KJ Hannah Greenberg

Treating Animals with Dignity

Parsha Emor expounds upon many important topics, including laws governing curbs on Kohanim’s’ behaviors, laws for observing chagim and Shabbot, laws for lighting the Temple’s menorah and preparing its showbread, and laws for punishing persons who blaspheme, commit murder, or destroy other persons’ property. This parsha also instructs about creating kiddush Hashem and about the treatment of newborn, kosher animals (“Issues in Jewish Ethics: The Treatment of Animals: Prohibition Against Cruelty to Animals”).

Our kind management of other living things is part of our reverence for our Creator and His work. Whereas Judaism forbids us to act toward each other with callousness, oftentimes, we must similarly be warm-hearted toward faunae.

This concern for critters’ welfare is unique to Judaism. Torah teaches that Moshe was chosen for his mission because of how he cared for sheep. Rivka was chosen as Yitzak’s wife because of her compassion toward camels. On the other hand, Nimrod and Esau, both of whom were hunters, are considered villainous because they brutally killed creatures for sport (“Issues in Jewish Ethics”).

Author Kylie Ora Lobell reminds us, in “What the Torah Taught Me About Kindness to Animals,” that


[t]he topic of killing animals is so important that it’s even stressed among the Noahide laws. Noahides don’t have to follow kosher laws, but they can’t rip limbs off living animals. This law is important because it reflects a person’s true character. How people treat creatures that are less valued and more vulnerable than them shows their esteem for all of Creation.

Not only oughtn’t we to maim living things, in general, we also oughtn’t to castrate them, in particular. Rebbetzin Chana Bracha Siegelbaum instructs, in “The Problem of Pet Sterilization,” that “[t]he mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply has such a central place in the Torah. It is ingrained in the very fabric of creation when all species was blessed with fruitful procreation. The mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply is also the very first mitzvah given to humanity.”

Further, as Rabbi Jack Abramowitz posits in, “Don’t Do That, Either!: The Prohibition against Castrating Animals,” “[t]he fact that the Torah says [‘]in your land[’] does not mean to limit this prohibition to Israel. Rather, it means not to permit [castration] to be done to [any] man or beast [living] among the Jewish people.”


Additionally, Rabbi Abramowitz cautions that

[w]e may not hire non-Jews to castrate animals for us but we may purchase already-castrated animals from them[.] It is particularly reprehensible for a Jew to hint to a non-Jew that he wants a certain animal gelded. If he does this, he is not permitted to keep the animal; he is compelled to sell it against his will as a penalty.

Essentially, esteeming other creatures’ well-being includes not crippling them and not causing them to lose their ability to reproduce. They’re to be unharmed by us.

Sometimes, though, living things are not defective because they were mutilated by humans but because they were born that way. As such, they’re disqualified from being used for sacred work. Not only do two non-red hairs rule out a red heifer from becoming the basis for purification (Shurpin), but it’s also the case that blemished creatures cannot be offered on the altar (“Blemish”).

Interestingly, we hold similar restrictions for Kohanim per their service. Rabbi Adam Mintz, says, “the kohen represents the people to G‑d. However, he also represents G‑d to the people. In this second role, it is vital that he be [‘]perfect,[’] without spiritual or physical imperfections.”

Equally, critters that are not at least eight days old can’t be used as oblations until. Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, clarifies the number eight’s kabbalistic implications, in “Torah and Mathematics: Happy Numbers, Singular Numbers, and Family Numbers.” He explains that

“1, 4, and 8 carry deep significance in Torah, as they are the values of the three letters that make up the Hebrew word “one” (אחד). This word appears as the climactic termination of the Shema [.] The meaning of this verse is that God’s absolute unity is manifest within His finite, pluralistic creation. The progression of these values—1, 8, and 4—is used as a meditation upon the meaning of the word “one” in Hebrew.”

Yehoshua Stokar, too, claims, in “The Magical Number of 8,” that

[t]he number 8 in Judaism is what is called a typological number – in other words, it is not just a number but it is also a symbol…[7 and 8 are] important in and of themselves but are also related to one another[.] The world was created in 7 days[. T]he Mishkan was inaugurated on the 8th day. Pesach and Succot are both 7 days long and immediately following Succot; we celebrate Shemini Atzeret on the 8th day[.] A child is circumcised on the 8th day of his life. An animal is acceptable as a sacrifice on the 8th day of its life[.] “8” comes after seven, indicating the spiritual level beyond nature.

Further, by living at least eight days, living things experience a Shabbot. We sanction using only nature only that’s had some exposure to kadusha.

Finally, it’s not permitted for Jews to kill a calf, lamb, or kid on the same day as killing its mother. Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz HaLevi explains, in “Nation of Compassion,”

The true reason [for this constraint,] is connected to the Jewish people’s sense of empathy. To the extent that a person displays consideration for the feeling of others he in turn may find that such considerations of his own feelings will be a factor when he will be judged. The reverse is also true.

Yet, when we abide by all of the aforementioned limits, we can kill quadrupeds for food, clothing, research, on so on. Rabbi Asher Meir writes, in “Animal Suffering: The Jewish View,” that

while the prohibition on animal suffering would never forbid using animals for an important human need… it would forbid causing unnecessary suffering for that need. Nachmanides writes (Deut. 22:6), “[God’s] mercy on creatures with an animal soul does not extend to prevent us from using them for our needs.”

Essentially, we don’t castrate creatures, use blemished ones, or ones younger than eight days old, for sacrifices, or kill a calf, lamb, or kid on the same day as killing its mother. We uphold these strictures because we fear Hashem, Who, as Psalm 50 reminds, doesn’t need us to employ proper conduct toward the rest of creation. Rather, He desire it.

I claim no Bull from your estate, no he-goats from your pens.

For Mine is every animal of the forest, the beasts on a thousand mountains.

I know every bird of the mountains, the creatures of the field are subject to Me.Were I hungry, I would not tell you, for Mine is the world and all it holds (“Psalm 50”).

Kindness to animals, i.e., treating them with dignity, is part of being Jewish.


Abramowitz, Rabbi Jack “Don’t Do That, Either!: The prohibition against castrating animals” [sic]. Accessed 17 Jul. 2023.


“Blemish.” Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed 16 May 2024.

Ginsburgh, Rabbi Yitzchak. “Torah and Mathematics: Happy Numbers, Singular Numbers, and Family Numbers.” Gal Einai. Accessed 17 Jul. 2023.

Horowitz, Rabbi Isaiah HaLevi. Trans. Eliyahu Munk. “Nation of Compassion.” [sic]. Accessed 17 Jul. 2023.

“Issues in Jewish Ethics: The Treatment of Animals: Prohibition Against Cruelty to Animals.”  Jewish Virtual Library. AICE (American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise). Accessed 17 Jul. 2023.

Lobell, Kylie Ora. “What the Torah Taught Me About Kindness to Animals.” Accessed 17 Jul. 2023.


Meir, Rabbi Asher. “Animal Suffering: The Jewish View.” Accessed 17 Jul. 2023.

Mintz, Rabbi Adam “Emor: The Disqualified Kohen.” 3 May 2009. Accessed 17 Jul. 2023.

“Psalm 50.” Jewish Publication Society. 1985. Accessed 10 May 2024.

Siegelbaum, Rebbetzin Chana Bracha. “The Problem of Pet Sterilization.” Woman on the Land. 28 Apr. 2015. Accessed 17 Jul. 2023.

Shurpin, Yehuda. “For Real, How Rare is a red Heifer?” Accessed 16 May 2024.

Stokar, Yehoshua. “The Magical Number of 8.” Torah Mitzion. 7 Jun. 2015. Acc

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.