of Tzaddikim and Gedolei Torah
From The Vision of Eden: Animal
Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism
by Rabbi David Sears
There once was a good, honest man in whose home the
holy Ari (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) stayed as a guest. The
host served him with great honor. As the holy Ari was
leaving to resume his journey, he asked, "How may
I repay you for the great love you have shown me?"
The householder answered that after bearing several
children, his wife had become barren. Perhaps [the Ari]
could suggest some remedy so that his wife could bear
The Ari then told the man why his wife had become barren.
"You know that there was a small ladder standing
in your house, upon which the little chickens used to
go up and down in order to drink water from a bowl nearby.
Thus did they drink and quench their thirst. Once your
wife told her servant girl to take the ladder away.
Although she did not mean to afflict the chickens but
only to clean the house, from the day she removed that
ladder, the chickens suffered greatly and had to endure
extreme thirst. Their cries ascended before the Holy
One, blessed be He, Who pities all of His creatures.
That is why it was decreed that she become barren."
The householder returned the ladder to its former place,
the Holy One, blessed be He, caused his wife to conceive,
and she bore children again (Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kaidanover,
Kav HaYashar 7:20).
It happened in our own generation that our master,
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria Ashkenazi (the holy Ari), once
looked at the face of a certain Torah scholar and told
the man that he had committed the sin of causing suffering
to animals (tza'ar baalei chaim). Deeply upset,
the Torah scholar looked into the matter until he discovered
that his wife had neglected to feed their chickens that
morning, but had merely let them into the yard and the
street to fend for themselves. He earnestly instructed
her to prepare kneaded bran and water for them every
morning. Then, having rectified the problem, he returned
to the Rabbi. When the Rabbi looked at him, he said,
"Your transgression has disappeared - what happened?"
Then the man explained everything that had transpired
(Rabbi Elazar Azkari, Sefer Chareidim 4:1).
Rabbi Israel Salanter, a famous nineteenth century
Orthodox Rabbi, failed to appear one Yom Kippur eve
to chant the sacred Kol Nidrei prayer. His congregation
became concerned, for it was inconceivable that their
saintly rabbi would be late or absent on this very holy
day. They sent out a search party to look for him. After
much time, their rabbi was found in the barn of a Christian
neighbor. On his way to the synagogue, Rabbi Salanter
had come upon one of his neighbor's calves, lost and
tangled in the brush. Seeing that the animal was in
distress, he freed it and led it through many fields
and over many hills. This act of mercy represented the
rabbi's prayers on that Yom Kippur evening (S.Y. Agnon,
Days of Awe).
[One of those deported to the Nazi death camps] was
a poor man who had earned his livelihood by raising
chickens: the accomplished Talmud scholar, Rabbi Isaac
Rosensweig. He cried out beseechingly from the window
of the death train to his tormentors, who had a great
laugh and spat at him. How could these "merciful
Christians" comprehend the request of this "cruel
Jew," surrounded by his wife and little children,
who plaintively begged his oppressors, "Go to my
house and give the chickens food and water, for they
have not touched food or water for a whole day!"
Then Rabbi Isaac noticed his comrade, Rabbi Moshe Yudah
Tziltz, who had not yet been summoned by the authorities,
standing at a distance. With a great cry he called out
to him, "Afflicting animals is forbidden by Torah
law! Give the chickens food and water!" (Rabbi
Michoel Ber Weismandel, Min HaMeitzar, p. 32).
Once, while traveling from his native Poland to Israel,
Rabbi Ephraim of Pshedbarz (1880-1946), author of Oneg
Shabbos, entered the barn in which he and several companions
were quartered and found a rooster asleep on his bed
of straw. A comrade observed that the young scholar
left and returned several times during the next hour
until the rooster awoke of its own accord and vacated
its place. Then Rabbi Ephraim went to sleep. So sensitive
to the feelings of others was Rabbi Ephraim that he
even placed the comfort of a rooster above his own (Oral
Tradition, Chassidei Breslov).
Despite his aura of fear of God, Rabbi Eliyahu [Lopian,
author of the contemporary Mussar classic, Lev Eliyahu,]
always exuded gentleness and love, not only to other
human beings who are "created in the Divine Image,"
but to animals as well. Once he noticed a lost kitten
that had taken refuge in the yeshivah of Kfar Chassidim.
Immediately he became this kitten's patron and concerned
himself with all its needs. Those who knew about this
and witnessed it were amazed at how gently he placed
a saucer of milk before the purring kitten every morning,
and with what pleasure he watched it take each sip from
the milk (Rabbi Aharon Soraski, Marbitzei Torah U'Mussar
When he was a student at the Mirrer Yeshiva, the gaon
(master Talmudist) Reb Refoel Dovid Auerbach was a frequent
visitor at the home of Chassidic luminary Reb Shlom'ke
of Z'vihl (1869-1945). He went on the urging of his
father, the gaon Reb Chaim, who was convinced that the
greatest miracle-worker of their generation was Reb
Once when Reb Refoel Dovid knocked on Reb Shlom'ke's
door, he was greeted by Reb Shlom'ke's devoted Chassid,
Reb Eliyahu Roth. The latter was the only one in the
house, as Reb Shlom'ke had gone out. Reb Eliyahu took
Reb Refoel Dovid on a small "tour" of Reb
Shlom'ke's humble abode, where grinding poverty and
destitution were apparent in every corner. Among other
sorrowful sights was Reb Shlom'ke's bed, where row upon
row of moths converged.
Reb Eliyahu explained that he had wanted to buy some
poison to exterminate the moths, but had been stopped
by Reb Shlom'ke, who insisted that spraying them would
be an act of tza'ar baalei chayim (causing pain
to living creatures). In vain, Reb Eliyahu tried to
convince Reb Shlom'ke that the moths might harm him,
but Reb Shlom'ke only declared, "I have an agreement
with these moths. In return for my not killing them,
they do not harm me!" (Memoir of Rabbi Yisrael
Hazeh, Sochatchover Chassid and disciple of R. Eliyahu
Lopian, adapted from HaModia (English Ed.), Iyar
28 5759/May 14, 1999).
Once on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Naftali
Tzvi Berlin, the celebrated Rosh Yeshiva of Volozhin,
could not find the key to the chicken-coop and was unable
to feed the birds. He did not eat until a non-Jew was
found, who broke the lock and fed them (Oral tradition
cited in Rabbi Yoel Schwartz's V'Rachamav Al Kol
Ma'asav, p. 62).
[Master Lithuanian Talmudist Rabbi Avraham Yeshayah
Karelitz, best known as the Chazon Ish, 1878-1953, showed
compassion for animals even during his youth.] Once
an animal of a non?kosher species fell into a deep pit
and was trapped without means of escape. [The young
scholar] felt the animal's anguish in his heart. Therefore,
he lowered himself into the depths of the pit and set
it free (Shlomo Cohen, Pe'er HaDor, Part I, p.
One summer, Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spector (1817-1896)
was vacationing outside Kovno. Every day Rabbi Yaakov
Lipschutz took the ferry and brought him all the she'eilos
(questions concerning matters of Jewish law) that had
come in the mail. Reb Yitzchak Elchanan would immediately
write his teshuvos (rulings) and give them to
Rabbi Lipschutz to take them back to Kovno and mail
One day, Reb Yitzchak Elchanan came chasing after Rabbi
Lipschutz who was already on the boat, "Reb Yaakov!
Concerned, Rabbi Lipschutz ran toward Reb Yitzchak Elchanan
and asked what was the matter.
"I forgot to tell you that there is a cat that
has been coming around outside the house, and I have
been giving it a bowl of milk every day. Now that I
am on vacation, no one is taking care of it. Please
be my substitute until I return, and give it the milk"
(The Story of Rav Yitzchak Elchanan).
At one time it happened that in a certain region there
was an outbreak of fatal cattle disease. One old farmer
who used to fatten cattle for the market saw that several
of his oxen showed dangerous symptoms, and decided to
set out to spend Shabbos in Ziditchov [in the court
of the tzaddik, Rabbi Yitzchak Eizik, 1804-1872]. On
Friday night, when the time came for the tzaddik to
deliver his regular derashah (Torah discourse),
all the Chassidim present pressed forward, tense and
eager, the better to hear his every word. And this old
man, though preoccupied with the troubles that brought
him there and not really interested in the learned words
of the tzaddik, nevertheless pushed his way in as vigorously
as the best of them - for was this not a time-honored
custom? Reb Yitzchak Eizik now began to expound the
verse, "You, God, will save both man and animal"
As soon as he heard these words, the old farmer said
to himself: "The Rebbe no doubt went to the trouble
of explaining this verse only for my sake. For sure,
God will save both man and animal!"
Returning to his farm, he found that of all his cattle
not one had died: the epidemic had ceased (Rabbi Shlomo
Zevin, A Treasury of Chassidic Tales on the Torah,
Vol. I, Bo, trans. Uri Kaploun, New York: Mesorah, 1980
In the courtyard of Chassidic master Rabbi Nosson Dovid
of Shidlovitz (d. 1865) hundreds of doves nested. Whenever
the Rebbe leaned his head out of an open window, they
would all flock to him in a great tumult of activity
- and he would do with them whatever he would do.
It once happened on Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year),
as the Rebbe ascended the raised platform prior to the
sounding of the Shofar (Ram's Horn), that a dove flew
into the synagogue through an opened window, and perched
on the reader's table. The Rebbe gazed intently at the
bird, and then asked that a bowl of water be placed
in front of it. However, due to the incline of the reader's
table, it was impossible do so. Therefore, the Rebbe
removed his shtreimel (fur-trimmed hat), and
placed the bowl upon it at the proper angle, so that
the dove could drink.
At last, the time came for the Rebbe of Shidlovitz to
leave this world. However, as soon as his holy soul
ascended from the body, an amazing thing happened: all
the doves immediately flew away from the courtyard,
and disappeared forever. Who can fathom the secrets
of the tzaddikim? (Alim L'Terufah, 5 Marcheshvan
5757/1996, citing Tiferes Avos-Biala).
 R. Weismandel bitterly alludes to
the traditional Christian critique by which Jews and
Judaism often were denigrated. In many places, Jewish
children still are subjected to the same taunts from
their schoolmates about the "Jewish God of Justice"
as compared to the "Christian God of Mercy."
Due to reformers within both the Protestant and Catholic
churches, these anti-Semitic slurs are less frequently
 As an observant Jew, he was forbidden to break the
lock himself, due to the sanctity of the holiday.
 R. Moshe of Ujheli, Yismach Moshe, Noach,
s.v. "V'hinei HaGaon Baal Tevu'as Shor,"
pp. 142b-143a, discusses the teaching of the Ari z"l
that the souls of tzaddikim sometimes reincarnate as
doves or other birds of a kosher species, whereas the
souls of the wicked sometimes reincarnate as birds of
a non-kosher species. The latter are typically predators
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