Judaism recognizes that animals
feel physical pain, and we are forbidden to inflict it.
After the Exodus, when
the Jews who had wandered 40 years in the desert were
about to cross into the Promised Land, they camped first in the plains of Moab. The Moabites
thought of the Jews as
enemies, and sent their "prophet" Balaam to curse them.
Balaam set out one morning on his donkey for
the Jews' camp, but God put an angel with a sword in his path. Balaam
didn't see the angel, but the donkey did, and
she turned off the road into the field.
Balaam beat the donkey three times with
his stick to try to force her back onto the road, but it was no use. After
the third beating, the donkey said to Balaam, "What have I done
to cause you to beat me three times?" Balaam replied,
"Because you made a fool of me. If I had my sword in my hand I would
kill you now."
The donkey said, "Aren't I your donkey that you've ridden ever
since you owned me? Did I ever mock you?" And Balaam had to
confess that the donkey had not.
Then God opened Balaam's eyes and he saw the angel with his sword,
whom God had sent against him. The
angel said, "Why did you beat your donkey three times? Do you
realize that had she not turned off the road when she saw me, I would
have killed you and saved her?"
Balaam then understood he had done wrong. When he came to the camp of
the Jews, instead of cursing them, he blessed them.
Numbers, Chapter 22:21-34
Rabbi Yehuda the
Germany in the Middle Ages, nobles fought battles and also
took part in mock battles called "jousts" — all on
horseback. To make the horses gallop faster they used spurs
— sharp wheels on their boots that dug into the animals'
flesh. Many cowboys still use them today. Rabbi Yehuda the
Hassid ("the Pious") who lived in the 12th Century,
warned Jews who rode horses — the only means of
transportation then — against using spurs because they were
cruel to animals. (See
day, Rabbi Velvel, a Hassidic leader who lived in the Polish
town of Zabriz, was riding in a wagon. The driver started to
whip the horses to make them run faster.
Rabbi Velvel pitied the unfortunate animals. He
said to the driver, "Don't hit the horses! It causes them pain!" The
driver replied that he was only using the whip to chase away the
flies who were bothering the horses.
Rabbi Velvel told him, "So take my handkerchief and use
it to chase away the flies, but don't use the whip." The
driver, outsmarted by the rabbi, had no choice but to stop
hitting the horses.