Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies,
Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center,
and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet
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Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
Parashat Mishpatim (Shekalim) 5761/ February 24, 2001
Against Cruelty to Animals in the Jewish Tradition
Dr. Yael Shemesh
Department of Bible
In the halakhic discussion of whether cruelty to animals is prohibited by
the Torah or only by the Rabbis, most early posekim
held it to be a
For the most part substantiation for
this point of view is derived from the commandment that appears in this
week's reading: "When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its
burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with
him" (Ex. 23:5, and similarly Deut. 22:4)
This article does not purport to be a halakhic discussion of animal rights,
rather it attempts to present a few of the many sources in our Jewish heritage
that reveal a compassionate attitude towards animals, viewing them as creatures
to be treated with consideration.
this investigation of the sources we shall also consider some practical
applications in our own daily lives.
A. Compassion and decency towards animals
The reason given in this week's reading for observing the Sabbath is
"in order that your ox and your ass may rest, and that your bondman and
the stranger may be refreshed" (Ex. 23:12). The Torah acknowledges that
animals have needs which must be taken into consideration and respected, and
protects their right to a day of rest just as it protects the rights of the
bondman and the stranger - the weak and exploited in human society.
Sensitivity to the needs of animals can be seen in other scriptural passages as
well. For example, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it is
threshing" (Deut. 25:4); "You shall not plow with an ox and an ass
together"(Deut. 22:10), for "the Lord had compassion on all His
creatures, insofar as an ass does not have the strength of an ox" (Ibn
Ezra on this verse).
Similarly, limitations and restrictions are placed on the use of animals,
the aim of these precepts being to instruct human beings to shun the cruelty
that finds expression in the cynical exploitation of
"You shall not boil a kid in
its mother's milk" (Ex. 23:19; 34:26; Deut. 14:21); "However,
no animal from the herd or from the flock shall be slaughtered on the same day
with its young" (Lev. 22:28); "If, along the road, you chance upon
a bird's nest, ... do not take the mother together with her young. Let
the mother go, and take only the young" (Deut. 22:6-7).
Various sources indicate that animals are to be treated as individuals,
their needs being taken into consideration. This is implied by the verse,
"A righteous man knows the needs of his beast" (Prov. 12:10), as
well as the homily describing Moses and David as devoted shepherds who gave each
and every one of their flock personal attention. It was this trait of their
personalities that made them worthy in G-d's eyes of leading the Jewish
The following astonishing story, with
its revolutionary message, is told of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi (otherwise known as
"our sacred Rabbi" or simply "Rabbi"): a calf that was
being brought to slaughter shoved its head under the corner of Rabbi's
garment and began bleeting woefully. Rabbi, however, sent him off, saying,
"For that you were created." For this act he was punished measure
for measure: since he had not had mercy on the calf, it was decreed that he
suffer many years of torment. His healing was also measure for measure. Since,
many years later, he had mercy on the litter of a rat and did not allow his
maidservant to sweep them out of the house, Heaven had mercy on him and his
The approach revealed by these sources is diametrically opposed to that of
the modern food industry, which views animals as no more than a factor of
production, like any other input.
attitude towards them is exploitive, with no concern for their welfare.
Therefore, for example, animals are overcrowded in order to economize on
expenses, or hens' biological clocks are fooled by artificial lighting to
make them lay more eggs. Clearly in such a setting one could not expect
individual and personal care of animals.
B. Vegetarianism in Judaism
It is generally accepted in Judaism that the first ten generations of
mankind were vegetarian and that only after the generation of the flood did G-d
allow human beings to eat meat.
59b): "Rabbi Judah quoted Rav:
Eating meat was not permitted to Adam, as it is written, ‘[All the green
grasses]... they shall be yours for food. And to all the animals on
land,...' (Gen. 1:29-30), and He did not permit you the living creatures.
But when the sons of Noah came, He permitted them, as it is said, ‘As with
the green grasses, I give you all these' (Gen. 9:3)."
R. Joseph Albo (circa 1380-1444) explains the retroactive permission to eat
meat as "an attempt of the Torah to combat the yetzer hara (evil
inclination); just as beautiful women were similarly permitted them"
(Sefer ha-Ikarim, 3.15). His view on eating meat is expressed in strong
words: "Aside from the cruelty, rage and fury in killing animals, and the
fact that it teaches human beings the bad trait of shedding blood for naught;
eating the flesh even of select animals will yet give rise to a mean and
insensitive soul" (ibid.).
Similarly Don Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1508) explained in his commentary on
Exodus 16:4 why G-d provided the Israelites in the wilderness "bread from
heaven" (i.e., manna) and not meat:
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: Eating meat is not essential
to one's nutrition; rather, it is a matter of gluttony, of filling
one's belly and of increasing one's lust. Meat also gives rise in
human beings to a cruel and evil temperament. Therefore you will find that the
animals and birds of prey that eat meat are cruel and evil. But sheep and
cattle, hens, turtledoves and doves that sustain themselves on the grass of the
field have neither cruelty nor wickedness in them; therefore the Prophet
destined that in the future era of Redemption "the lion, like the ox,
shall eat straw" (Is. 11:7; 65:25). The reason is explained in the words,
"nothing evil or vile shall be done" (Is. 11:9; 65:25). Therefore
the Holy One, blessed be He, did not tell Moses that He would give the
Israelites meat, rather bread, which is a fitting food and essential for the
human temperament. Hence, "I will rain down bread for you from the
C. Vegetarianism and peace in Rav Kook's vision of the
Rav Abraham Isaac ha-Cohen Kook (1865-1935), himself a vegetarian, in his
writings often addressed the question of the proper attitude one should take
towards animals. These passages, appearing in Afikim ba-Negev and
Talelei Orot, were compiled by Rabbi David Cohen (the Nazir) into a
volume entitled Hazon ha-Tzimhonut ve-ha-Shalom me-Behinah Toranit, from
which the quotations below are cited.
Rav Kook accepted the view of the Sages (Sanhedrin 59b), that eating
meat was forbidden to Adam, and that human beings were only allowed to kill
animals and eat their flesh because of the decline in human caliber over the
generations (p. 49). His views on the moral reprehensibility of eating meat are
expressed in no uncertain terms: "It is an overall moral shortcoming of
mankind, in that it does not promote good and lofty sentiments, to not take the
life of any living creature to use it for one's own needs and
pleasures" (p. 7). Likewise, "It is impossible to imagine that the
Lord of all, who takes pity on His creatures, blessed be He, would make such an
everlasting law in his very good work of Creation, that mankind would not be
able to survive except by violating their sense of morality in shedding blood,
even if it be the blood of animals" (p. 8).
In the words, "when ... you have the urge to eat meat" (Deut.
12:20), he finds "an implied rebuke and parenthetical comment. The verse
allows eating meat "if your inner sense of morality is not abhorred at
eating the flesh of animals, in the same way you are already abhorred at the
thought of eating the flesh of human beings" (p. 11). This state of human
moral degeneracy is a temporary condition: "For when the time comes when
our sense of morality makes eating the flesh of animals disdainful, because of
the moral disgust in so doing, then you will no longer have the urge to eat
meat, and you will not eat it" (ibid.).
Why, then, did the Torah not forbid us to eat meat? Rav Kook explains that
the moral development of humanity must take place gradually. First human beings
must solve the problem of hatred and war in their midst, and only afterwards can
they reach the high level of morality of treating animals morally and justly:
"At the present time, when morality is greatly lacking and the spirit of
impurity has not yet passed from the earth, there can be no doubt that such a
thing [a blanket prohibition against eating meat] would cause many a mishap. As
the animalistic urge to eat meat would increase, there would be no
distinguishing between human flesh and animal flesh" (p. 14).
Thus allowing us to eat meat is a "moral concession" destined
to be annulled in the future (p. 18).
current system of commandments, however, higher moral values trickle down, and
they provide the basis for the change in human behavior towards animals that is
destined to occur in the future (p. 23). For example, we are commanded to cover
the blood after slaughtering in order to remind us that taking the life of an
animal is a morally reprehensible act of which we ought to be ashamed (pp.
Rav Kook stresses that in days to come human morality concerning animals
will not stem from a sense of mercy or "righteous concession," but
will be part of "absolute justice and firmly established law" (p.
22). Moreover, he maintains that in days to come there will be no more animal
sacrifice, only offerings from
D. Practical suggestions for helping reduce cruelty to
Even those who have no intention of changing their way of life and becoming
vegetarian can reduce the suffering they cause animals, without especial effort.
For example, one can refrain from eating
paté de fois
gras or veal, which entail especial cruelty to animals in their production,
or one can switch to eating organic eggs or eggs from free range chickens,
instead of eggs from industrial egg farms. The trouble entailed is negligible,
considering that our moral view of ourselves is partly defined in terms of what
we put on our plates and into our mouths. Below I explain why one ought to
refrain from eating the foods mentioned above.
Eggs from hens in industrial chicken
Hens naturally live in small groups, with social stratification in which
each individual knows its place and identifies the others in its group. They
enjoy taking sand baths, running about the yard and flying around. They lay
their eggs in privacy, in nests which they build. None of this, of course,
exists in commercial chicken coops, where hens are packed, row upon row, into
overcrowded coops (battery hens). The area allotted to each hen is no larger
than the hen herself. They cannot move around, let alone spread their wings.
The wire netting on which they stand often wounds and distorts their feet.
Laying eggs in industrial chicken coops, without an ounce of privacy, has been
described by the zoologist Conrad Lorenz as the cruelest form of torture for a
hen. Overcrowding and tension cause hens to pick at their own feathers of those
of other hens with them in the coop. To prevent this, their beaks are often
snipped while they are still chicks. This procedure is done with a
guillotine-like instrument with blades heated red hot. Since chicks have nerve
endings in the tissue of their beaks, this procedure causes the chicks prolonged
and intense pain.
What can we do? Even those of us who have no intention of
refraining from eating eggs can switch to buying eggs produced by hens grown in
relative freedom. Such egg are often labeled "free range" or
"organic." Free range eggs are preferable because the Society for
Farm Animals supervises the conditions under which the hens are raised. It is
important to know that eggs labeled "fresh farm eggs" are not
organic eggs, rather eggs from commercial chicken coops. Likewise, one should
not be misled by the deceptive pictures of happy, free-roaming hens printed on
certain egg cartons, even though the eggs they contain were actually laid by
battery hens. Eating eggs laid by free range hens is not only preferable
morally but also better for one's health.
Pate de Fois Gras
The process for making pate de fois gras is especially cruel. Geese
are held in tight cages where they cannot move around and expend energy, so that
all the food forced into their bodies will go to fattening them. The geese are
force-fed through a tube that is used to insert vast quantities of food. Geese
that are fattened for the express purpose of enlarging their livers (up to ten
times the normal weight) suffer severe health problems, including tears in the
esophagus (resulting from insertion of the tube), severe breathing difficulties,
swelling of the liver, and internal bleeding. The enlarged, diseased liver
presses on other internal organs. A handbook put out by the Ministry of
Agriculture says such geese "breathe heavily, have pale beaks, have
difficulty walking even to the drinking trough, and are no longer able to digest
food" (force-feeding geese, 1970). Approximately 12% of these geese die
in the course of force-feeding. The product obtained at the end of this cruel
process of force-feeding is a diseased liver, rich in poisons and cholesterol,
derived from a tortured dying goose. Because of the cruelty in the process it
has been outlawed in the United States, England, Sweden and other
What can we do? Very simply, boycott this product, which causes so much
suffering to geese. In addition, when we wish to make reservations at a
restaurant we can check if paté de fois gras is served there, and decide
on these grounds whether or not to give them our business. This would be an
effective measure if we were to inform the restaurant owners (or workers) of the
reason for our decision whether or not to eat there.
Veal comes from calves that have been torn away from their mothers close to
birth and have been intentionally raised in a way that makes them ill. In order
to make their flesh tender and pale, they are fed solely on a liquid diet of
milk substitute, without any iron or fiber, causing the calves to be anemic.
The calves are kept in tight, dark, wooden stalls, where they have not enough
room to turn around. All they can do is stand or lie down. The purpose of such
minimally sized stalls is to prevent the calves from using their muscles, thus
producing more tender meat and preventing what for the growers would be an
unnecessary waste of calories. There is no straw lining the floors of their
stalls. This is to prevent the calves from munching it and thus obtaining iron
in their diet - a nutrient essential to their health but detrimental to
the flavor of the meat they produce. The calves' stalls are so tight that
in their last days they can hardly stand comfortably. The calf's life of
misery comes to an end at the age of about four months, when the calves are
brought to slaughter.
What can we do? Simply refrain from consuming unhealthy meat, which
can be produced only at the cost of severe suffering to young calves.
The most fitting way of concluding this article is with a marvelous quote
from Psalms: "The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is upon all His
works" (Ps. 145:9); and with the fine words of the Midrash, with the
demand it places on each and every one of us: "The Omnipresent is called
merciful, therefore you, too, should be merciful; the Holy One, blessed be He,
shows kindness; therefore you, too, should be kind" (Sifre on
Deuteronomy, 45, s.v. "la-lekhet be-khol
Cf. Yehudah Altschuler, Ha-Yahas
le-Ba'alei Hayyim ve-ha-Tipul bahem le-Or ha-Halakhah
, M.A. thesis,
Bar Ilan University, Ramat-Gan 1996, pp. 153-156; Avraham Steinberg,
"Tza'ar Ba'alei Hayyim le-Or ha-Halakhah
, Vol. 1, Jerusalem 1989, pp. 263-269.
For further information and additional
sources, cf. Richard H. Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism,
1988, pp. 13-30; Judaism and Animal Rights - Classical and Contemporary
, ed. by Roberta Kalechofsky, USA, 1992; Masha Matias Sarid,
"Mivhano shel Moshe - ha-Yahas le-Baalei Hayyim be-Moreshet
," Teva, On u-Vriut
102 (2000), pp. 29-30; 103
(2000), pp. 30-31.
Cf. S.D. Luzzato's commentary on
Ex. 23:19 and Lev. 22:28.
Cf. Exodus Rabbah
Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia
85a; Jerusalem Talmud, Kilayim
9.3; Genesis Rabbah
on Psalms, par. 888, s.v.
." For greater detail, see my article, "Min
ha-Mekorot - R. Yehudah ha-Nasi Lomed le-Rahem al Ba'alei
," Teva, On u-Vriut
102 (2000), pp.
On the intolerable conditions suffered
by animals in the modern food industry cf. Peter Singer, Freeing Animals
Ch. 3: "On the Industrial Farm, or What happened to your meal when it was
still alive." Several of his points are presented in section D,
For more on the connection between
Judaism and vegetarianism, see Richard Schwartz, op. cit
., note 2, above,
entirely devoted to this subject. Also see Rabbis and Vegetarianism: An
, ed. by Roberta Kalechofsky, USA 1995; a bibliography on
this subject may be found in the book by Rinah Lee, Agnon ve-ha-Tzimhonut
- Iyyunim be-Yetzirotav shel S. Y. Agnon min ha-Hebet ha-Tzimhoni
Tel Aviv 1994, pp. 20-22.
He also says that these are
"concessions made under pressure," and that "the Torah
included them only against the evil inclination" (p. 20).
Cf. David Sperber, "Korbanot
le-Atid la-Vo be-Mishnat ha-Re'ayah,"
ha-Re'ayah - Masot u-Mehkarim be-Torato shel ha-Rav Kook,
, Jerusalem 1992, pp. 97-112.
Cf. Singer, op. cit.
134-156 (Hebrew edition); Russanah Berghoff, "Ma ba kodem, ha-Betzah o
?" Anonymous (le-Zekhuyot Ba'alei
), Fall 1999, pp 8-10.
From Pitum Avazim
published by the Amutah le-Ma'an
(Assoc. for Farm Animals), Rishon le-Ziyyon, 1997.
Cf. Singer, op. cit.