People are willing to work hard to make a living, even to buy luxuries, therefore, it is justified that animals should also work hard * Just as a waiter works hard for the pleasure of others and earns a salary, animals also work hard and receive payment: in exchange for their efforts, they are cared for * Many leftists active for animal rights accuse others of exploiting animals as part of a distorted moral worldview * Striving towards vegetarianism is unnecessary – when the entire world reaches a higher spiritual level, people will not eat meat * Do not be frightened by videos of slaughtered animals: the spasms after slaughter are involuntary reflexes
From the numerous questions and responses I received in the wake of my articles on cruelty to animals, it clearly is an issue concerning many people, therefore I will devote another article to the subject. In the future, I will try to answer questions I did not have time to address.
Cruelty to Animals for Man’s Pleasure
Q: “Rabbi, you wrote in your column ‘Revivim’ that under certain circumstances it is permitted to fatten geese to increase their liver. Shouldn’t the fact that goose liver, or foie gras, is not a basic necessity, but rather a luxury dish, be taken into consideration in this issue?”
Someone else asked: “Is it worthwhile causing animals to suffer so that people can eat a fancy dish of foie gras?”
Another question: “Last summer while vacationing, my wife and I spent time horseback riding. Rabbi, after reading what you wrote about using of animals, including the fact that horseback riding involves sorrow to the horse because of the pain caused by the bridle in their mouths and kicking them to ride faster, we have a question: Was it okay for us to have gone horseback riding for our recreational enjoyment, or perhaps, riding a horse is permitted only for a greater need?
The Suffering of Animals is Similar to that of Man
Anything that is for the benefit of man and his enjoyment, and does not cause great suffering to an animal, is permissible and proper – provided one treats his animal fairly, feeds it when it is hungry (Gittin 62a), and refrains from muzzling his animal while it is working, thus preventing it from eating. Also, if one’s animal suffers greatly, he should try to spare it of its grief.
Earning a living and survival involves suffering. Just as man struggles, works, and takes pain to make a livelihood, how much more so is he permitted to use the animals in his possession for his livelihood, given that their sensitivities and consciousness are considerably less than those of human beings. If a person is willing to work in physically difficult jobs for his livelihood, such as construction, farming, hauling loads, working night shifts, or mentally straining office work, all the more so is he is permitted to distress an animal for his livelihood. Animals earn their living in a similar fashion, for thanks to their helping man, he takes care of them, and feeds them. Regarding this, a fitting adage might be: “The reward is according to the suffering” – in other words, according to an animals’ suffering, is his livelihood.
Therefore, as long as the goal is not to grieve the animal and people are willing to pay for it, and the animal is not caused terrible suffering, it is permitted to grieve animals for the purpose of one’s livelihood. In the same manner as we do not claim in regards to people attending a wedding: Is it right for them to have workers toil from morning to night for their sake, so they can indulge themselves, finding neatly-set, well-designed tables arranged with elegant tableware, decorative napkins, and countless selections of attractive and adorned portions of food. Not only that, but if the workers are remiss in their cleaning, setting the tables, or making the food tasty – they are reprimanded. In the same manner, claims should not be made that it is not right to fatten geese for the personal pleasure of geese breeders and those who eat foie gras; because had the workers not toiled in preparing the wedding, they would not have received their salaries, and if the geese had not been fattened – they would not be bred, or ever existed. True, if the fattening involves terrible and great suffering it should be prevented, but standard fattening does not involve great and terrible suffering.
Similarly, one is also permitted to ride a horse for pleasure, because this is a horse’s chore and does not cause it great suffering, and for this it receives its salary – i.e., food, lodging, and medical care, and by means of this, it subsists.
This is the general rule: anything that people are willing to pay for, and have no intention of causing grief to the animal, is a sign that it is important to them, and therefore, one is permitted to make use of the animal.
Why are the Activists Leftists?
Q: “As an animal rights activist who lives in Samaria and is observant, I am disturbed by the fact that there are almost no observant people among the activists for animal rights. This fact creates the perception that leftists are ethical people, whereas for the rightists, morality doesn’t matter. Wouldn’t it be a sanctification of God if we were more sensitive to the short lives and tragic deaths of calves and birds?
A: It seems to me that the fact that most animal rights activists are inclined to support the evil side of the Israeli-Arab conflict, as they do in other conflicts around the world, proves that their position is flawed.
The Moral Flaw of the Left
Out of motives of morality, social justice, and concern for the rights of the powerless, left-wing movements proposed plans for a new and improved world, but, in order for it happen, the old world had to be destroyed. By destroying the old, they severed the connection between rights and responsibilities, sabotaged all basic moral systems, and disrupted all social and economic systems. One can no longer know what is worthy, and what is not; what a person has the right to demand or what he can ask for, but not demand. In the imaginary world of the left, there is no real way of gaging the value of things and salaries, and thus, it is unsustainable, but when attempts are made to keep it alive, all systems are ruined. In the leftist world – in the name of “freedom of speech” – they use violence and the banning of all media outlets and public institutions against the freedom of speech of those with different views. In the name of “political correctness”, they censor and gag mouths.
In contrast, the moral rules of the Torah are based on reality and on the rules of ‘derech eretz’ (ethical behavior), according to which the value of things is determined by the willingness of people to pay for them, and as long as there is no injustice or corruption involved, things are valid, and justify payment. Therefore, it is permissible to employ a worker to decorate a wedding hall with all types of extras, in accordance with what makes people happy and what they are willing to pay for provided the employer does not humiliate his employee to work needlessly, with the intention of showing his superiority over the worker, for example, telling him to clean a crumb off a table that the employer could easily remove himself, or to dig pits in a place where there is no need – similar to what we were commanded: “Do not dominate such a slave to break his spirit” (Leviticus 25:43).
This is also true regarding all other rights, namely, they must be based on the real human world. Just as the threshold in employment is abuse of the worker, so too in all other rights the threshold is abuse or violence. And not like the leftist position which establishes a range of abstract values that blames the suffering of the weak on all the rest of the world, and for that reason, the weak must be called “disadvantaged”, and consequently, all others can be mistreated in order to presumably correct the injustice done to the “disadvantaged”. At first glance, such a position seems to benefit the weak, but with further inspection, it actually undermines all systems of morality, society and the economy, and leads all of us into the abyss of dispute, strife, and deprivation. It is no wonder then, that an extreme leftist will hold the same distorted values about animals who were weakened by a more developed animal called ‘man’, portraying himself as superior to the rest of the species in order to exploit them, because all of life can be described in political terms – it’s a struggle between oppressors, and the oppressed.
Striving for Vegetarianism
Q: “Rabbi Melamed, peace and blessings! Thank you so much and ‘yasher koach’ for your articles in general, and for the one’s concerning cruelty to animals in particular. There were times when I debated whether it was right and ethical to eat meat. When I was young, for two years I abstained from eating meat, and it damaged my health. Rabbi, you wrote things from the wisdom of the Torah that resolved all my doubts. It is important to eat meat, especially since ritual slaughter causes animals minimal suffering… Indeed, I do not eat meat every day, also because I heard that it is not healthy to eat a lot of meat, and also because it is a higher spiritual level. I just wanted to ask, is it worthwhile in the course of time to aspire to become completely vegetarian because of its higher spirituality (if it does not harm my health), or is this an important step forward to reach only in the times of the Final Redemption?
A: There is no need to aspire to reach a level of vegetarianism, rather, we need to strive to improve ourselves in the challenges in which we are commanded, namely, the observance of Torah and mitzvoth, and the refining of good character traits. When the world reaches a higher level, we will not eat meat, and there will be no need to eat meat.
Claims against Ritual Slaughter
Some readers sent me links to problematic videos, indicating that in slaughterhouses animals are abused and that slaughtering involves great and terrible suffering, and therefore, people should stop eating meat.
The claim against ritual slaughter is incorrect because all laws of ritual slaughter are intended to ease the suffering of animals, for indeed the knife must be sharp and the motion of slaughtering is fast, so that immediately the blood ceases from reaching the brain – and as a result, within a few seconds the brain can no longer absorb the pain. The animal’s spasms following this are reflective movements of the nerves, devoid of any feeling or awareness. The videos do indeed depict crude and wild behavior on part of the workers, but their savagery following slaughter, although it does not cause the animals suffering, is contrary to halakha and secular law. The behavior during transportation to the slaughterhouse, of course, must be corrected. However, there is no room for exaggerated claims based on the projection of human feelings onto animals.
Raising Household Pets
Q: According to halakha, is it permissible to buy pets such as a dog, a cat, or a parrot, and raise them?
A: It is permitted (Beit Yosef, Yoreh Deah 117; Birkei Yosef 2). However, when the pet causes grief to one of the family members, it is forbidden to bring it into the home. Likewise, someone who has a dog who frightens visitors to his house should send the dog to a trainer, so that the dog learns to stop barking, and its owner can host guests with due respect (Shabbat 63a, b).
Our Sages said that a person should not bring an animal into his home or yard without knowing he can provide food properly (Yerushalmi, Ketubot 4:8), including being able to provide a suitable kennel or cage for it, clean its place as needed, and ensure that it is vaccinated if necessary.
If one’s pet becomes ill, the owner must take care of it as customary, and if the pet’s illness is terminal and it suffers, it’s best to put it out of its misery.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: