for Animals in Halacha and Mussar
From The Vision of Eden: Animal
Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism
by Rabbi David Sears
Mercy is a most praiseworthy trait. It is one of the
Thirteen Attributes ascribed to the Holy One, blessed
be He, as it is written, "Merciful and gracious..."
(Exodus 34:6). One must also show mercy and compassion
toward animals, for it is forbidden to cause animals
suffering. Concerning this the Torah states, "[You
shall not see your brother's donkey or his sheep collapsing
on the road and hide yourself from them;] you shall
surely help him lift them up" (Deuteronomy 22:4).
Also, one must feed his animal before he feeds himself
(Berachos 40a) (Orchos Tzaddikim, Sha'ar HaRachamim).
One who possesses animals or fowl that depend upon
him for their sustenance is forbidden to eat anything
until he feeds them. As the verse states, "And
I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and
you shall eat and be satisfied" (Deuteronomy 11:15).
The Torah teaches that the animal's food precedes that
of man. But concerning drink, man takes precedence,
as it is written, "Drink, and I will give your
camels drink, also" (Genesis 24:46); and it is
written again, "So shall you give the congregation
and the cattle drink" (Numbers 20:8) (Rabbi Shlomo
Ganzfried, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 42:1; also
note Sefer Chassidim, 531; Mishneh Torah,
It is permissible to exert oneself on the Sabbath
in order to feed one's cattle, domestic animals, or
birds, since they depend upon their owners for sustenance.
Similarly, one may feed one's dog; even an ownerless
dog may be given a modest meal. However, it is forbidden
to give food or drink to bees or doves or pigeons, nor
may one cast food before them, since they are not dependent
upon their owners but eat in the fields. [Therefore,
this would be a needless compromise of the sanctity
of the Sabbath.] Some people have the custom to feed
wheat to the birds on the Sabbath during which the Song
of the Sea is recited in the synagogue, but this is
improper (Rabbi Avraham Chaim Na'ah, Kitzos HaShulchan
It is permissible to let one's animal graze in the
field on the Sabbath, as the verse states, "That
your ox and your donkey may rest..." (Exodus 23:12),
for this is its manner of resting (ibid. IV:15).
"A righteous man knows the nature of his animal,
but the mercy of the wicked is cruelty" (Proverbs
12:10). If a person does not need to eat meat and knows
that the meat will spoil if he slaughters the animal
for no purpose, he is forbidden to do so. If he transgresses,
he also violates the prohibition of bal tash'chis,
wanton destruction (Chullin 7b). However, if
he needs the hide, it is permissible (R. Yehudah HeChassid,
Sefer Chassidim 667; also cf. Shulchan Aruch,
Orach Chaim, 316:2).
"A righteous man knows the nature of his animal..."
If one's animal is sick or about to give birth, he should
not trouble it. All the more so does this apply to one's
Everything was created for a reason; therefore, it
is forbidden to kill any creature unnecessarily (Zohar
II, Yisro, 93b). My master [Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known
as the holy Ari] was careful never to kill any insect,
even the smallest and least of them, such as fleas,
lice, and flies - even if they were causing him pain
(Rabbi Chaim Vital, Sha'ar HaMitzvos, Noach).
It is best not to raise chickens. When necessary,
one should simply purchase them and slaughter them.
However, if they are not always available, and one must
keep them on his premises, one must be extremely diligent
and instruct his children and household members to be
sure to feed the animals on time. Their sustenance is
our responsibility, and the heavenly punishment for
neglecting them is severe. Particularly if they are
locked in a cage, one must show compassion toward them
all the more and prepare food for them in advance, in
order to avoid transgressing the prohibition of tza'ar
baalei chaim (cruelty to animals) (Rabbi Eliezer Papo,
Peleh Yo'etz, Inyan Baalei Chaim).
It is customary to tell a person wearing a new garment
for the first time, "May you wear it out and acquire
yet a new one." However, some authorities (e.g.,
Mahari Vail) write that this does not apply to new shoes
or garments made of leather or fur, because the manufacture
of such things entails the killing of animals, and it
is written, "His mercy extends over all His works"
(Rabbi Moshe Isserlis on Shulchan Aruch, Orach
Love of all creatures is also love of God, for whoever
loves the One, loves all the works that He has made.
When one loves God, it is impossible not to love His
creatures. [The converse is also true.] If one hates
the creatures, it is impossible to love God Who created
them (Maharal of Prague, Nesivos Olam, Ahavas HaRe'i,
 However, there is no impropriety
in putting out crusts of bread for the birds prior to
the onset of "Shabbos Shira" (Parshas Beshalach)
on Friday afternoon.
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