Weren't people given dominion over animals? Didn't God put them here for our use?

Dominion does not mean that we have the right to conquer and exploit animals. Immediately after God gave people dominion over animals (Genesis 1:26), He prohibited their use for food (Genesis 1:29). Dominion means guardianship or stewardship - being co-workers with God in taking care of and improving the world. (Shabbat 119; Sanhedrin 7)

The Talmud interprets "dominion" as the privilege of using animals for labor only. (Sanhedrin 59b) It is extremely doubtful that the concept of dominion permits breeding animals and treating them as machines designed solely to meet our needs. Rav Kook stated that dominion does not imply the rule of a tyrannical ruler who cruelly governs in order to satisfy personal desires. He also indicated that he cannot believe that such a repulsive form of servitude could be forever sealed in the world of God whose "tender mercies are over all His work." (Psalm 145:9)

Rabbi Hirsch stressed that people have not been given the right or the power to have everything subservient to them. In commenting on Genesis 1:26, he stated, "The earth and its creatures may have other relationships of which we are ignorant, in which they serve their own purpose." Hence, people, according to Judaism, do not have an unlimited right to use and abuse animals and other parts of nature.

Commenting on Genesis 1:26, Rashi stated: "If a person is found worthy, he has dominion over the animals. If he is not found worthy, he becomes subservient before them, and the animals rule over him."

 

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