What does Judaism teach about the proper treatment of animals?
Judaism teaches that we are forbidden to be cruel to animals and that we must treat them with compassion. Since animals are part of God's creation, people have special responsibilities to them. These concepts are summarized in the Hebrew phrase tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, the biblical mandate not to cause "pain to any living creature." While the Torah clearly indicates that people are to have "dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth" (Gen. 1:28), there was to be a basic relatedness, and people were to consider the rights of animals. Animals are also God's creatures, possessing sensitivity and the capacity for feeling pain; hence they must be protected and treated with compassion and justice. God made treaties and covenants with animals, just as with humans:
"As for me," says the Lord, "behold I establish My Covenant with you and with your seed after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the fowl, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; all that go out of the ark, even every beast of the earth." (Gen. 9:9-10)
And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and with the fowls of heaven and with the creeping things of the ground. And I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the land and I will make them to lie down safely. (Hos. 2:20)
The Psalms indicate God's concern for animals, for "His tender mercies are over all His creatures" (Ps. 145:9). They pictured God as "satisfying the desire of every living creature" (Ps. 145:16), "providing food for the beasts and birds" (Ps. 147:9), and, in general, "preserving both man and animal" (Ps. 36:7).
Perhaps the Jewish attitude toward animals is best summarized by the statement in Proverbs 12:10, "The righteous person regards the life of his animal." This is the human counterpoint of "The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His creatures" (Ps. 145:9). In Judaism, one who is cruel to animals cannot be regarded as a righteous individual.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch eloquently summarizes the Jewish view on treatment of animals:
Here you are faced with God's teaching, which obliges you not only to refrain from inflicting unnecessary pain on any animal, but to help and, when you can, to lessen the pain whenever you see an animal suffering, even through no fault of yours. [Horeb, Chapter 60, #416]