Jewish theology and the animal

The oneness of Creation

Jewish theologists and scientists have, other than their Christian colleagues, intensively occupied themselves with the animals. The oneness of Creation in fact got lost within Christian theology by the absolute separation between man and animal. In Jewish theology more emphasis is put on the resemblance both have -in spite of their decisive difference- as well as on the responsibility of mankind (being stronger) for the animal being weaker and entrusted to his care. The general rule by which man's behavior towards animals is compared, is "make no other living creature suffer from pain", i.e. cruelty against animals is strongly forbidden. He who behaves cruel towards animals, is not considered to live justifiable. For that reason the Book of Proverbs 12:10 says that "the just knows what is due to this cattle". The instructions and prohibitions based on this general rule, can be found in the Halacha.The Halacha is a collection of laws and rules of conduct for all aspects of life, that include the laws and instructions of the Torah. Orthodox Jews are subjected to the Halacha as firmly as to the Torah. Halachic directives, stemming directly from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, are: Exodus 20: 8-10 where it is also commanded not to put cattle to work on the Shabbat. Exodus 23: 4, 5 that says an animal that lost its way has to be brought back to its owner and one is obliged to unload an over-loaded donkey (even if the owner is your enemy). Deuteronomy 25: 4 it is forbidden that the farmer would muzzle the ox threshing his corn: the animal should be able to eat during work just al freely as a man would do. The feelings of animals are taken into account in Deuteronomy 22: 6, 7 where it says you are not allowed to empty a nest in the presence of the mother bird. Leviticus 22: 26, 27: a calf, lamb or young goat is not to be taken away from it's mother before the eighth day and also it is forbidden to slaughter it together with the mother on the same day.

Other Halachic directives

Killing animals for fashion or out of vanity

In March 1992 on the basis of the general rule "not to harm any living creature or make it suffer", a ban was ordered on production as well as wearing fur, based on extensive study of the Torah, Talmuth and other influential texts.

Killing animals for "sports"

Hunting animals including hunting them for pleasure, is considered to be in defiance of the general rule. Even being in contact with hunters is forbidden on the basis of Psalm 1: 1 "Blessed the man who does not walk on the path of the sinners". The outstanding 18th century rabbinical authority Ezekiel Landau, gave the following answer to a man who asked him if he was allowed to hunt on his own premisses: "In the Torah the sport of hunting is only ascribed to wild characters such as Nimrod and Esau, but never to one of the patriarchs and their offspring. I fail to understand how a Jew can even dream of killing animals just for the pleasure of hunting. If a sport leads to killing, it is sheer cruelty".

Killing animals for human consumption

As such this is not considered to be a violation of the 'general rule', provided the killing takes place painlessly. (The Jewish scientists are convinced, based on scientific research, that ritual slaughter is as good as painless. Many non-Jewish authorities however, oppose this view). The breeding and keeping of animals meant for human consumption is unbreakably connected with slaughtering them. Many Jews question themselves whether factory/industrial farming is tolerable. Answering questions on this matter, a Jewish scientist has put it this way: such farming methods are totally in conflict with the demand "not to make any living creature suffer from pain". Cutting beaks, clipping wings, docking tails etcetera fully offend the Halachic prohibition on the mutilation of animals. The lack of being outside in the fresh air, the lack of space to be free to move around and the impossibility to behave in natural ways, cause immense suffering for the animals. An official Halachic decision on the admissibility of industrial/factory farming seems not to be available (yet). It is also questionable whether such decision will ever be made. Most probably orthodox theologists do not dare to order such a prohibition, because a great many Jewish people both in Israël and in the United States of America own large poultry farms on industrial scale. Liberal Halacha-experts by the way, are quite capable of interpreting the laws in such manner that much that cannot be permitted by Halachic laws nevertheless is declared to be allowed, as becomes clear as follows.

Experiments on animals

A liberal American Halacha-expert says "that 'progressive' Jewish Halachic scientists are of the opinion 'that animals can be used in experiments that lead to the discovery of new methods to treat diseases. Every provision that prevents pain and unnecessary suffering has to be made. Throughout the centuries there have been authorities whose idea it was that animals can be used for the benefit of man, even if that comes with some suffering, especially when the result is regaining health (of people). This standpoint is generally taken towards medical experiments, especially when there is an immediate use for man, as long as severe pain can be avoided and no other methods are available". Finally he says that making use of animals for experimental purposes knows precise regulations and 'as long as such regulations are strictly being followed, the Halacha and our ways of using animals in experiments are in agreement". It is of course easy and convenient not to worry about the question if severe pain is indeed being avoided (cán be avoided), how precise the rules and directions are and whether or not protocols are strictly being followed! After all it is only too well-known how the animals in the laboratories suffer. We are not familiar with Halachic verdicts about genetic manipulation and xeno-transplantation.
January 2000 Workshop 'Church and Animal' Foundation Netherlands How Muslims treat animals to obtain 'hallal' meat during the 'sacrificial feast', is illustrated here.

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