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The Jewish Ethicist: Judaism and Hunting

The Jewish Ethicist: Judaism and Hunting

Jewish tradition has a poor regard for hunting as a pastime.


Q. Does Judaism permit hunting for sport?

A. Hunting has been a popular pastime since ancient times, and continues to be a popular sport today. Over ten million hunting licenses are taken out each year in the United States alone, showing that hunting is one of America's most popular sports. There is no reason to doubt that hunting is on the whole a harmless sport practiced by worthy individuals. However, it is necessary to acknowledge that Jewish tradition has a very poor regard for this pastime.

The first hunter we meet in the Torah is Nimrod. The Torah tells us:

Cush was the father of Nimrod, who was the first to amass power in the world. He was a mighty hunter before God. There is thus a saying, 'Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before God!' The beginning of his kingdom was Babylon, along with Erekh, Akkad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. (Genesis 10:8-10, paraphrase of Living Torah translation)

While the Torah merely states that he "amassed power," our sages describe Nimrod as a wicked tyrant who sought to usurp God.

The second is Esau, who is unfavorably compared with his brother Jacob in the following verse (Genesis 25:27, paraphrase of Living Torah translation): "The boys grew up. Esau became a skilled hunter, a man of the field. Jacob was a scholarly man who remained with the tents." As we know, Jacob became the patriarch of the Jewish people, while the progeny of Esau are often identified in the prophets with Israel's enemies.

The heroes of the Bible are generally herders, people who cultivate and nurture animals rather than merely pursue them. Abel found favor with God because of this pursuit; subsequently, all three of our patriarchs as well as King David were herders.

The Torah does not forbid hunting, and specifically refers to hunting wild animals for food (Leviticus 17:13, Living Torah translation): "If any man, whether of the family of Israel or a proselyte who joins them, traps an animal or bird that may be eaten and spills its blood, he must cover [the blood] with earth." But note that the verse is careful to specify that the prey is an animal that may be eaten; even in this case, the animal must not be killed by the hunt but rather must be ritually slaughtered like a domesticated animal. Furthermore, in this case the Torah imposes the special commandment of covering the blood. This is over and above the general prohibition on eating the blood described at length in the same passage; both have the object of ensuring that eating meet does not become a "blood-thirsty" pursuit, a danger which is greater in the case of hunting, even the permissible variety.

I believe that Judaism's approach to hunting was well summarized by the great 18th century authority Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, who was asked by a congregant if it was permissible to hunt for sport. Rabbi Landau concluded that hunting would not be considered cruelty to animals insofar as the animal is generally killed quickly and not tortured. But he concludes: I am very surprised at the whole subject; we don't find any hunters [in our tradition] besides Nimrod and Esau, and this is not the way of the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. . . There is an unseemly element in it, namely cruelty, and also a measure of danger. . . Therefore, one who listens to me will dwell securely and placidly in his house and not waste his time with such things".(1)

The main considerations involved here are the kind of character traits hunting is likely to develop or express. Certainly there is a sportsmanlike challenge in the battle of wits and wiles against animals, and when hunting is carried out in accordance with regulations it may be harmless to wildlife. Even so, the ultimate goal is to kill the prey, and as a result the pursuit risks cultivating a person's tendency to cruelty or aggression.

Hunting can also be more dangerous than other sports, and as a result doesn't sit well with Judaism's extreme emphasis on the value of human life. Thus, even in instances where there is no specific prohibition Rabbi Landau expresses concern for cruelty and danger and urges finding a more productive pastime.

SOURCES: (1) Responsa Noda beYehuda II Yoreh Deah 10

February 13, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 40

(31) jason, December 11, 2014 4:14 AM

Gunowner who thinks hunting for anything other than food/need is cruel and wrong.

I think hunting for sport is cruel, and I am a gunowner! There are other ways to manage over populations (for example deer sterilizations, quick, proven and low risk) so that old, regurgitated argument of the NRA is ridiculous and self serving. I like to target shoot and believe in second amendment rights for responsible adults; very much including rights to own firearms for protection of self and family. However, killing of animals for sport, and worse yet doing so with means that can inflict unnecessary pain in the process (e.g. bow hunting) is cruel and cowardly. If a man needs to test his wits against an animal where the win is considered killing or hurting the animal, it is only unfortunate that animals themselves can't be armed and have an "equal" chance at said game. So, why not do something useful and go match your wits against some scum like ISIS etc. There is no need to kill animals for fun. Reminds me of the old movie, My Cousin Vinnie...the doe prancing along, drink of water from a babbling brook, and "POW" out of no where someone shoots the animal so they can mount a trophy! Seriously...this is something to be ashamed of. I am not against eating meat, but animals should be at least raised, killed, and processed as humanely as possible. And any Jew who shoots for "fun" should really do a little self introspection. Besides, it may not be just one animal you are killing. What about the other animals (dependents) that may be back at the den, and starve or die because of your action?

(30) Donald Lee, May 20, 2014 4:36 PM

So confusing...

What about people who don't have a kosher butcher nearby or a place to raise their own cattle, chickens etc? Should we support the cruel meat producing industry that basically tortures and terrorizes the meat products they produce? Even shocking chickens so they lay there eggs in a timely fashion and a thousand other cruel methods across the field.

I hunt. It's far less cruel than what a person buys at an every day super market.

Where do kosher butchers get their cattle to butcher, do they raise them themselves or buy from the mass producers who turn cattle into cannibals and all sorts of other wicked practices all for the sake of making a buck?

It's a fallen world and sometimes the lesser of two evils IS in fact the better choice.

(29) Kathy Davis, February 20, 2014 4:07 PM

Hunting should be valued by all cultures.

First, most hunters don’t hunt “for sport”. We are mainly utilitarian, eating the meat from our kills. We utilize the hide (deer skin gloves). We have the UTMOST respect for the animals we kill, and make every effort to kill them with one shot, so it is as humane as possible.

Even trophy hunters provide a service They feed entire communities in Africa and contribute to their economic success Trophy hunting has saved many animals from being driven to extinction.

Many of my Jewish friends fish. Why is fishing acceptable to nearly every Jew I know, but hunting a grouse or fowl is not? Killing for food is killing for food, correct?

Then you have the deep rooted belief in Jewish Tradition that you must care for your environment. Hunting is a large part of that. Without regulated hunting, deer and other species would experience disease, over-population and many other dynamics that are contrary to the ecosystem views of many of my Jewish friends.

Each deer requires 6 pounds of vegetation a day to meet their nutritional requirements. While a deer can survive on its fat reserves for 30 days over winter, harsh winters do result in severe winter kills where populations exceed the carrying capacity of the land. Starvation is far more cruel to the animal than one bullet or arrow could ever be.

Genesis 27:3 “Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me venison.”

Would hunting not be acceptable for crop protection?

The notion that hunting is unsafe is a bold LIE. With more than 16 million hunters, there are less than 100 hunting related shooting fatalities a year. Its safer than golf, cheerleading or driving in your car.

The "traits" hunters have are knowing a kill is a kill. They respect life.

In my mind at least, I think Jewish people should be keeping a more open mind regarding hunting.

(28) Lauren, February 20, 2014 3:59 PM

A broader view

A few quick points. To relegate the Jewish legal analysis to just hunting as a sport is flawed. Hunting does so much more. Suburban sprawl has made hunting an absolute necessity to manage wildlife with less land that is now overpopulated resulting in, among other things, serious fatal car accidents, significant damage to farm crops and more. As a result, Hunters are some of our best environmentalists and conservationists, a value one would think would figure prominently in Jewish education but often overlooked. In addition, as noted above, it teaches a vital survival skill that hopefully no one will need, but there have been times in our modern history where Jews have needed it. Further, many Rabbi's focus on the inflicting of unnecessary pain which I frankly find hypocritical because those same Rabbi's and more support certain Midwestern Kosher slaughter houses regardless of the conditions to actual humans (frankly no so pleasant for the animals either). Ignoring for the moment the treatment of the humans, there could be plenty of arguments that the conditions of the animals in the field are like a luxury vacation by comparison (and far fewer chemicals and hormones pumped into them).

(27) De Rednekker Rebbe, January 21, 2014 6:04 AM

Hunting is not dangerous

"Hunting can also be more dangerous than other sports, and as a result doesn't sit well with Judaism's extreme emphasis on the value of human life."  You must be kidding. According to the American National Safety Council, cheerleading, baseball, football, soccer and most other common sports are far more dangerous than hunting, in terms of injuries and deaths. How did you not bother to investigate these facts before rendering an opinion?  Why, Rabbi Meir, did you so easily fall back on feelings and notions, instead of actual facts? I'll say why: Jews today are so utterly dependent on everyone around them for their food, clothing, heat, etc that they cannot conceive of being self reliant. It's artificial, Rabbi, this current lifestyle so many frumme Yidden live. Don't be an enabler, be a real leader. Aish HaTorah has done wonderful work with chozrim b'teshuva. Your challenge, as evidenced here, is to not lock those lucky few into a fake Artscroll Judaism, but to empower them to live full lives within Halacha. To be thoughtful and knowledgable Jews. Please re-write your poorly done essay on hunting, and incorporate the comments here so it is thoughtful and full of knowledge. Not full of lazy notions based on silly stereotypes.

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