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Judaism, Vegetarianism, and Animals

Hebrew translation | French translation


"G-d's tender mercies are over all His creatures." (Psalms 145:9).

"The righteous person regards the life of their animal." (Proverbs 12:10)

"It is prohibited to kill an animal with its young on the same day, in order that people should be restrained and prevented from killing the two together in such a manner that the young is slain in the sight of the mother; for the pain of animals under such circumstances is very great. There is no difference in this case between the pain of people and the pain of other living beings, since the love and the tenderness of the mother for her young ones is not produced by reasoning but by feeling, and this faculty exists not only in people but in most living creatures." (Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, 3:48)

"Here you are faced with G-d'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." (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, Chapter 60, Section 416)

The Hebrew term nefesh chaya ("living soul") was applied in Genesis (1:21, 1:24) to animals as well as people. Moses and King David were deemed suitable for leadership because of their compassionate treatment of sheep in their care. Rebecca was judged suitable as Isaac's wife because of her kindness in watering the ten camels of Eliezer, Abraham's servant Rabbi Judah, the Prince, redactor of the Mishna was stricken with pain by the hand of Heaven for many years for his callous treatment of a calf on the way to slaughter.

According to the Ten Commandments, animals as well as people are to rest on the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:8-10, Deuteronomy 5:12-14). According to Rashi, this means that animals should be free to roam on the Sabbath day and to graze freely.

The daily morning services contains the following statement: "Blessed is the One (G-d) Who has compassion on all creatures". There are many other statements in the Jewish tradition about G-d's compassion and concern for all of His creatures. And Judaism teaches that people are to emulate this divine compassion.


While the Jewish tradition stresses compassion for animals and commands that we strive to avoid causing them pain (tsa’ar ba’alei chayim), the conditions under which animals are raised for food today are quite different from any the Torah would endorse.

  • Chickens are raised for slaughter entirely indoors under intense crowding, genetically and hormonally manipulated, living in their filth, breathing contaminated air, virtually all suffering respiratory problems and leg deformities.
  • Egg laying chickens are packed 4-7 to an 18 by 20 inch wire cage, unable to move about, stretch their wings, or perform any of their natural instincts. They cannot stand comfortably on the wire floor, and excrement falls on birds in cages below. Before slaughter, 88% suffer broken bones. Their beaks are cut with a hot knife, causing such pain that many cannot eat and starve.
  • Daily, over a half million male chicks, useless to the egg industry, are disposed of by stuffing them into plastic bags, where they are crushed and suffocated to death.
  • Cows are routinely castrated, branded, and have their horns torn out or gouged out, all without anesthetics.
  • To produce pate de fois gras, ducks and geese are force-fed four pounds of grain with an air-driven feeder tube. The bird suffers unimaginable pain. Finally, after 25 days of such agony, when the bird is completely stupefied with pain and unable to move, it is killed and the gigantic liver, considered a delicacy at ten times its normal size, is removed. Israel was one of the world's leading exporters of fois gras until the country's Supreme Court banned foie gras production for its cruelty, starting in 2005.
  • Dairy cows are typically tied in place, impregnated every year, and have their calves removed immediately after birth, to be raised as veal.
  • Veal calves are locked in a small, dark, slotted stall without space to turn around, stretch, or even lie down. To obtain the pale, tender flesh desired by consumers, veal producers purposely keep the calf anemic with a special high-calorie, iron-free diet. They tie the calf’s head to the stall to prevent him from licking the iron fittings on the stall and his own urine to satisfy his intense craving for iron.

"It seems doubtful from all that has been said whether the Torah would sanction 'factory farming,' which treats animals as machines, with apparent insensitivity to their natural needs and instincts." (Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, Masterplan: Its Programs, Meanings, Goals, Feldheim, 1991, p. 69).

". . . the current treatment of animals in the livestock trade definitely renders the consumption of meat as halachically unacceptable as the product of illegitimate means". (Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, Rabbis and Vegetarianism, Micah Pub., 1995, p.53.)

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