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Jewish Humane Education Kit
Lesson VIII: Backup Material Biblical Stories





Backup Material: Contents

Lesson I Backup

Lesson II Backup

Lesson III Backup

Lesson IV Backup

Lesson V & VI Backup

Lesson VII Backup

Lesson VIII Backup

Lesson IX Backup



Judaism & Animals





Jewish tradition includes the mitzvah of "bal tashchit" (do not destroy). Animals are not "hefker" (expendable, lacking in intrinsic value) to be abused with impunity.



The Talmud and Reciting a Blessing on Seeing a Beautiful Animal

The Talmud requires that when Jews see a beautiful animal they must recite a special blessing: "Blessed are You our God, Ruler of the Universe, who created beautiful animals in this world."

Berachot 9




Everyone has heard the legend of Jonah who was swallowed by a whale when he sought in vain to escape the mission God commanded him to undertake. His mission was to go to the pagan city of Nineveh and preach to the people that the city would be destroyed if they didn't repent and change their evil ways.


Jonah had no pity on the city and didn't care if it was destroyed. But after emerging from the whale he went to Nineveh and preached — and the city repented and reformed.



God then talked with Jonah about compassion. God Said, "Should I not have spared Nineveh, that great city where live more than 120,000 people, who cannot distinguish between their right hand and their left, their children, and also many animals?" Jonah had not thought of the innocents whose lives could be destroyed with the guilty if they city were destroyed, but God had compassion for all creatures, humans and animals alike.



The Talmud and Animal Combat

In the days of the Roman Empire, people went to the Coliseum, a very large stadium, to be "entertained" by battles between men (gladiators), between animals, and between people and animals. The sages of the Talmud did not differentiate between the victims of these combats, but stated categorically, "Whoever sits in a stadium (as a spectator) spills blood."


Later lawmakers forbid all games with animals and birds — today's dogfights and cockfights would be included.



Rabbi Ezekiel Landau

Rabbi Ezekiel Landau was a leading scholar in Austria-Hungary in the 18th century. People came to him with numerous questions regarding Jewish law.


In those days, many Jews made a living as managers of the estates of non-Jewish nobles. The nobles, who didn't work, spent much of their time hunting in the vast forests of Poland. They often wanted their Jewish employers to come along on these hunts. The Jews asked Rabbi Landau if Jewish law allowed them to go hunting for fun. He replied: "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."




Maimonides, also known as Rambam, is regarded as one of the most brilliant scholars in Jewish history. Born in Spain, he was hired as the court physician in Egypt. Maimonides wrote this about hunting: "Those who go to hunt (beasts) and kill birds...violate the commandment that forbids us to wantonly destroy any part of God's creation."



Rabbi Yitzhak Hacohen Kook

Rabbi Yitzhak Hacohen Kook on dominion vs. stewardship, from The Vision of Vegetarians and Peace, edited and compiled by Rabbi David Hacohen:


"There can be no doubt in the minds of every thinking man that the concept of dominion as expressed in the Torah...does not in any way imply the rule of a haughty despot who tyrannically governs his people and his servants for his own personal selfish ends and with a stubborn heart. Heaven forbid that such a repulsive form of servitude be forever integrated (sealed) in the world of the Lord, whose tender mercies are on all His works and of whom it is said, 'He shall build a world of kindness.' "



Return to Lesson VIII