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Protection of Animals in Judaism


Protection of Animals in Judaism


Keeping animals as pets


The purpose of this essay is to briefly state how our holy Torah views the protection of animals and how during Talmudic and later times in the codex of Maimonides and the ‘Shulchan Aruch the position on animals was regulated in Judaism.

Maimonides (1135-1204 C.E.) describes nourishment from plants as the primary beneficial food for humans, but he also states that meat is required for sustenance.

The most beneficial meat is that which comes from the animals from which we are allowed to eat. Because the necessity of meat as human food is recognised by our Torah, the Torah requires, that for the slaughter of animals that the method of ‘Shechita is to be used, which causes the least pain to the animal.

According to Maimonides, the reason for the prohibition of eating a piece cut from a living animal (Devarim/Deuteronomy 12:23), is consideration for the pain of the animal.


Left: a ‘Shochet’ (ritual Jewish slaughterer) is slaughtering a chicken.
Right: a ‘Shochet’ holding a ‘Shechita’ knife for animals, such as cattle. This knife must be without any blemish and razor-sharp. The ‘Shochet’ is an expert in his field and very knowledgeable in Jewish Law and most important a G-dfearing man, since we rely on his ‘Shechita’.

The prohibition to slaughter a mother and her young on the same day (Vayikra/Leviticus 22:28) also has its reason in the suffering of animals because there is no difference between animals and humans in a mother's love. “Motherly love is not a question of reason, but a question of feeling”. Also the command to send away the mother bird (Devarim/Deuteronomy 12:6-7), i.e. separating the mother from the young birds, before one takes away the young, is considered by Maimonides as a consideration for the pain of animals.

Rabbi Shmuel ben Me'ir from Lorraine (1080-1158 C.E.), also known as “Rashbam”, explains the prohibition to cook the kid in the milk of its mother (Shemot/Exodus 23:19) also as a protection of animals demanded by the Torah, for example as a warning: do not be loveless and cruel to the animal world.

With these examples brought by us it is still permitted to doubt, whether the Torah really envisages the protection of animals, as we can only accept reasons for the commands and prohibitions of the Torah, when the Torah has given us these reasons.

The grounds for the Mitzvoth – commandments, as given by Maimonides, has not received universal agreement from all Halachists, as is well-known. Despite this the examples cited by us have enough value as evidence to prove that cruelty to animals is alien to Judaism.

Besides this we have many commands and prohibitions in the Torah and other indications in the text of the Holy Writ, which show us clearly that the Torah demands a humane treatment of animals, already many thousands of years before any organisation for the protection of animals appeared on the scene.

Concerning the sanctification of Shabbat, the Torah gives us the duty to also let animals participate in the rest, providing as reason “so that your cow and donkey may be at rest” (Shemot/Exodus 23:12). Here it is stated clearly: you should also spare the animal as much as possible.

In the Chassidic world the following is told in connection with this:

The legendary Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Ahron Rokeach (1880-1957 C.E.), bought horses with his money, and gave these in care to a driver, so the Rebbe could personally feed them and thus could fulfil that which is stated in the Torah: “so that your ox and ass shall rest on the Shabbat” and also to fulfil, that which our Sages teach: “man is not allowed to eat in the morning, before he has taken care of his livestock”.

Every morning, before the Rebbe ate his breakfast, he sent fodder for the horses. Even during the war, when he had to flee his city and panic reigned in his house, even then he was always concerned if the horses had received their fodder.

Left: The late Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Ahron Rokeach (1880-1957)
Right: The present Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yssachar Dov Rokeach (1948) seated

Do not cause an animal unnecessary suffering, the Torah calls to us, when it forbids the muzzling of an ox while threshing (Devarim/Deuteronomy 25:4).


It can also hardly be doubted, that the command: do not plough with an ox and donkey together (Devarim/Deuteronomy 22:10) considers the suffering of animals, as, due to the unequal power of both animals, one animal has to exert itself more while working, compared to the situation when both animals are equally strong.

By these rules, the Torah wants to regulate our behaviour towards the animal world in general in the direction that we do not lose our human dignity, by roughness or insensitive cruelty against animals, and never stop, to act gently and compassionately.

Rightly does the Talmud deduce from the commandment: you shall not see the donkey of your brother or his ox fall on the road and ignore them; you shall certainly stand them up with him (Devarim/Deuteronomy 22:4), that cruelty to animals is a biblical prohibition. The Talmud refuses to see in it a duty towards a fellow human; it is only consideration for the animal, which is the reason for this provision. Clearly and obviously the correctness of this supposition is shown, through the Halacha formulated by Maimonides, that when the two biblical duties collide: to help load and to help unload (Shemot/Exodus 23:5 and Devarim/Deuteronomy 22:4), one must first help unload, because the pain of the animal must first be nullified.

The biblical prohibition on cruelty to animals was also decisive for the Talmud, when it permits taking care of an animal which has fallen into the water on Shabbat, even when a rabbinical prohibition remains ignored by this (as animals are in principle Muktzeh on Shabbat by Rabbinic decree). Based on the same motivation, it is also permitted to let a non-Jew milk an animal on Shabbat, because refraining from this would cause pain to the animal. It is also permitted, to cut the nails of a riding horse or donkey on half-festive days (Chol HaMo'ed), because refraining from this would cause the animal pain.

Also in later Jewish literature do we find clear clues and rules everywhere, to protect the animal from unnecessary suffering. Both in Halacha and Aggada, in authoritative Codes and in the extensive Midrash- and Responsa literature do we find countless warmings: spare the animal, do not cause it any unnecessary pain.

Thus the Midrash gives us the following meaningful episode: When Moses let Jitro's flock graze in the wilderness (Shemot/Exodus 3:1), a young kid became lost. Moses searches for it, to bring it back. He finds it at a pond, where it is quenching its thirst. Moses says to the kid: “I really did not know you were thirsty. You must be tired”, and carries the animal back on his shoulders. Then G-d said: “the one, who shows such pity for an animal, may be the guardian of my people.” And the Midrash tells us about King David that he would first lead the young animals in the pastures, so that they got the tender forage, and only then would lead the stronger, older animals into the pastures, because they could also consume the harder grass. This is why he also was called on to be Israel’s shepherd.

A priceless pearl in the Talmud concerning our theme is the following story, which states: “the sufferings of Rebbi (Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi/Rabbi Juda the Prince (135-200 C.E.), the editor of the Mishna), because of an occurrence they came upon him and because of an occurrence they left him”. What does that mean? A calf, which was being led to the slaughterhouse, managed to tear away and, crying fearfully, tried to nestle itself in the lap of Rebbi. However, he cried: go! Because for this you were created. Then they called from heaven: because he has no compassion, sufferings will come upon him. And because of an occurrence they departed from him: while cleaning the house, the maid found some young mice. She wanted to sweep them away. But Rabbi called: leave them! For it is written: His mercies are on all his works (Tehillim/Psalm 145:9). Then they declared from heaven: because he has compassion, we will have compassion on him.”

It is noteworthy that this story was the cause for a question for Ga'on Sherira (900-1001 C.E.), whether, considering Rebbi's suffering, of which it is told that it came through an occurrence and left through an occurrence, the one who does not slaughter animals and does not kill mice and similar animals, acts correctly.

The Ga'on, whose decision has been preserved to us, answers the question from a halachic standpoint and explains that for Rebbi other standards apply than for butchers and maids.

Halachically the case is very simple: one may certainly slaughter calves and kill mice. However, there is another point of view than purely the legal. Halachic regulations and religious-philosophical principles are not to be deduced from this aggadic story. The one who wants to understand it correctly, must read it with the heart.


The atmosphere, which comes to the fore, speaks volumes about the view, which Judaism has of the animal kingdom.

Warm interest for the suffering of animals is expressed in the Shulchan Aruch in the provision that one may exceptionally speak between washing the hands and saying the blessing over the bread (Hamotzi), to establish if house animals have already received their fodder, “as it is prohibited, to eat oneself, before one has fed the animals”.

In connection with this halachic decision the treatise by Rabbi Jakob ben Zwi Emden from Altona (1697-1776 C.E.), also named Ja'awetz, is interesting. The treatise is on the question whether also a dog or cat can be considered a house animal in this sense.

Significant and illustrative for how big the love of animals is among us Jews, are the two following indications:

a)   Hunting and shooting wild animals and birds is completely unknown to us Jews and meets only with incomprehension and revulsion;

b)   Halacha rules that on putting on a new garment one says the blessing of thanks Shehecheyanu (…, Who has kept us alive, and has sustained us, and has brought us to this season). The exception is for new shoes, for which no blessing of thanks is said. The Halacha deciders explain the reason: shoes are mostly made of leather and are associated with the agony and pain of animals.


Rabbi Jakob Emden also discusses the question, if the Biblical prohibition of cruelty to animals is applicable to lower animals like insects and worms, and if fish also fall under the prohibition to castrate animals.

Although Rabbi Jacob Emden cannot denote the killing of these animals as prohibited by the Bible, he is of the opinion that protection is an 'attribute of the pious' and mentions that the well-known Kabbalist Rabbi Jitzchak Luria (1534-1572 C.E.), also known as “Ari HaKadosh”, taught his students, that they should not even kill an annoying insect.

We do not go so far in our demands; we know, that the human is the purpose of Creation, and that he is thus entitled to use animals and to eliminate those representatives of the animal world, which want to harm him.

The exalted spirit of our Torah makes it possible for us to do the right thing, in that it equally keeps us from cruelty to animals as from the laughable mawkishness of those, for whom the love of animals is of higher value than the love of human beings.

Left: Hitler and his pet dog Blondie, for sure this mass-killer of Jews and humanity had more love for animals than human beings.
Right: Bull fighting is a national sport in Spain, its animal abuse in the first degree. We don’t hear anything from the European Union about forbidding it. Hypocrisy, if you compare it with the issue of ‘Shechita’, which is the most humane painless method of slaughtering kosher animals.

Keeping animals as pets


I have been unable to find anywhere, that it is prohibited to keep birds as small pets.

On the contrary, the Talmud describes:

In Noah's Ark the kosher (permitted and fit) birds were kept in the living quarters of Noah and his family. The Talmud deduces from this, that the kosher, clean birds like to be near Tzaddikim, the righteous.

The Midrash points out, that it was common for wealthy people to have song birds with beautiful feathers as ornamental birds.

There the Midrash also tells us a parable of a free bird, who envies the plentiful food of its friend living in a cage, forgetting that the other bird pays for his nourishment with his freedom.


The Talmud discusses, if it is permitted to feed doves which are under one's own roof or in a dove till, on Shabbat. Domesticated birds can be found in many Jewish homes.

The only misgivings which were raised against keeping small, domesticated pets are directed at dogs. Concerning dogs the halachic views are opposed.

The Mishnah prohibits keeping dogs, unless they are kept on a chain.

In cities near the seashore or near the borders of a country, it is permitted, for security reasons, to let them roam freely at night.

According to the Tossefta and the Talmud, keeping small, Cypriotic dogs is permitted, as they are harmless. The Talmud learns: “Do not live in a city, in which you do not hear dogs barking, as they protect the city”.


On the other hand, the Talmud states:

“No one should raise a vicious dog in his house, as this would mean a violation of a Torah commandment: “you shall not place blood guilt on your house”” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 22:8).

Concerning this, the Talmud states: When a vicious dog is raised in one's house, this prevents performing acts of kindness/charity, as the dog would keep poor people, who want to ask for a donation, away from the house.

It continues:

Rabbi Nachman bar Jitzchak said: The owner of a vicious dog also throws off the fear of G-d from himself, as it says: and the fear of the Almighty leaves him (Jove 6:14)

The Talmud relates the story of a pregnant woman, who entered a house to bake (the owner had given her permission to use his oven). Suddenly, the dog belonging to the owner began barking at her, at which her child became detached. “Do not fear” the owner of the dog told her, “his fangs and claws have been removed”. “Your consolation is in vain, take your mark of favour and throw it in the thorns”, she replied, “I have already lost my child”.

In Talmudic and rabbinic literature we do however also find a certain affection for the dog. The Talmud states: A dog distinguishes itself from the cat in that it shows its master more affection and loyalty.

Others substantiate this with an explanation of the meaning of the Hebrew word for dog Kelev, to also mean Kulo Lev a creature with much heart and feeling.

In Midrash Rabba it is quoted: the sign G-d gave to Kain (Bereishit/Genesis 4:15) was a dog, which accompanied and protected Kain.

The friendly behaviour of dogs, for “... against all the Children of Israel a dog shall not raise its tongue, from man down to livestock” (Shemot/Exodus 11:7) during the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, was rewarded by G-d in that He commanded the Jews, to throw the meat forbidden to them to the dogs.

The Shulchan Aruch does not prohibit keeping a dog, as long as it is chained and people can see that the dog is not free to walk about, and need not be frightened.

On the other hand, it is absolutely forbidden, to keep a vicious dog that snaps.

Among pious Jews it has always been commonplace not to keep a dog in the house.

These days this is still the common practice among Torah faithful Jews.

We should also take into consideration that Nazis misused dogs to frighten people and even to tear them apart and killing them.




Prof. Rabbi Ahron Daum, B.A. M.S., Emeritus Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt am Main
Halacha Aktuell II ISBN: 3-89228-672-8, HAAG + HERCHEN Verlag GmbH., Frankfurt am Main, 1992
‘Die Stellung des Judentums zum Tierschutz’ page 666-672 +
‚Das Halten von Haustieren aus Liebhaberie‘ page 673-676

Translation into English: Margreet Westbroek, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Photoshop and special effects: Dennis Baert & Matthijs Strijker


Webmaster: Yitzchak Berger, Antwerp
Son-in-law of Rabbi Ahron Daum


15th of Av 5774  / 11th of August 2014



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