sefer HaChinukh 145)

In Jewish tradition, parve baking is required to provide bread and some desserts when meat is served at a meal. We can increase the reverence for life that we bring to the table by using some of the time that we spend baking to reflect on our desire to eat meat and its challenge to our ideals.

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