A. Jewish Teachings on Compassion to Animals
God’s tender mercies are over all His works. (Psalms 145:9).
The righteous person regards the life of his/her 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 (God) Who has compassion on all creatures”. There are many other statements in the Jewish tradition about God’s compassion and concern for all of His creatures. And Judaism teaches that people are to emulate this divine compassion.
Realities of Modern Animal Agriculture
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.
1. Chickens are raised for slaughter in long, windowless, crowded sheds, where they never see sunlight, breathe fresh air, or get any exercise.
2. To produce pate de fois gras, ducks and geese are force-fed six to seven pounds of grain three times a day 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, is removed. Israel was the world’s leading exporter of pate de fois gras. but it is now outlaws in Israel.
3. Veal producers remove the calf from his mother after one day, with no consideration of his need for motherly nourishment, affection, and physical contact. The calf is then 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 by giving him a special high-calorie, iron-free diet. They tie the head of the calf to the stall to prevent him from licking the iron fittings on the stall and his own urine to try to satisfy his intense craving for iron.
4. Chickens are extremely crowded in today’s modern hen house, with 4 or 5 hens generally squeezed into a 18-inch by 20-inch cage. Poultry producers generally de-beak chickens with hot-knife machines, a very painful and often debilitating procedure. This is industry’s answer to the fact that birds are often driven to crazed pecking, which harms and sometimes kills their cell mates, reducing the producers’ profits. Some companies have shifted away from raising hens in battery cages, but they are still very badly treated.
5. Since they have no value to the egg industry, male chicks are weeded out and disposed of by “chick-pullers.” Daily, over a half million chicks are stuffed into plastic bags, where they are crushed and suffocated to death.
Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, a modern Torah scholar and teacher in Jerusalem states, “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. This is a matter for decision by halachic authorities”. (Masterplan: Its Programs, Meanings, Goals; Feldheim, 1991, p. 69).
Rabbi David Rosen, a modern Israeli Orthodox rabbi and former Chief Rabbi of Ireland states even more strongly: “. . . the current treatment of animals in the livestock trade definitely renders the consumption of meat as halachically unacceptable as the product of illegitimate means”. (Rabbis and Vegetarianism, Micah Pub., 1995, p.53.)