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Cruelty to Animals

ANIMALS, CRUELTY TO (Heb. צַעַר בַּעֲלֵי חַיִּים, ẓa'ar ba'alei ḥayyim; lit. "pain of living things"). Moral and legal rules concerning the treatment of animals are based on the principle that animals are part of God's creation toward which man bears responsibility. Laws and other indications in the Pentateuch and the rest of the Bible make it clear not only that cruelty to animals is forbidden but also that compassion and mercy to them are demanded of man by God. According to rabbinic tradition, interpreting the biblical record, mankind was not allowed to eat meat until after the Flood, although the sacrifice of animals to God had been previously allowed (Gen. 1:29; 9:3). Once permitted, the consumption of meat remained surrounded with many restrictions (see *Dietary Laws ). According to the rabbis, the Hebrew word for "desireth" in the verse, "When the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border and thou shalt say: 'I will eat flesh,' because thy soul desireth to eat flesh…" (Deut. 12:20), has a negative connotation; hence, although it is permitted to slaughter animals for food, this should be done in moderation. It has been suggested that the Jewish method of slaughter, particularly the laws that the knife be exceedingly sharp and without the slightest notch, were motivated by consideration for the animal because this method is the most painless. The biblical Sabbath laws also suggest consideration for animals ("Thou shall not do any manner of work… nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle" (Ex. 20:10; Deut. 5:14); "but on the seventh day thou shalt rest; that thine ox and thine ass may have rest" (Ex. 23:12)), as do the prohibitions against muzzling an ox as it threshes (Deut. 25:4), and slaughtering an animal and its young on the same day (Lev. 22:28). One reason for the commandment to let the fields lie fallow in the Sabbatical year is that "the poor of thy people… and the beast of the field" may eat from them (Lev. 25:6–7). This same idea is inherent in the commandment "If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under its burden…. thou shalt surely release it with him" (Ex. 23:5), and in the requirement to release the parent bird before taking the young (Deut. 22:6–7). (However, there is a difference of opinion in the Talmud as to the reason for these last mitzvot (see below).) Indications of the same consideration appear in the narrative sections of the Bible. The angel rebuked Balaam for smiting his ass (Num. 22:32), and God Himself admonished Jonah "and should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons… and also much cattle?" (Jonah 4:11). God is also praised as the One who satisfied all living creatures (Ps. 145:9–16), and for giving the beasts and the birds their food (Ps. 147:9).

In view of all this, the rabbis based a great deal of their legislation and interpretation on the principle of ẓa'ar ba'alei ḥayyim. As one the seven *Noachide Laws , the prohibition to eat the flesh of a living animal, applies also to non-Jews (Sanh. 56a–57a, 59a–b; Tosef. Av. Zar. 8:4–6). The dietary laws limiting the killing of animals are discussed at great length, and the rabbis recommend moderation in eating even permitted meat. The rabbis were not completely opposed to killing animals – giving priority to human needs – but they were entirely against wanton killing as they were against causing pain to animals. It is forbidden to inflict a blemish on an animal (Ḥul. 7b). Many acts otherwise forbidden on the Sabbath are permitted when their purpose is to relieve animals' pain on the grounds that cruelty to animals is biblically prohibited (Shab. 128b). The accepted (although not unanimous) view is that the commandment to help unload (Ex. 23:5, see above) is motivated by consideration for animals, which is thus regarded as a principle of biblical force (Maim., Yad, Roẓe'aḥ u-Shemirat Nefesh 13; Tur, ḤM 272) and thus it is permitted to unload a burden from a laboring animal even on the Sabbath (Maim., Yad, Shabbat 21:9–10). It is permitted to ask a non-Jew to milk cows on the Sabbath – an act that would be otherwise forbidden. The rabbis ordained that one should not recite the festive benediction She-Heḥeyanu before the act of ritual slaughter or before putting on new leather shoes because the enjoyment is at the cost of the animal. On the basis of the verse "I will give grass in thy fields for thy cattle, and thou shalt eat and be satisfied" (Deut. 11:15), the rabbis decided that "it is forbidden for a man to eat before he has fed his animal because the animal is mentioned first" (Ber. 40a). This decision accordingly passed into the halakhah and was subsequently codified (Maim., Yad, Avadim 9:8). Out of the same consideration they also legislated that "a man is not permitted to buy animals unless he can properly provide for them" (TJ, Yev. 15:3, 14d; TJ, Ket. 4:8, 29a). The principle of kindness to animals played no less a part in the aggadah than it did in the halakhah. It is as though God's treatment of man will be according to the latter's treatment of animals. This is suggested by the juxtaposition of the promise of long life with the mitzvah of sending the parent bird away before taking the young (Deut. 22:6–7). R. Judah ha-Nasi was divinely punished because he did not show mercy to animals, and the punishment was removed only when his attitude improved, and Moses and David were considered fit to be leaders of Israel only after they had been shepherds (TJ, Kil. 9:3, 32a; BM 85a). In later rabbinic literature, both halakhic and ethical, great prominence is also given to demonstrating God's mercy to animals, and to the importance of not causing them pain (see R. Margaliot (ed.), Sefer Ḥasidim (1957), 589, 667, 668, 670; M. Cordovero, Palm Tree of Deborah (1966), ch. 2–3). Even the necessary inflicting of pain is frowned upon as "cruel."

The rabbinical attitude toward hunting is entirely negative. Harsh things are said about those who hunt even for a living. R. Ezekiel Landau said that "the only hunters we know of (in the Bible) are Nimrod and Esau; it is not the way of the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."

Medieval Jewish philosophers used the principle of ẓa'ar ba'alei ḥayyim to explain various mitzvot. It was suggested that the reason for not plowing with an ox and an ass together (Deut. 22:10) is that the ox, being the stronger, would cause pain to the ass (Ibn Ezra, ibid.). Philosophers from R. Joseph *Albo to R. Abraham Isaac *Kook discussed the question of why it is permitted to eat meat at all and, indeed, from the talmudic statement that "the am ha-areẓ (i.e., "the boor") is forbidden to eat meat" (Pes. 49b), it would seem that its authors were also sensitive to the problem (see D. Cohen , in: La-Ḥai Ro'i (Memorial A.Y. Raanan Kook; 1961), 201–54).


I.A. Dembo, Jewish Method of Slaughter (1894); Wohlgemuth, in: Jeschurun, 14 (1927), 585–610; 15 (1928), 245–67, 452–68; S.H. Dresner, Jewish Dietary Laws, their Meaning for Our Time (1959); S.D. Sassoon, Critical Study of Electrical Stunning and the Jewish Method of Slaughter (19553); E. Bar-Shaul, Mitzvah va-Lev (1960), ch. 1; A. Chafuta, in: No'am, 4 (1961), 218–25; N.Z. Friedman, ibid., 5 (1962), 188–94.

[Zvi Kaplan]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.