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The Jewish Ethicist: Animal Suffering 1

The Jewish Ethicist: Animal Suffering 1

Animals and people are kindred spirits, but far from equals


Q. Is it forbidden to purchase products that were produced due to animal suffering, such as cosmetics tested on animal?

A. We have related to animal welfare questions before, but because of the importance of the topic this time we will discuss it at greater length, in order to express the underlying principles.

Animals have always been an important part of human existence; from the dawn of history until only a few generations ago, virtually every person from the poorest to the richest lived in the intimate company of domestic animals. So it is hardly surprising that the Torah devotes much attention to the place of animals in creation and to their relationship with mankind.

Indeed, following the creation of man the first thing God does is to define his place in creation. First we learn that only man is created in God's image; in the following verse He gives man "dominion over the fish of the sea, and the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth" (Genesis 1:26). Yet in the very next verse He qualifies: "I have given you all the herbs bearing seed on the whole face of the earth, and every tree bearing fruit giving seed, I have given you to eat." Man is meant to dominate the animals, but he is not allowed to eat them, indicating that the animal soul is worthy of consideration.

In the second chapter of Genesis, God sees that Adam needs companionship, "a help corresponding to him." First Adam seeks this companionship among the animals, but he doesn't find it there, but only with Eve, a human companion. Again we see that animals are in some sense kindred spirits to man, but they are not truly friends of companions.

Only two chapters later, we find an additional nuance helping us define the exact relative standing of animals and people. The brothers Cain and Abel both sought to bring a sacrifice to God; Cain brought produce, whereas Abel brought an animal sacrifice, "from the first-born and the fat of his flock" (Genesis 2:3-4). Given the meaningful standing of animals, we might have think that Abel's sacrifice would have been shunned, but we find on the contrary that specifically his offering was accepted. So while eating animals was not permitted, sacrificing them was evidently proper.

In chapter 6, we again find that man and beast have their fates interlinked; faced with rampant immorality, God decides to blot out "both man and beast." Subsequently, there is a noted change in the relationship; we learn that after the flood, mankind is suddenly allowed to eat animals. This could be interpreted to mean that man's status is suddenly elevated, but it is more likely the opposite: that given man's bestial behavior before the flood, man needs a sign of his status to remind him that he is distinguished from the beasts.

As mankind's holy mission is renewed on Mount Sinai at the giving of the Torah, animals are again not neglected; already in the Ten Commandments we find the commandment to give beasts rest on the Sabbath Day. (Exodus 20:9, Deuteronomy 5:13.)

Later we find a host of commandments mandating humane treatment of animals. These include: helping to unload an overburdened draft animal (Exodus 23:5); not muzzling an ox as he helps in threshing the grain. (Deuteronomy 25:4.)

We also find a limitation on the post-diluvian permission to eat meat, as the children of Israel are permitted only certain animals, only after humane slaughter, and without consuming the blood. Many commentators view this is a sign that the giving of the Torah marks the turning point in man's evolution, and sets him back on a path of ethical advancement returning to his exalted status at the time of creation.

Next week we will continue with an explanation and elaboration of the role of animals in Jewish tradition, but the starting point is the statements in the Torah that we have seen today.

July 19, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 9

(9) muman613, July 26, 2009 1:58 AM

I love Animals - I also eat meat

There is no contradiction in loving animals and eating them. I have taken care of cats for 20 years and have a special relationship with many of them. But I also understand the need to eat meat, and I am dealing with it hard during the nine days {when we are not supposed to eat meat because of mourning}. I look at the natural world and see my cats killing and eating birds and mice. I see birds eating worms and bugs. I see bugs eating bugs... It is natural that humans should eat meat. Hashem has provided a framework of being kind to animals and yet allowing man to eat animals. There is no contradiction. As with every character trait Hashem created, there is a time for mercy, and a time for strict judgement. As Avraham teaches us , the man of kindness, he was commanded to sacrifice his son Yitzak. It was a test, as we are all tested. I feed my animals in the morning before I eat. I feed the birds and the cats. Hashem has created a world with purpose, and animals are here for humans to prosper.

(8) Tova Saul, July 22, 2009 12:55 PM

From an Orthodox animal rescuer and EMT

How refreshing it is to read all these pro-animal comments! As for the article----So far, so good, but we'll see what the next one brings, folks......I think that only rabbis who have responsibly owned a dog and/or cat (long-term) should venture to write such an article, in the same way that only women are best suited to speak on the subject of women's role in Judaism. Tomorrow I am leading a nature hike for 22 religious girls most of whom are clinically phobic of dogs and cats. They will never to be able rescue an animal in trouble, therefore being unable to fullfill the mitzva of "tzar 'baal chayim". During the hike, I will tell them some of my best personal experiences of encountering wildlife. Hopefully, that will open their minds a crack toward thinking of animals as beings other than lying on their Shabbat plates.

(7) JUDITH, July 22, 2009 12:35 PM



(6) Elisheva, July 22, 2009 12:26 PM

Cosmetics testing unnecessary cruelty

My cat is certainly a dear friend and companion, and science has now proved that when he sleeps in my lap, he's actually lowering my blood pressure! I'm disabled and alone all day, and we keep each other company. As for cosmetics testing, this is quite unnecessary. Other tests can be used today to show safety and we have a wide variety of non-animal-tested cosmetics and toiletries to choose from. You don't have to be a vegetarian - although many prominent Jews are and were, including Rav Kook - to see that cosmetics testing on animals is a wholly gratuitous form of cruelty. Surely this is forbidden?

(5) Anonymous, July 21, 2009 8:31 PM


In reality, many people do find companionship with pet animals and it is emotionally satisfying to them, especially elderly people living alone. As a vegetarian, I am more concerned about animals than most and believe all living creatures should be treated with respect and kindness.

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