The Ethical Treatment of Animals

Most Jews are not aware, in a world of factory-farmed and cruelly killed creatures, that kindness to animals is central to Judaism.

Tza’ar ba’alei chayim, not causing pain to any living thing, is even reflected in the Ten Commandments. We give animals a day of rest on the Sabbath as well. As Psalm 36 states: “Man and beast You save O God. How precious is Your steadfast love.” Proverbs relates a test for the righteous: “A righteous person has regard for the life of his beast [12:10].”

This tradition persisted through Talmudic times and beyond. The standard code of Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch tells us that it is forbidden according to the Torah to “inflict pain on any living creature.”

In one sense, all of Judaism rests on this principle. When Rebecca compassionately draws water for all 10 camels of the servant of the patriarch Abraham, she is chosen as the wife of Abraham’s son, Isaac. It is un-Jewish to blithely ignore the cruelties inflicted on animals in public exhibits or on our dinner plates. Our mission is not to pillage God’s creation, but to be its stewards and shepherds. True mastery means true mercy.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.
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