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Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers) Related to Judaism and Animal Treatment

There has recently been much interest in animal issues, especially related to diet, animal experimentation, and the wearing of fur. What should be the reaction of Jews to this subject? The following, in question and answer form, provides some background, and perhaps will help begin a respectful dialogue on this increasingly important topic.

1. What does Judaism teach about the proper treatment of animals?

Judaism teaches that we are forbidden to be cruel to animals and that we must treat them with compassion. Since animals are part of God’s creation, people have special responsibilities to them. These concepts are summarized in the Hebrew phrase tsa’ar ba’alei chayim, the biblical mandate not to cause “pain to any living creature.” While the Torah clearly indicates that people are to have “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28), there was to be a basic relatedness, and people were to consider the rights of animals. Animals are also God’s creatures, possessing sensitivity and the capacity for feeling pain; hence they must be protected and treated with compassion and justice.

God made treaties and covenants with animals, just as with humans:

“As for me,” says the Lord, “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; all that go out of the ark, even every beast of the earth.” (Gen. 9:9-10)

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. (Hos. 2:20)

The Psalms indicate God’s concern for animals, for “His tender mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:9). They pictured God as “satisfying the desire of every living creature” (Ps. 145:16), “providing food for the beasts and birds” (Ps. 147:9), and, in general, “preserving both man and animal” (Ps. 36:7).

Perhaps the Jewish attitude toward animals is best summarized by the statement in Proverbs 12:10, “The righteous person regards the life of his or her animal.” This is the human counterpoint of “The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:9). In Judaism, one who is cruel to animals cannot be regarded as a righteous individual.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch eloquently summarizes the Jewish view on treatment of animals:

Here you are faced with God’s teaching, which obliges you not only to refrain from inflicting unnecessary pain on any animal, but to help and, when you can, to lessen the pain whenever you see an animal suffering, even through no fault of yours. [Horeb, Chapter 60, #416]

2. Which Torah laws involve compassion for animals?

(1) It is forbidden to cause pain to any animal. Maimonides (1135-1214) [1] and R. Judah ha-Hasid (1150-1217) [2] stated that this is based on the biblical statement of the angel of God to Balaam, “Wherefore have you smitten your ass?” (Num. 22:32). This verse is used in the Talmud as a prime source for its assertion that we are to treat animals humanely. [3]

(2) “You shall not muzzle an ox when he threshes the corn” (Deut. 25:4).

(3) “You shall not plow with an ox and an ass together” (Deut. 22:10). This was extended to not yoking a strong and a weak animal together.

(4) “A person should not eat before first providing for his animals.” [based on Deuteronomy 11:15]

(5) Animals too must be able to rest on the Sabbath day. The kiddush (sanctification over wine or grape juice) that is recited on Sabbath mornings includes the following verse from the Ten Commandments:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the Lord, thy God, in it you shall not do any manner of work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your man-servant, nor your maid-servant, nor your cattle, nor the stranger that is within your gates. (Exod. 20:8-10)

(6) It is forbidden to sacrifice a newborn ox, sheep, or goat until it has had at least seven days of warmth and nourishment from its mother (Lev. 22:27).

(7) “And whether it be ox or ewe, you shall not kill it and its young both in one day” (Lev. 22:28).

(8) We are forbidden to take the mother bird and its young together. The mother bird must be sent away before its young are taken. (Deut. 22:6-7).

(9) We should not boil a kid in the milk of its mother. (Exodus 23:19, 34:26; Deuteronomy 14:21)

(10) Animals should be relieved from suffering:

If you see the ass of him that hates you lying under its burden, you shall surely not pass by him; you shall surely unload it with him. (Exod. 23:5)

(11) We must be vigilant for the well-being of a lost animal:

You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep driven away and hide yourself from them; You shall surely bring them back to your brother. (Deut. 22:1).

3. What are examples of kindness to animals shown by great Jewish heroes?

Many great Jewish heroes of the Bible were trained for their tasks by being shepherds of flocks.

Moses was tested by God through his shepherding:

While our teacher Moses was tending the sheep of Jethro in the wilderness a lamb ran away from him. He ran after her until she reached Hasuah. Upon reaching Hasuah she came upon a pool of water [whereupon] the lamb stopped to drink. When Moses reached her he said, “I did notknow that you were running because [you were] thirsty. You must be tired.” He placed her on his shoulder and began to walk. The Holy One, blessed be He, said, “You are compassionate in leading flocks belonging to mortals; I swear you will similarly shepherd my flock, Israel.” (Exodus Rabbah 2:2)

The greatest Jewish teacher, leader, and prophet was found worthy, not because of abilities as a speaker, statesman, politician, or warrior, but because of his compassion for animals!

God also deemed David worthy of tending the Jewish people because he, like Moses, knew how to look after sheep, bestowing upon each the care it needed. David used to prevent the more mature sheep from going out before the smaller ones. The smaller ones were then able to graze upon the tender grass. Next he permitted the old sheep to feed from the ordinary grass, and finally the more mature sheep at the tougher grass. (Exodus Rabbah 2:2)

Rebecca was judged suitable to be Isaac’s wife because of the kindness she showed to animals. Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, asked Rebecca for water for himself. She not only gave him water, but also ran to provide water for his ten thirsty camels who had just crossed a desert. Rebecca’s concern for camels was evidence of a tender heart and compassion for all God’s creatures. It convinced Eliezer that Rebecca would make a suitable wife for Isaac (Gen. 24:11-20).

The patriarch Jacob also demonstrated concern for animals. After their reconciliation, his brother Esau said to him, “Let us take our journey and let us go, and I will go before you.” But “My lord knows that the children are tender, and that the flocks and the herds giving suck are a care to me; and if my workers overdrive them one day, all the flocks will die. Let my lord, I pray you, pass over before his servant and I will journey on gently, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come unto my lord, unto Seir” (Gen. 33:12-14).

4. How are farm animals treated today?

[This material and the rest of this material was written about 20 years ago, in preparation for publishing the 3rd edition of my book, “Judaism and Vegetarianism,” so some updating may be needed.]

As we have seen, the Jewish tradition stresses compassion for animals and commands that we strive to avoid causing them pain (tsa’ar ba’alei chayim ). Unfortunately, the conditions under which animals are raised for food today are quite different from any the Torah would endorse. Chickens are raised for slaughter in long, windowless, crowded sheds, where they never see sunlight, breathe fresh air, or get any exercise. From hoppers suspended from the roof, they obtain food and water, along with many chemical additives according to a programmed schedule. Crowding is so bad that chickens cannot even stretch their wings once they have become bigger. The results of these very unnatural conditions are potential feather-pecking and cannibalism. To avoid this, the lighting is kept very dim, the chickens are given special contact lenses, and more drastically, they are “de-beaked.” De-beaking involves cutting off part of the chicken’s beak with a hot knife while its head is held in a guillotine-like device, a very painful process.

Ruth Harrison describes the results of her observations of current methods of raising chickens in her excellent book, Animal Machines. She found that the chickens seemed to have lost their minds; their eyes gleamed through the bars, they viciously pecked at any hand within reach, and they pulled feathers out of other chickens’ backs looking for flesh and blood to eat.

Because so many birds are killed daily in continuous operations by the vast breeding companies, a prayer which should be recited upon the ritual slaughter of every bird has become a prayer for every thousand birds.

There is tremendous cruelty in the forced feeding of ducks and geese to produce pate de foie gras. Foie gras literally means fat liver. The liver of a goose or duck is fattened by having 60 to 80 pounds of corn inserted by force down its gullet. The farmer generally holds the neck of the goose between his legs, pouring the corn with one hand and massaging it down the neck with the other. When this process is no longer effective, a wooden plunger is used to compact it still further. The bird suffers unimaginable pain, and as the liver grows to an enormous size, sclerosis of the liver develops. Finally, after 25 days of such agony, when the bird is completely stupefied with pain and unable to move, it is killed and the gigantic liver, considered a delicacy, is removed. Currently machines are used to force-feed birds to make the process more “efficient,” with greater resultant agony.This process has been banned in Israel and in some US states.

Although it would seem impossible to surpass the cruelties described in the previous cases, perhaps this occurs in raising veal calves. After being allowed to nurse for only 1 or 2 days (a violation of Jewish law), the veal calf is removed from its mother, with no consideration of its need for motherly nourishment, affection, and physical contact. The calf is locked in a small slotted stall without enough space to move around, stretch, or even lie down. To obtain the pale, tender veal desired by consumers, the calf is purposely kept anemic by giving it a special high-calorie, iron-free diet. The calf craves iron so much that it would lick the iron fittings on its stall and its own urine if permitted to do so; it is prevented from turning by having its head tethered to the stall. The stall is kept very warm and the calf is not given any water, so that it will drink more of its high-calorie liquid diet. The very unnatural conditions of the veal calf — its lack of exercise, sunlight, fresh air, proper food and water and any emotional stimulation make for a very sick, anemic animal. The calf leaves its pen only when taken for slaughter; sometimes it drops dead from the exertion of going to slaughter.

5. Summarize the Inconsistencies Between How Animals Are Raised Today and Jewish Values?

As the previous examples indicate, the conditions under which animals are raised today are completely contrary to the Jewish ideals of compassion and the requirement to avoid tsa’ar ba’alei chayim . Instead of animals being free to graze on the Sabbath day to enjoy the beauties of creation, they are confined for all of their lives to darkened, crowded cells without air, natural light, or the ability to exercise. Whereas the Torah mandates that animals should be able to eat the products of the harvest as they thresh in the fields, today animals are given chemical fatteners and other additives in their food, based on computer programs. Where Judaism indicates consideration for animals by mandating that a strong and weak animal not be yoked together, veal calves spend their entire lives standing on slats, their necks chained to the sides, without sunlight, fresh air, or exercise.

The pre-eminent 18th-century rabbinic authority, R. Ezekiel Landau asserted that the mere killing of an animal for food does not violate the prohibition against tsa’ar ba’alei chayim ; this prohibition is only applicable “if he causes (the animal) pain while alive.” [4] In view of the horrible conditions under which animals are raised today, it would be difficult to argue that this biblical prohibition is not being severely violated.

Jews who continue to eat meat raised under such conditions help to support a system which is contrary to basic Jewish principles and obligations.

6. Don’t the laws of shechita provide for a humane slaughter of animals so that we need not be concerned with violations of tsa’ar ba’alei chayim ?

It is true that shechita has been found in scientific tests conducted in the United States and other countries to be a relatively painless method of slaughter. [5] But can we consider only the final minutes of an animal’s life? What about the tremendous pain and cruelty involved in the entire process of raising and transporting animals? When the consumption of meat is not necessary and is even harmful to people’s health, can any method of slaughter be considered humane? Is this not a contradiction in terms?

7. Doesn’t vegetarianism place greater priority on animal rights than on the many problems related to human welfare.

Vegetarian diets are not beneficial only to animals. They also improve human health, help hungry people through better sharing of food and other resources, put less stress on endangered ecosystems, conserve valuable resources, and reduce the potential for war and violence. In view of the many global threats related to today`s livestock agriculture, working to promote vegetarianism may be the most important action that one can take for global survival. Also, a concern for animal suffering hardly excludes concern for human suffering. There is no limit to human moral concern.

8. Haven`t Jews historically had many problems with some animal rights groups which have often opposed kosher shechita and advocated its abolishment?

Jews should work to improve conditions for animals not because of the views of animal rights groups, whether they are hostile to Judaism or not, but because it is the approach most consistent with Jewish values. It is the Torah, not animal rights groups, that indicate how far the treatment of animals is from fundamental Jewish teachings.

While there is probably some extremism and anti-Semitism in the animal rights movement, as there is in almost every movement, most vegetarian and animal rights advocates are people of good will who are rightfully appalled by how our society treats animals today and by the many negative effects of livestock agriculture with regard to pollution, hunger, and human health. The fact that many people have misconceptions about Jewish practices is all the more reason for greater involvement by knowledgeable and committed Jews.

It is important that the Jewish community engage in respectful dialogue with animal rights groups so that our teachings and our religious needs become better known to them.

The Jewish community should also consider how cruelty to animals can be minimized while meeting all halachic requirements. It is time for a commission of scholars and rabbis to consider how modern technology related to animals impinges upon Jewish teachings.

9. What about vivisection (experiments on animals)? Don’t we need this for improved human health?

As indicated previously, the Torah mandates that we show compassion to animals. However, in Judaism, animals are not considered to be equal to human beings, as the Torah indicates that only human beings are created in God’s image. Hence, Judaism sanctions animal experiments that benefit humans, as long as unnecessary pain is avoided. The question thus becomes one of whether or not people are really benefited and if other methods are available.

While most laboratory experiments on animals are designed to discover cures for diseases related to our high consumption of flesh foods, human beings would benefit far more through vegetarian (and even more so vegan) diets and other positive lifestyle changes? There is no justification for having a diet which requires horribly cruel treatment of animals (along with the many other negatives of such diets), and then brutally mistreating millions of other animals to seek cures for illnesses related to that diet.

Do experiments performed on animals produce results which are valid for people, especially when diseases in the test animals are artificially induced? There is an ever-growing list of drugs that were deemed safe after very extensive animal testing, which later proved to be carcinogenic, mutagenic (causing birth defects) or toxic (poisonous) to humans. Conversely, penicillin, our most useful antibiotic is toxic to many animal species.

Many laboratory experiments are completely unnecessary. Must we force dogs to smoke to reconfirm the health hazards of cigarettes? Do we have to starve dogs and monkeys to understand human starvation? Do we need to cut, blind, burn, and chemically destroy animals to produce another type of lipstick, mascara, or shampoo?

A reduction of animal experiments does not mean that experiments have to be done on people. Healthier lifestyles would avoid the need for many experiments. Also many new approaches to advancing scientific knowledge have been developed. Dr. Fred Rosner, a modern expert on Jewish medical ethics, states that if alternate means, e .g. tissue culture studies, are available for obtaining the same information, animal experimentation might be considered as unnecessary cruelty to animals, and be prohibited. [6] Dr. Rosner also indicates that animal experiments would not be permitted simply to satisfy intellectual curiosity, without a definite medical objective. [7]

10. Isn’t much of Judaism today related to the use of animals for teaching and ritual purposes? (Consider the Sefer Torah, Tefillin, the shofar (ram’s horn used on Rosh Hashanah and at the end of Yom Kippur), etc. ?

The number of animals slaughtered for these purposes is minute compared to the billions killed annually for food. The fact that there would still be some animal slaughter to meet Jewish ritual needs shouldn’t stop us from doing all we can to end the horrible abuses of animals. Also, most problems related to flesh-centered diets — poor human health, waste of food and other resources, and ecological threats — would not occur if animals were slaughtered only to meet Jewish ritual needs. Our emphasis should be on doing a minimum amount of harm to other people, the environment, and animals. The fact that some animal products are required for sacred uses (a very small amount) should not prevent a person from becoming a vegetarian. Also, tefillin and other ritual products can be made from the leather of animals that were raised without cruelty and died a natural death. This is the Jewish idea, and involves hiddur mitzvah, the enhancement of the mitzvah.

11. Instead of advocating vegetarianism, shouldn’t we try to alleviate the evils of the factory farming system so that animals are treated better, less grain is wasted, and less health-harming chemicals are used?

The breeding of animals is a big business, whose prime concern is profit. Animals are raised the way they are today because it increases profits. Improving conditions, as suggested by this question, would certainly be a step in the right direction, but it would be strongly resisted by the meat industry and, if successful, would greatly increase already high prices.

Here are two counter questions. Why not abstain from eating meat as a protest against present policies while trying to improve them? Even under the best of conditions, why take the life of a creature of God, “whose tender mercies are over all His works,” when it is not necessary for proper nutrition?

12. Isn’t it important that we keep our priorities straight? How can we be so concerned about animals when there are so many critical problems related to people today?

There is an ecological principle that “everything is connected to everything else.” This means that every action has many ramifications. Hence, adopting vegetarian (and even more so vegan) diets not only reduces brutal treatment of animals; it also improves human health, reduces stress on threatened ecosystems, conserves resources, and provides the potential to reduce widespread hunger. In view of the many threats related to livestock agriculture, next to attempting to reduce the chance of nuclear war, working to promote vegetarianism may be the most important action one can take for global survival.

While it is true that there are some people who love animals and are cruel to people, the reverse is more often the case: those who are cruel to animals are also cruel to human beings. Some of history’s greatest humanitarians were vegetarians and/or strong advocates of vegetarianism. Among Jews, these include Isaac Bashevis Singer, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Franz Kafka, and Isaac Leib Peretz.

13. Can’t one work to improve conditions for animals without being a vegetarian or vegan?

Certainly. There are many areas where animals are abused today, and certainly there is much that needs to be done. However, one should keep in mind that the major area of animal abuse is related to factory farming. According to FARM (Farm Animal Reform Movement), “The number of warm-blooded animals brutalized and slaughtered each year is approximately 70 times the number of animals killed in laboratories, 30 times the number killed by hunters and trappers, and 500 times the number killed in pounds. An animal welfare advocate who eats meat is personally responsible for the slaughter of 22 warm-blooded animals per year, 1,500 in a lifetime and probably many more, slaughtered for the advocate’s meat-eating family and pets.

14. What is the Jewish view of hunting?

The rabbis strongly disapproved of hunting as a sport. [8] A Jew is permitted to capture fish, flesh, or fowl only for purposes of human food or another perceived essential human need, but to destroy an animal for “sport”, fashion, or vanity constitutes wanton destruction and is to be condemned. Based on the statement “not to stand in the way of sinners” (Ps. 1:1), the Talmud prohibits association with hunters [9]. A query was addressed to Rabbi Ezekiel Landau (1713-93) by a man wishing to know if he could hunt in his large estate, which included forests and fields. The response stated:

In the Torah the sport of hunting in imputed only to fierce characters like Nimrod and Esau, never to any of the patriarches 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. [10]

15. Doesn’t the slaughter of food animals produce valuable by-products?

Today, most animal products, such as leather, gelatin, and bone material can be replaced by synthetic substitutes. As the demand for these substitute products continues to increase, they will become more readily available, cheaper, and of higher quality. If animals were no longer slaughtered for food, some animal products could still be obtained from animals that died natural deaths.

16. Don’t meat-producers take good care of their animals since their profits depend on it?

Profits depend on obtaining the maximum output in terms of pounds of animals with the least expenditure in terms of such factors as food and energy. Producers have found that crowding animals into very small spaces increases profits, until the point where the crowding is so great that the number of animals that die prematurely becomes too costly. This is similar to the transportation of slaves: it was considered “economical” to crowd slaves on the slave ships, even though some died during the trip.

17. Aren’t animals raised for the kosher food market treated more compassionately than other food animals?

Unfortunately, animals raised for the kosher market are generally raised under the same conditions as non-kosher animals. It is only the process of slaughter that differs.

18. Doesn’t humane legislation ensure the welfare of farm animals?

On both state and federal levels, the raising of animals for food is specifically exempted from every piece of humane legislation. Strong opposition from the powerful farm lobby has defeated every legislative effort to even study the treatment of farm animals.

19. Since animals kill each other in nature, why should we be concerned about killing animals for food?

Predator animals have no choice. They must eat other animals in order to live. Perhaps this is the way that nature takes care of old and weak animals that would not be able to survive much longer anyway. But human beings do have a choice, and we now know that we can be very healthy on a vegetarian diet, in fact far healthier than on a meat-based diet. Hence, there is no good reason to raise and slaughter animals for food.

20. What is the Jewish view of using animal organs for transplants for humans?

As indicated previously, Judaism puts higher value on human life than it does on animal life. Hence, it would not object to animal to human transfers if it has positive benefits for people. But, as with animal experimentation, this is a case of relying on technology rather than on preventing disease through better diets and lifestyle changes. Results of such transplants have not been good so far as people receiving them have not lived longer than a few months. If the tremendous amounts of money spent on research related to these transplants were spent to educate people about ways to prevent disease, there would be far greater benefits for human health. Much of our current health care crisis is the result of a wasteful deployment of funds for medical research and technology, rather than for education in personal health and prevention.

21. What does the Jewish tradition teach about the wearing of furs?

Based on the prohibition of tsa’ar ba’alei chayim, Rabbi Haim Dovid Halevy, Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv issued a p’sac (rabbinic ruling)in March, 1992, prohibiting the manufacturing and wearing of fur. He based his decision on an extensive research of the Torah, the Talmud, and other authoritative texts.

More information on this and other questions can be found in the animals treatment section of my over 250 articles at www.JewishVeg.org/schwartz.

Notes

1. Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, 3:17.

2. Sefer Hasidim (ed. Reuben Margolies), No. 666.

3. Baba Metzia 32b; Shabbat 128b.

4. R. Ezekiel Landau, Teshuvot Noda bi-Yehudah, Mahadura Kamma Yoreh De’ah, No. 83.

5. See the extensive discussion in Schochet, Animal Life in Jewish Tradition, pp. 283-287.

6. Fred Rosner, “Animal Experimentation: the Jewish View”, in the 1986 Jewish Directory and Almanac, Ivan L. Tillem, ed. (New York: Pacific Press, 1986), p. 471.

7. Ibid.

8. Encyclopedia Judaica 8:1111

9. Avodah Zorah 18b

10. Yoraah De’ah , 2nd Series, 10.

Bibliography

Jewish-Related Books

[This bibliography was produced about 20 years ago so later books are bot included.]

Berman, Louis. Vegetarianism and the Jewish Tradition. New York: Ktav, 1982. A comprehensive review of connections between Judaism and vegetarianism.

Cohen Noah J. Tsa’ar Ba’ale Hayim, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Jerusalem/New York: Feldheim Publishers, 1976. A comprehensive, well-documented study of the “bases, development and legislation in Hebrew literature” related to the treatment of animals.

Kalechofsky, Roberta. Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb. Marblehead, Massachusetts: Micah Publications, 1985. Valuable material for conducting a vegetarian Passover seder.

Kalechofsky, Roberta. Judaism and Animals Rights — Classical and Contemporary Responses. Marblehead, Massachusetts: Micah Publications, 1992. A wide varieties of articles on animal rights, vegetarianism, animal experimentation, from the perspective of Judaism.

Regenstein, Lewis G. Replenish the Earth. New York: Crossroad, 1991. Subtitle is “A History of Organized Religion`s Treatment of Animals and Nature — Including the Bible`s Message of Conservation and Kindness Toward Animals.”

Schwartz, Richard H. Judaism and Vegetarianism. Marblehead, Massachusetts: Micah Publications, 1988. The case for vegetarianism, from a Jewish perspective. Includes 37 questions and answers.

General Books

Rifkin, Jeremy. Beyond Beef — The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture. New York: Dutton, 1992. Powerful analysis of the many negative effects related to the raising of cattle and the consumption of beef.

Robbins, John. Diet For a New America. Walpole, New Hampshire: Stillpoint Publishing, 1987. Extremely popular book that documents health, animal rights, and ecological reasons for not eating flesh, eggs, and dairy foods.

Schell, Orville. Modern Meat. New York: Vintage Books, 1985. Detailed discussion about many problems related to the production and consumption of meat.

Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. New York: New York Review of Books, 1990. An updated, expanded version of the pioneering book that ignited the animal rights movement.

Singer, Peter (editor). In Defense of Animals. New York: Harper and Row, 1985. An anthology of articles by 16 animal rights activists.


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