Judaism has extensive and profound teachings on how to treat animals. The Torah says that animals are part of God’s creation. They have sensitivity and the potential to feel pain. People are, therefore, responsible for showing compassion toward them and protecting them.
The Torah also includes a mandate, tsa’ar ba’alei chayyim, not to cause unnecessary suffering to animals. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a German Orthodox rabbi of the 19th century, explained, “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.”
Jewish scholars from Maimonides onward wrote about the importance to the maintenance of a healthy society of providing proper care for animals. Animals must be fed and watered before humans eat or drink. The Code of Jewish Law forbids causing suffering to an animal and rabbinical commandments and the Sabbath may be violated to help an animal in distress. Jews are also required to help their enemies’ animals. Jewish teachings about animals are deoraita, which means they have the force of the Torah, and are no less important than any other Jewish teachings, including keeping kosher or observing Shabbat.
The Jewish tradition also ascribes virtue to those who care for animals. “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” (Proverbs 12:10). The Midrash states that Moses was chosen as a leader because of the kindness to animals he showed when he was a shepherd. God said, “You are compassionate in leading flocks belonging to mortals; I swear you will similarly shepherd my flock, Israel.”
We are preparing new lessons about Judaism and animals, but for now, click HERE for 10 lesson plans plus a list of Biblical quotes and Biblical stories about animals from our previous site.
Secular Support for Caring for Animals
Even Jews who are not religious may follow the principle of tikkun olam, healing the world. Jews have been active in all U.S. progressive social movements, including women’s suffrage, labor, civil rights and LGBT as well as on other human rights issues. CHAI’s programs represent the best of the Jewish tradition of ‘tsa’ar ba’alei chayyim’ and ‘tikkun olam.’”
For More Information
Richard Schwartz has written books and articles exploring Judaism, animals and the environment, including most recently, Who Stole My Religion?: Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet.