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Readers Guide to Judaism
Treatment of Animals

by Richard H. Schwartz

Bleich, Rabbi Dr. J. David, "Judaism and Animal Experimentation," in Animal sacrifices -- Religious Perspectives on the Use of Animals in Science, edited by Tom Regan, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986

Cohen Noah J. Tsa'ar Ba'alei Chayim, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Jerusalem/New York: Feldheim Publishers, 1976.

Kalechofsky, Roberta (ed.), Judaism and Animals Rights - Classical and Contemporary Responses, Marblehead, Massachusetts: Micah Publications, 1992.

Schochet, Rabbi Elijah J., Animal Life in Jewish Tradition, New York: Ktav, 1984.

Sears, David, The Vision of Eden: Vegetarianism and Animal Welfare in Jewish Law and Mysticism (forthcoming from Orot in 2003).

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Contrary to the belief of many people, Judaism has beautiful and powerful teachings with regard to showing compassion to animals. The following are a few examples: Moses and King David were considered worthy to be leaders of the Jewish people because of their compassionate treatment of animals, when they were shepherds. Rebecca was judged suitable to be a wife of the patriarch Isaac because of her kindness in watering the ten camels of Eleazer, Abraham's servant. Many Torah laws mandate proper treatment of animals. One may not muzzle an ox while it is working in the field nor yoke a strong and a weak animal together. Animals, as well as people, are to rest on the Sabbath day. The importance of this concept is indicated by the fact that it is part of the Ten Commandments and by its recitation every
Sabbath morning by many Jews, as part of the kiddush ceremony. The psalmist indicates God's concern for animals, for "His compassion is over all of His creatures" (Psalm 145:9). And there is a mitzvah-precept in the Torah to emulate the Divine compassion, as it is written: "And you shall walk in His ways" (Deuteronomy 28:9). Perhaps the Jewish attitude toward animals is best summarized by Proverbs 12:10: "The righteous person considers the soul (life) of his or her animal." In summary, the Torah prohibits Jews from causing tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, any unnecessary pain, including psychological pain, to living creatures. The works below expand substantially on this brief analysis.

COHEN provides a comprehensive, well-documented study of the "bases, development and legislation in Hebrew literature" related to the treatment of animals. This pioneering book refutes the philosopher Schopenhauer's assertion that the theory that animals have no rights is rooted in Judaism by presenting an abundance of Jewish teachings and stories to show that tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, the prohibition against causing unnecessary harm to animals, "is a Biblical concept and therefore embodied in Israel's institutional life" . The book is very well organized and documented (the notes span from pages 106 to 201, nearly half of the book). However, It does not relate Jewish teachings to current abuses of animals. Instead, it concludes by defending shechita, Jewish laws related to the slaughtering of animals and the consumption of meat.

SCHOCHET provides an extremely comprehensive, well documented work (there are over 1500 notes), that covers all aspects of Jewish teachings related to the treatment of animals. The book is divided into three sections: "A Biblical Portrait"; "a Rabbinic Portrait"; and " A Medieval and Modern Portrait". While many Jewish teachings on the proper treatment of animals are discussed, the author states that Judaism considers animals as "useful property" and as "delicate tools", for the use of people. He also hedges about whether laws related to animals were given because of compassion toward animals or for other reasons, such as the preservation of species, or to make animals more useful to people. While vegetarianism is called "the pristine scriptural ideal", the author also states that it "lacks mass appeal and fails to yield authority", but he fails to address the realities related to the mass production and the widespread consumption of meat and their contradiction of basic Jewish values.

KALECHOFSKY provides a wide variety of very insightful essays by Jewish classical and contemporary writers on the modern treatment of animals. Many of the essays make a strong case for an end of the exploitation of animals.Part I ("The Way We Think") has an essay by Jacob S. Raisin on "Humanitarianism of the Laws of Israel" that has an excellent summary of Jewish teachings on compassion toward animals. The essays in Part II ("The Way we Eat") show the connections between Jewish teachings and vegetarianism. Especially valuable is an essay, "Vegetarianism From a Jewish Perspective", by Orthodox scholar Rabbi Alfred Cohen, that indicates that Jews need not eat meat today. Part III ("The Way we Are Now") is mainly composed of essays that provide moral and scientific arguments against vivisection. The editor contributes essays at the start of each part that give a valuable overview of the issues that are discussed in the section.

BLEICH brings excellent credentials as a Jewish scholar to his comprehensive essay. He thoroughly considers Jewish teachings on compassion for animals as a prelude to his consideration of the permissibility of animal experimentation based on Jewish law. It is significant that Bleich, a highly respected, Orthodox, non-vegetarian rabbi, makes strong statements on Jewish responsibilities toward animals, such as, "Judaism must perforce view compassion toward animals as a moral imperative", and "Judaism most
certainly does posit an unequivocal prohibition against causing cruelty to animals". He concludes that animal experimentation is permissible when there is a direct connection to the saving of human life, but cannot be done for strictly educational purposes.

SEARS is completing a compilation of translations from various sources, ranging from the classic texts of Judaism to contemporary rulings in Jewish law. The book also will include a number of essays that will serve as prefaces to the translations and general overviews, discussing and analyzing the source material. It will be a companion volume to his book, Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition, which was published by Jason Aronson, Inc. in 1998. Sears has the knowledge of Hebrew and Kabbalistic, Chassidic,
and other Jewish sources that enable him to find teachings that are not commonly known. Because of his unique background as a Breslav Chassid whose credentials and commitment to Jewish law and tradition cannot be challenged, this book could have a major impact in the Jewish community, as well as other communities, on the future treatment of animals.

Back to the Schwartz Collection on Judaism, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights