Jewish Humane Education Kit
Note: This section does not, of course, include each and every quotation in the Bible about kindness to animals, but the list is sufficient to give the reader an idea of the basis for the Jewish attitude towards animals.
The term "nefesh chaya," a "living being" or a "living soul," is applied to animals as well as to people.
God viewed the creation of animals as well as of people as "good" and gave sea animals and birds the same blessing as people: "Be fruitful and multiply."
In granting people "dominion" over animals, stewardship not despotism was implied. According to Rabbi Yitzchak Hacohen Kook, the first rabbi of pre-state Israel:
Animals as well as people were initially given a vegetarian diet:
"Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food."
When, as a temporary concession to human weakness, humans were given permission to eat animals after the Flood, it was recognized that this would mean harmony between humans and animals would be replaced with estrangement and fear:
"And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, and upon all wherewith the ground teemeth and upon all the fishes of the sea into your hand are they delivered."
God made treaties and covenants with animals just as with humans:
"Behold I establish My Covenant with you and with your seed after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the fowl, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that go out of the ark, even every beast of the earth."
20:8-10 & 23:12 (see also Deuteronomy 5:14)
Animals as well as people are to rest on the Sabbath:
"Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord
"Six days thou shalt do thy work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest that thine ox and thine ass may have rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed."
A full chapter in the Talmud (the fifth chapter, Tractate Shabbat) and in the Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayim 305) deal exclusively with laws against burdening an animal on Shabbat.
23:5 (see also Numbers 22:32)
It is a human duty to relieve animal suffering. Because Jewish law on preventing cruelty to animals is derived directly from a Biblical verse, it is said to be de-oraita — to have the force of the Torah behind the injunction (Bava Metzia 32b):
"If you see the ass of one who hates you lying under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it, you shall help him to lift it up."
The Code of Jewish Law states:
It is bad enough that you have killed the calf, you must not add insult to injury by cooking the calf in its mother's milk. Animals, like humans, suffer emotionally. We must strive to cause them neither physical pain nor emotional anguish:
"You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk."
Although killing animals was permitted as a concession to human weakness and to the primitive practices during biblical times, restrictions were placed (including the laws of kashrut) to spare animal suffering as much as possible and to instill in humans a sense of mercy and the understanding that killing was unnecessary:
"It is forbidden to kill a newborn ox, sheep, or goat until it has had at least seven days of warmth and nourishment from its mother. And whether it be ox or ewe, ye shall not kill it and its young in one day."
Maimonides comments on this issue:
Leather shoes may not be worn on Yom Kippur because one cannot ask for compassion if one has not shown it. Rabbi Moses Isserles, known as the Ramah, states: "How can a man put on (leather) shoes, a piece of clothing for which it is necessary to kill a living thing, on Yom Kippur, which is a day of grace and compassion, when it is written 'His tender mercies are over all His works.'"
Similarly, the blessing of She-heh-eyanu, thanking God for allowing us to reach a special occasion, and the greeting of Tithadesh (May you be renewed in your garment) are not recited when a person dons leather shoes or furs because these garments are the result of taking an animal's life. (Orah Hayim 223:6 Code of Jewish Law, vol.2, p.29)
The sabbath (seventh) year will be a year of sacred rest for the land, yet what the land itself produces in the Sabbath year is to feed animals as well as people:
"The sabbath of the land shall provide food for you...for your cattle also and for the beasts that are in your land all its yield shall be for food."
22:32 (see also Exodus 23:5)
The Talmud uses the following verse in which the angel of the Lord confronts Balaam as the primary basis for the assertion that inflicting suffering on animals is forbidden:
"Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass? Behold, I have come forth to withstand you, because your way is perverse before me."
The Code of Jewish Law states: "It is forbidden, according to the law of the Torah, to inflict pain upon any living creature, even if it is ownerless or belongs to a non-Jew." The code deals with specific cruelties, such as "It is forbidden to tie the legs of a beast or of a bird in a manner as to cause them pain." (Code of Jewish Law, book 4, ch.191, p.84)
A bird must not be made to sit on eggs that are not her own (Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, vol. 5, ch. 191/3) and the Sefer Hasidim (12th century) warns against the spurring of horses.
The Talmud states that the obligation to relieve an animal from pain or danger supersedes rabbinic ordinances related to the Sabbath. (Shabbat 128b)
5:14 (see also Exodus 20:8-10 & 23:12)
Animals, like people, are to rest on the Sabbath:
"The seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; on it you shall not do any work, you, your son...or your ox, or your ass, or any of your cattle." (see also Exodus 20:8-10; 23:12)
A person may not eat or drink before first providing for his or her animals, based on the following statement:
"And I will give grass in thy fields for thy cattle, and thou shalt eat and be satisfied."
The duty to feed an animal first is so great that a rabbinic commandment may be interrupted to ascertain if this has been done. (Orach Chayim 167:6; Berachot 40a) According to R. Eleazer ha-Kapar, a Talmudic sage, no one should have an animal or a bird unless he or she is able to care for the animal properly. (Yerushalmi Ketuvot 4:8)
The mother bird and her young may not be taken on the same day:
For the compassion shown to the mother, we are promised a long life. Maimonides states that in most cases, this commandment will result in the entire nest being left untouched, because the young or the eggs which people may take are generally unfit for food. (Guide to the Perplexed, Ch. 48, Part 3)
Animals of different species may not work together on the same task because the weaker animal would suffer in trying to keep up with the stronger:
"Thou shalt not plow with and ox and an ass together."
The Talmud states: "You may not allow one task to be done together by animals of two species. You may not allow them to carry the smallest thing together, even if it be only a seed…. You may not sit in a wagon drawn by animals of differing species." (Yoreh De'ah, 297b)
Animals may not be muzzled during threshing because they are helping humans reap the fruits of the earth and therefore have a right to these fruits:
"Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn"
The Talmud states that you can only prevent animals from eating the fruits of their labor when it would be harmful for them to do so. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, Dayan Dr. 1. Grunfeld, trans., Soncino Press, London, 1962, p. 293).
According to the Code of Jewish Law (Vol. 4, Ch. 186), preventing an animal from eating while the animal works, whether by muzzling or by shouting, is punishable by whipping. The punishment for muzzling a working animal is more severe than that for preventing a human laborer from eating as he works - presumably because the animal is defenseless. (Tur Hoshen Mishpat 338)
Hunting as a sport is strongly disapproved of:
Based on the statement "not to stand in the path of sinners," the Talmud prohibited association with hunters. (Avodah Zarah 18b)
In his response to a man requesting permission to hunt on his land, Rabbi Ezekiel Landau stated: "In the Torah the sport of hunting is imputed only to fierce characters like Nimrod and Esau, never to any of the patriarchs and their descendants.... I cannot comprehend how a Jew could even dream of killing animals merely for the pleasure of hunting.... When the act of killing is prompted by that of sport, it is downright cruelty."
Not just hunting, but all sports using animals are forbidden. Bullfighting is specifically condemned:
"One who sits in a stadium spills blood." (Avodah Zarah 1)
40:6 & 50:9-23 (see also Isaiah 1:11-17 & 66:3-4, 6 and Micah 6:6-8)
Attitudes about animal sacrifice:
"Sacrifice and offering thou dost not desire."
104:14 (see also Genesis 1:29-30 and Deuteronomy 8:7-10)
This is but one of many quotations throughout the Bible that indicates that man was intended to be vegetarian. For a bibliography on the subject of Judaism and vegetarianism, write to CHAI: email@example.com
"Thou dost cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man's heart."
A special blessing is recited before eating vegetarian foods such as bread, wine, fruits, and vegetables, but there is no special blessing to recite before eating meat or fish. (R. Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, Lantern Books, NY, NY. 2001, p.7)
God's concern for animals is indicated in the phrase:
"His tender mercies are over all His creatures."
A person cannot be considered righteous unless he or she treats animals with compassion:
"The righteous person regards the life of his beast."
"To do charity and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice."
The spirit of man and the spirit of animals come from the same place and go to the same place. Man has no advantage:
1:11-17 & 66:3-4 (see also Psalms 40:6 & 50:9-14 & Micah 6:6-8)
Attitude about sacrifices:
11:6-9 (see also Hosea 2:20)
It is predicted that in the Messianic era, all will once again be vegetarian and peace and harmony will once again reign:
Throughout the Bible, God is portrayed as a good shepherd whose example people are expected to imitate in their dealings with other people and with animals. Moses and David were chosen as leaders of the Jewish people because they were good shepherds over their flocks.
Daniel, while in King Nebuchadnez'zar's household, demonstrated that a vegetarian diet is a healthier diet:
A promise of a future vision of harmony between man and animal (see Isaiah 11:6-9):
"And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and with the fowls of heaven and with the creeping things of the ground. And I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the land and I will make them to lie down safely."
6:6 & 8:13
More on attitudes love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings:
"For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings."
"They love sacrifice; they sacrifice flesh and eat it; but the lord has no delight in them."
About animal sacrifice:
"I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Yea, though you offer me burnt-offerings and your meal offerings, I will not accept them neither will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy song; and let Me not hear the melody of thy psalteries. But let justice well up as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream."
God's concern for the welfare of animals is expressed in the following quotation:
"And should I not have pity on Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand person...and also much cattle."