From ancient times Judaism has expressed concern for the welfare of animals. This principle is referred to as tsa'ar ba'alei chayim (do not cause sorrow to living creatures). Since the animal kingdom is part of God's creation, human beings are to exercise responsibility for their care. Thus the Book of Genesis declares that humankind is to dominate all living things (1:26-28). Here the concept of dominance is interpreted as stewardship: humans are to ensure that all living creatures are treated humanely. Such an attitude is exemplified in the Torah, which lists various laws governing the treatment of animals. The Book of Deuteronomy, for example, states that when an ox is threshing grain, it should be allowed to eat what has been beaten out (25: 4). Again, Deuteronomy 22:1-3 states that all Israelites are to look after domestic animals that have been lost. Such kindness toward the beasts of the field should be extended to other living things. Specific legislation is also put forth to ensure that animals will be protected in other circumstances.
Following such biblical commands, the rabbis of later centuries emphasized the need for animal welfare*; in their view, all living things are part of the created order and therefore require special consideration. Maimonides, a 12th-century Jewish philosopher, stated, ''It is... prohibited to kill an animal with its young on the same day ... for the pain of the animals under such circumstances is very great.'' Such a concern not to cause animals pain* is reflected in the various prescriptions regarding killing of animals for food. In the Jewish tradition, meat eating is regarded as giving in to human weakness; in this light, animals must be spared pain when they are slaughtered. Only a properly qualified slaughterer is permitted to engage in such an activity; he is to be a pious and sensitive person. The knife used must be sharp and clean without imperfections so that animals are slaughtered as painlessly as possible; the act of slaughter should render the animal senseless. Although arguably more humane methods of slaughter have been introduced in the modern world involving prestunning (see TRANSPORTATION AND SLAUGHTER), this ancient practice was intended to cause as little suffering as possible. Such concern about animal welfare is reflected in a variety of incidents in which the rabbis expressed the importance of preventing cruelty to animals. These acts of compassion were perceived as equivalent to prayers. According to tradition, vegetarianism* is the ideal state that existed in the Garden of Eden and will prevail in the Messianic Age. Increasingly, Jews from across the religious spectrum are embracing this form of consumption.
The primary source dealing with animal experimentation is the commentary of Rabbi Moses Isserles in the Code of Jewish Law. Here he states that animal experiments are permissible only if they advance human welfare. The principle of tsa'ar ba'alei chayim would rule out such scientific procedures for inessential human needs and would encourage the pursuit of alternative methods of research.
The principle of compassion for all living creatures similarly applies to hunting.* Judaism categorically condemns all forms of hunting for pleasure, including fox hunting, bullfights, dogfights, and cockfights. In the same spirit, the Jewish tradition is opposed to killing animals for their pelts: hence the Jewish faith would condemn such practices as using bone-crushing leghold traps (see TRAPPING) to capture wild animals or clubbing baby seals and skinning them while alive.
Selected Bibliography. Berman, Louis, Vegetarianism and the Jewish Tradition (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1981); Cohen, Noah, Tsa'ar Ba'ale Hayim: The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Its Bases, Development, and Legislation in Hebrew Literature (Spring Valley, NY: Feldheim, 1979); Kalechofsky, Roberta (Ed.), Judaism and Animal Rights (Marblehead, MA: Micah Publications, 1992); Kalechofsky, Roberta, and Richard H. Schwartz, Vegetarian Judaism: A Guide for Everyone (Marblehead, MA: Micah Publications, 1988); Phillips, A., Animals and the Torah, Expository Times, June 1995.
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