Treatment of Animals
And "Sport Hunting"

"Herod also got together a great quantity of wild beasts, and of lions in very great abundance, and of such other beasts as were either of uncommon strength or of such a sort as were rarely seen. These were trained either to fight one with another, or men who were condemned to death were to fight with them. And truly foreigners were greatly surprised and delighted at the vast expenses of the shows, and at the great danger of the spectacles, but to the Jews it was a palpable breaking up of those customs for which they had so great a veneration." -Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews.

A righteous man knows the soul of his animal - Proverbs 12:10.

Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim: Cruelty to Animals

Judaism places great stress on proper treatment of animals. Unnecessary cruelty to animals is strictly forbidden, and in many cases, animals are accorded the same sensitivity as human beings. This concern for the welfare of animals is unusual in Western civilization. Most civilized nations did not accept this principle until quite recently; cruelty to animals was not outlawed until the 1800s, and even now it is not taken very seriously.

The primary principle behind the treatment of animals in Jewish law is preventing tza'ar ba'alei chayim, the suffering of living creatures. Judaism expresses no definitive opinion as to whether animals actually experience physical or psychological pain in the same way that humans do; however, Judaism has always recognized the link between the way a person treats animals and the way a person treats human beings. A person who is cruel to a defenseless animal will undoubtedly be cruel to defenseless people. Modern psychology confirms this understanding, with many studies finding a relationship between childhood animal cruelty and adult criminal violence. Sadly, the converse is not always true: Hitler loved animals; PETA wrote a letter to Arafat telling him, when he wants to blow up a bus full of Israelis, could he please not hurt a donkey to do it.

In the Bible, those who care for animals are heroes, while those who hunt animals are villains.Jacob, Moses and King David were all shepherds, people who cared for animals (Gen. 30, Ex. 31, I Sam. 17). The Talmud specifically states that Moses was chosen for his mission because of his skill in caring for animals. "The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said 'Since you are merciful to the flock of a human being, you shall be the shepherd of My flock, Israel.'" Likewise Rebecca was chosen as a wife for Isaac because of her kindness to animals. When Abraham's servant asked for water for himself, she volunteered to water his camels as well, and thereby proved herself a worthy wife (Gen. 24).

On the other hand, the two hunters in the Bible, Nimrod and Esau, are both depicted as villains. The Talmud tells the story of a great rabbi, Judah Ha-Nasi, who was punished with years of pain because he was insensitive to the fear of a calf being led to slaughter.

In the Torah, humanity is given dominion over animals (Gen. 1:26), which gives us the right to use animals for legitimate needs. Animal flesh can be consumed for food; animal skins can be used for clothing. The Torah itself must be written on parchment (animal hides), as must mezuzah scrolls, and tefillin must be made out of leather.

However, dominion does not give us the right to cause indiscriminate pain and destruction. We are permitted to use animals in this way only when there is a genuine, legitimate need, and we must do so in the manner that causes the animal the least suffering. Kosher slaughtering is designed to be as fast and painless as possible, and if anything occurs that might cause pain (such as a nick in the slaughtering knife or a delay in the cutting), the flesh may not be consumed. Hunting for sport is strictly prohibited, and hunting and trapping for legitimate needs is permissible only when it is done in the least painful way possible.

Under Jewish law, animals have some of the same rights as humans do. Animals rest on Shabbat, as humans do (Ex. 20:10). We are forbidden to muzzle an ox while it is working in the field (Deut. 25:4), just as we must allow human workers to eat from the produce they are harvesting (Deut. 23:25-26). They can partake of the produce from fields lying fallow during the sabbatical year (Ex. 23:11).

Several commandments demonstrate concern for the physical or psychological suffering of animals. We may not plow a field using animals of different species (Deut. 22:10), because this would be a hardship to the animals. We are required to relieve an animal of its burden, even if we do not like its owner, do not know its owner, or even if it is ownerless (Ex. 23:5; Deut. 22:4). We are not permitted to kill an animal in the same day as its young (Lev. 22:28), and are specifically commanded to send away a mother bird when taking the eggs (Deut 22:6-7), because of the psychological distress this would cause the animal. In fact, the Torah specifically says that a person who sends away the mother bird will be rewarded with long life, precisely the same reward that is given for honoring mother and father (Ex. 20:12; Deut. 5:16), and indeed for observing the whole Torah (Deut. 4:40). This should give some indication of the importance of this law.

We are permitted to violate Shabbat to a limited extent to rescue an animal in pain or at risk of death. For example, we can move them if they are in pain, move objects that we would not otherwise be permitted to touch to relieve their pain, we may give them medicine, and we may ask non-Jews to do things that would violate Shabbat to help a suffering animal.

In the Talmud, the rabbis further dictated that a person may not purchase an animal unless he has made provisions to feed it, and a person must feed his animals before he feeds himself (interpreting Deut. 11:15).

Judaism 101: Treatment of Animals
Judaism and Animals:
Hunting in Law and Tradition

In Western civilization, hunting is seen as a noble and manly pursuit. In Greek and Nordic mythology hunters are heroes; in popular culture hunting is the epitome of manliness.

Jewish culture and law, however, take a different view of hunting. The "Great Hunters" of the Bible are viewed by the Sages of Israel as wicked men: Nimrod, whose very name means "one who rebels [against God]," and Esau, who is the utter antithesis of the spirit of Jewish Civilization.

Rashi, who lived some 900 years ago in France, comments on the first verse of Psalms, "Happy is the one who has not walked in the path of sinners" by saying that this means "one who does not hunt with dogs for sport or entertainment."

Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg, the most influential German rabbi of the 13th century, declared that "whoever hunts animals with dogs, as do the gentiles, will not [partake of the pleasures of the World to Come]."

The Shemesh Tsedaqa, writing in the early 18th century [1681-1740], forbade hunting as a profession and for sport. He said that those who hunt "have taken hold of the occupation of Esau the wicked, and are guilty of cruelty in putting to death God's creatures for no reason. It is a doubled and redoubled duty upon people to engage in matters which make for civilization, not in the destruction of creatures for sport or entertainment." He concludes that killing for purposes of trade would constitute trading in forbidden merchandise.

In Pahad Yitzhak, we find, "Moreover, since the gentiles and idolaters are accustomed to hunting animals and birds with weapons for sport and recreation, the prohibition of 'you shall not walk in their statutes (Lev. 18:3)' applies. Thus a person who indulges in this is unworthy of the name Jew."

Our sages teach that the Torah forbids hunting on several grounds. First, it represents cruelty to animals (tsa'ar ba'alei hayim). Second, it violates the prohibition against wanton destruction. Third, it constitutes "spilling of blood." Fourth, it is a forbidden act of "copying the ways of the pagans." These four grounds represent Biblical prohibitions (Isurei deOraita). One who hunts would thus violate four distinct Biblical commandments and numerous secondary rules.

How we view and treat animals is not unrelated to how we treat people. As part of God's creation, life is of immense value. When we take life for pleasure, we sink to the lowest levels of human existence.
Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen has been the spiritual leader of the Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel in New Haven, Connecticut, USA, since 1993. Rabbi Tilsen is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly, the global organization of 1,600 Masorti-Conservative rabbis.

The Jewish Aversion to Hunting for Sport

We shall begin our discussion on the practice of hunting for sport with the following excerpt from "The Vision of Eden" by Rabbi David Sears:

"Where the wall paintings and bas-reliefs of ancient Assyria and Egypt extol the drama of the hunt, the Torah associates such pursuits exclusively with villains such as Nimrod and Esau. Not only is hunting for sport forbidden; to the Jewish mind, it is almost unthinkable." (Page 62).

Rabbi Sears later cites Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, the noted authority on Torah law, who writes: "Throughout the Torah, we find the sport of hunting imputed only to Nimrod and Esau. This is not the way of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." (Noda B'Yehudah, Yoreh Deah, no. 10)

When I was growing up in New York City during the 1950's and 60's, hunting was a popular American sport, but not among American Jews. Most American Jews, despite their lack of a proper Torah education, still maintained the traditional Jewish aversion to hunting for sport.

During the early 80's, I attended a staff conference at a kosher Jewish hotel in the Catskill Mountains of New York State, and the owner was an elderly Orthodox Jewish man. Although hunting was a popular sport in his region among the non-Jews, he told us with pride that he did not allow hunting on his large hotel estate; thus, the entire estate had become a refuge for wild animals and birds, as they sensed that they were safe there.

A study of Jewish history reveals that Jewish communities did not engage in recreational activities which involve cruelty to human beings or other creatures. For example, activities such as "bull fights" or "animal fights" were unknown in Jewish communities. As Rabbi David Sears writes:

"When Roman citizens flocked to attend animal fights in the Colosseum, such gruesome entertainments were unheard of among the Jews. According to the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 18b), animal fights epitomize the 'dwelling place of scorners' so vehemently decried by the Book of Psalms (1:1).

In the following passage, the historian Josephus describes how King Herod, who ruled the Jewish state towards the end of the Second Temple period, upset the Jewish people by bringing in Roman sports which involved animal fights:

"Herod also got together a great quantity of wild beasts, and of lions in very great abundance, and of such other beasts as were either of uncommon strength or of such a sort as were rarely seen. These were trained either to fight one with another, or men who were condemned to death were to fight with them. And truly foreigners were greatly surprised and delighted at the vast expenses of the shows, and at the great danger of the spectacles, but to the Jews it was a palpable breaking up of those customs for which they had so great a veneration." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews.)

The Jewish people were known for their devotion to the study of Torah - the Divine Teachings; however, due to the process of assimilation, many Jewish men and women in the modern world have not studied their own spiritual tradition. They are therefore unaware of most of the teachings and mitzvos of the Torah for which our people had "so great a veneration." In fact, even those Jewish men and women who are more traditional can be influenced by the surrounding non-Jewish culture. We therefore need to be on guard not to adopt any attitudes and practices from other cultures which are not in harmony with the teachings of Torah - "The Tree of Life" (Proverbs 3:18).

In this spirit, we need to be aware of another reason why hunting for sport is not a Jewish form of recreation. For there is a mitzvah in the Torah which prohibits us from needlessly destroying any creature or object within creation, and the following teaching reminds us of this mitzvah: "One should not uproot plants unless they are needed or kill animals unless they are needed" (The Palm Tree of Devorah, chap. 3).

According to our tradition, the source for this mitzvah can be found in Deuteronomy 20:19; however, a full discussion of this verse and the various aspects of this mitzvah would require a separate series of articles. For the purpose of our discussion, I would like to cite the following comments of the "Sefer Ha-Chinuch" regarding the reason for this mitzvah:

"It is in order to train our spirits to love what is good and beneficial and to cling to it; as a result, the good will cling to us, and we will be distant from every evil thing and from every matter of destructiveness. This is the way of the loving people of piety and the conscientiously observant; they love shalom and are happy at the good fortune of people, and they bring them closer to the Torah. They will not (needlessly) destroy even a mustard seed in the world, and they are distressed at any ruination and spoilage that they see; moreover, if they are able to do any rescuing, they will save anything from destruction with all their power." (Mitzvah 529)

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

Hazon - Our Universal Vision


When it comes to the matter of hunting, there is a wide divergence between Jewish and Christian tradition.

Aside from the identity of the promised Messiah, Christian interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures rely heavily on Jewish sources. The biblical heroes of Judaism are the heroes of Christendom; the enemies of the Chosen People are seen as the enemies of God by Christians as well as Jews. And the historical background, as well as the significance of specific scriptures expounded by Jewish scholars, is accepted by their Christian counterparts. But there is a glaring exception to this reliance on Jewish sources and commentaries. When it comes to the matter of hunting, there is a wide divergence between Jewish and Christian tradition.

The traditional Jewish abhorrence of hunting begins with commentaries on the man called Nimrod. He is the first man the bible describes as a hunter (Genesis 10:9). The Rabbis castigated him for this activity, and linked it to the general degeneracy of his character. The Jerusalem Targum says Nimrod "was mighty in hunting and in sin before God." The Syriac calls him "a warlike giant" And The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel says: "From the foundation of the world none was ever found like Nimrod; powerful in hunting and in rebellions against the Lord." Along with hunting, Nimrod's "rebellions against the Lord" included his founding of the city of Babel, in which the infamous tower was built. Men believed they had become so technologically proficient that they could construct a building that would "reach unto heaven." The egotism and arrogance of that undertaking mirrors the arrogance that led men to kill God's creatures as a diversion or as a demonstration of their prowess.

But it is not only the hunter-as-sportsman who is the target of rabbinic contempt. Commentators who castigate Nimrod have little use for that other biblical hunter, Esau, who ate the animals that he killed.

Esau was the twin who sold his birthright to his brother Jacob, for a bowl of porridge. The bible describes him as a man who spent his time roaming the land, looking for animals to kill (Genesis 25:27) But Jacob his brother, who became the Patriarch of the twelve tribes of Israel, is described as living the life of a farmer, tending the crops that fed his extended family.

Esau, like Nimrod, is considered a contemptible character. The Encyclopedia Judaica reports that "The two famous hunters in the Bible, Nimrod and Esau, were regarded in a derogatory light, as rebels against God and the very antithesis of the spirit of Judaism." The Encyclopedia also reports that "the rabbinical attitude toward hunting is entirely negative. Harsh things are said about those who hunt even for a living."

This condemnation of hunting and hunters continued to mark Judaism. It gained strength throughout Medieval times and by A.D. 1700, Shemesh Zedakah (no. 57) forbade hunting with weapons both as a profession and for sport. With regard to the latter, S. Morpurgo emphatically states that those who hunt "have taken hold of the occupation of Esau the wicked, and are guilty of cruelty in putting to death god's creatures for no reason."

But this ongoing, pervasive, condemnation of hunting within Jewish tradition had no parallel among Christians. In fact, Christianity had increasingly supported the cruelty which vented itself in hunting. In Medieval times it was the wealthy nobles who had the time and the means to indulge their blood lust by killing animals as a recreational pursuit. And because the churches and their clerics coveted the economic and military support of this privileged class, they blessed this slaughter of the innocent.

When men formed hunting "parties" to go out into the woods to kill God's creatures, it was the clerics who validated what they were doing by asking God's blessing on this murderous activity. They also officiated at pre-hunt services in the private chapels of the wealthy, asking God for the grace to kill large numbers of His creatures. And this medieval, Christian attitude still prevails.

The Christian voices that were raised in protest against the wanton murder of animal beings were ignored. Even the repugnance toward hunting and hunters that was encoded in Catholic Canon Law, was ignored. "Esau was a hunter because he was a sinner; and in the Holy Scriptures we do not find a single holy man being a hunter." (From the Corpus Juris Canonici. Rome, 1582.)

In the same century, Saint/Sir Thomas More had written about the kind of community in which economic, political and social rules would reflect mankind's decision to live within the framework of God's plan for the earth. The people of this Godly community would learn that they were "not masters, but stewards of God's creation" and hunting would be forbidden. The inhabitants of this community "would not believe that the divine clemency delights in bloodshed and slaughter, seeing that it has imparted life to animate creatures that they might enjoy life."

But in spite of the many Christian spokesmen who have condemned the abuse and murder of animals since the first century A.D., recreational killing remains an acceptable--and honored--activity for Christians. This is a far cry from the Jewish attitude toward hunting which was articulated by Maimonides and remains a viable, Jewish ethos: "a person who indulges in this sport is unworthy of the name of Jew."

Reprinted from the July/August 1997 issue of Humane Religion. Copyright 1997 by Viatoris Ministries.

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