Home    Jewish Vegetarianism    Online Course    FAQ    Jewish Recipes
What You Can Do    Links    Feedback    Media


Compassion 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, Avadim 9:8).

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[1] (Rabbi Avraham Chaim Na'ah, Kitzos HaShulchan IV, 130:1).

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 maidservant (ibid.).

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 Chaim 223:6).

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, 1).


[1] 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.

Back to David Sears Collection