Monkey business


Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel of America rings the alarm about the Spanish parliament’s recent vote in support of extending the right to life and freedom to apes:

That vote has no force of law at present – and, in any event, it has been several centuries since anyone has entertained the notion that as goes Spain, so goes the world. But we would be shortsighted to dismiss the recent development. It dovetails diabolically with larger societal changes taking place all around us. Unborn human life is terminated for reasons of convenience, patients in extremis are considered unworthy of care, any and all means of behavior are endorsed as nothing more than “personal lifestyles.” We are, the thinking goes, mere physical creatures, not different in any meaningful way from the rest of the animal world.

Which conclusion might well liberate us even further. Why should we consider any insect our inferior, any personal behavior objectionable, any act – even murder – wrong? Without affirmation of the singularity of the human soul, society itself is rendered – in the word’s deepest sense – soulless.

Please note well: Jewish religious tradition forbids causing animals unnecessary pain. The first man and woman – indeed all of humanity until Noah – were even forbidden to eat meat. But Adam was nevertheless commanded to “rule over” the animal world and, in postdiluvian times, Judaism expressly permits not only the “enslavement” of animals but even their killing for human consumption.

That commandment and that permission bespeak a clear and timely truth: Humans are qualitatively different from the rest of the biosphere, elevated by their souls and the responsibilities that attend them.

To pretend otherwise is to welcome a world where Leona Helmsley’s will is unremarkable and Peter Singer’s way upright.

UPDATE: Andrew Silow-Carroll responds here, turning the “slippery slope” argument on its head – and making it about Agriprocessors.

Recommended from JTA