Yossi Feintuch

Jacob – a vegetarian?

In last week’s Torah portion, Toldot, Isaac’s “death-bed blessing(s)’’, both to Jacob and Esau, were vegetarian in nature; To Jacob he said: “May God grant you from the dew of the heavens and the fat of the earth, and abundance of grain and drink”.  When Esau presented himself for the same blessing and Jacob’s deception of Isaac was officially outed, Isaac eked out another similar land produce-based blessing, even for Esau the hunter. It was similar to Jacob’s, namely, “from the fatness of the earth” and “from the dew of heaven on high.”

Isaac who evidently loved meat, whether of livestock or game, dispenses his blessings to both of his sons mentioning nothing about thriving flocks or cattle, let alone copious game. He wanted his sons to derive their sustenance in the main from farming the earth, and not from livestock or animals in the wild.

Two decades later – as in this week’s Torah portion, Vayetse, Jacob reminds his rankled and accusatory father-in-law, Laban, the father of both of his wives, Leah and Rachel, about his consistent ethical integrity during the two decades as a salaried shepherd in his employ. And he tells Laban that even “the rams of your flock I have not eaten” (which would have been his right to do).  It is apparent that Isaac’s blessing that eliminated any reference to meat consumption became a reality even in Jacob’s sustenance while shepherding Laban’s flocks in those two decades.

That should not come as a surprise, given that our first introduction to Jacob’s cooking – that even Esau voraciously desired, even to trade off his first-born status for it – was a hearty vegetarian lentil stew.

When he enters with Laban into a kind of non-belligerence pact Jacob slays animals for a signing ritual, but invited everyone ‘’to eat bread, and they did eat bread’’, rather than the sacrificial meat. Jacob will not make another animal sacrifice for many years to come. He will do so for the second and last time in his 147 years when going down to Egypt as an old man to see his beloved Joseph and at his invite. Though Jacob makes sacrifices in Beersheba, the Torah makes no allusion to his partaking of that meat. Since the Torah never describes Jacob as eating meat, we are left with the question whether Jacob was a vegetarian; and apparently, he was.

About the Author
Ordained a Rabbi by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1994; in 2019 this institution accorded me the degree of Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa. Following ordination I served congregations on the island of Curacao, in Columbia, MO. Currently serving a congregation in Bend, Or. I received academic degrees from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (B.A. in International Relations and History), New York University (M.A. in History), and Emory University (Ph.D. in U.S. History). I am the author of U.S. Policy on Jerusalem (Greenwood Press), and numerous articles on biblical themes in various print and digital publications. I have taught in several academic institutions, including Ben-Gurion University (Beersheba, Israel), and the University of Missouri (Columbia, MO). A native of Afula, Israel. A veteran of the IDF.