Monday, November 24, 2008

A-Hunting We Won't Go

Ah, Fall. The crisp air, the beautiful foliage and, for those who live in rural areas, the hunting season! Yes, this is the time of year when, permit in hand, hunters take to the woods for sport.

The permissibility of hunting according to Jewish law is not as straight-forward as one might imagine. Actually, there are cogent arguments for and against hunting and trapping in Jewish tradition.

In Genesis (1:26), God explicitly gives human beings dominion over the entire planet - meaning all animals, vegetables and minerals. Dominion, however, does not mean tyranny or abuse, but rather responsibility. In fact, this verse is one that is at the heart of Judaism’s sensitive environmental philosophy.

While humans have dominion over animals, Judaism prohibits “tza’ar ba’alei chayim,” causing undo suffering to living creatures. For this reason, hunting for pleasure is strictly prohibited.

And while humankind has Divine permission to be omnivorous, Jewish law deems any animal not properly slaughtered to be "not kosher" (unfit) for Jewish consumption. Animals with life-threatening wounds, such as those resulting from guns, arrows or traps, are not kosher.

So if animals may not be hunted for either food and pleasure, when might hunting be permitted? One may hunt only for a legitimate need, such as collecting fur and leather for clothes or shoes or to obtain animal products that are used for medicine. Even then, the animal must be killed in a manner that ensures the least possible pain.

JewishTreats leaves you with this question: Would hunting to thin out a herd in danger of starvation be prohibited as tza’ar ba’alei chayim or would it be permitted in order to make certain that fewer animals starve to death? Let us know your opinion by leaving a comment below.


C Yocheved said...

Thank you for this post - the treatment of animals - even "kosher" animals" slaughtered for our consumption is something that made me become vegan for a short time. It didn't work out for me nutritionally, but I am still appalled and disgusted that factory farming fits in with the laws of kashrut.

I know that's a bit off topic, but I believe this is something that too many don't think about. Why is it that chickens who live in tiny jail cells, get their beaks plucked off, are given artificial hormones and antibiotics are kosher? Why is this ok? I don't understand how this doesn't fit in with tza'ar ha'alei chayim.

As for hunting, I can see how hunting to thin out a herd in danger of starvation would be permissible since pleasure is not the intention; this is a pretty legitimate need. But perhaps there is another way to insure that they don't starve? I don't know much about this topic to really comment!

Jewish Treats said...

A number of years ago hunting deer on the Kaibob mesa in Arizona was prohibited. As there were no other predators to keep the deer population in check their numbers burgeoned. There was not enough forage to support the herd and as a result many deer starved to death and others, weakened , fell easy prey to disease. Currently wild horses are overrunning the western prairies and compete with free range cattle for grass. Responding to ranchers complaints the government hires hunters to decimate the herds (after an adopt-a-horse program proved inadequate). There was a news story just a few days ago about some affluent suburbia where deer are eating the expensive shrubbery and professional hunters are killing them and donating the meat to soup kitchens to feed the poor.
Obviously, we who keep kosher will not be involved in this, but I see no reason that homeless and impoverished people who eat treyfe should be denied good protein while at the same time culling the deer population to a healthy level.

A. Egelman (aka "The Sporting Chance")

Emailed to

Jewish Treats said...

Dear Hitgirl,
You have brought up a not-uncommon question. In fact, this is one that has been discussed by rabbis and there have been numerous rabbis who have prohibitted the eating of animals raised in tza'ar ba'alei chayim conditions, although they would be technically kosher.

The truth of the matter is that you are actually integrating two different mitzvot: kashrut and tza'ar ba'alei chayim (not causing pain to an animal). Because they are two distinct mitzvot, it is possible to be upholiding one while breaking the other. That can go either way. A kosher slaughterhouse can, unfortunately, be less than stringent on the concept of tza'ar ba'alei chayim while producing perfectly shechted (slaughtered) and kashered meat. And a slaughterhouse could treat their animals with the utmost respect and dignity and not pay attention to the detailed laws of kosher slaughter.

This duality can be seen in the world all around. A person might be known as the biggest charity giver in town, but not be paying taxes (and might therefore be giving away money that is not righfully his/hers).

Unfortunately, we human beings, to whom God entrusted His Torah, are simply human. Our job, as each individual, is to try and live up to these ideals.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Jewish Treats said...

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I think that hunting to prevent widespread starvation due to over population of certain animals might be ok but restoring the balance of nature by reintroduction of preditor animals or use of new birth control methods would be better.

K. Wolff

Jewish Treats said...

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Dear Jewish Treats,

Thank you very much for your article about hunting and cruelty to animals. Oftentimes we are all so wrapped up in going to school, going to work, spending time with our friends and families, etc. When it comes down to doing mitzvahs, those beings that can talk are the only ones that reach our ears and eyes, and consequently, we only think of other human beings. But there is so much more out there that we aren't aware of on a daily basis. Animals cannot speak, and so it is up to us to remember them and speak for them - and speak out against cruelty towards them. They too have a piece of God inside of them, and the world would be a better place if we would remember that more frequently.

I want to respond to your question about whether hunting is permissible when it comes to stopping animals from starving to death. I will admit that I am no wise Jewish scholar or rabbi; I've never attended Yeshiva. I can say that I only have a few years of Hebrew school and Hebrew tutoring under my belt, the fact that my father reads from the Torah and from Jewish articles every Shabbas to my sister and me, my logic, my love, and God-willing, a good, strong conscience. Armed with these tools, I will attempt to answer the question as best as I can.

First off, I know that God gave us dominion (but a responsible dominion) over nature. But it is also true, if I am correct, that if humans did not exist at all, the world would go on running in perfectly fine condition. In fact, it would be running in even better condition. Because of human greed, we have irresponsibly abused the dominion that God has given us over nature, by chopping down trees and cruelly causing animals to lose their homes. One example I know if is the way in which we clear forests in order to build strip malls. We humans don't really need more places to buy fancy outfits, but animals do need places to live. I have learned from environmental science that forests with a lot of trees are warm, since the density of the trees blocks out the wind and keeps in the heat. Therefore, animals are kept safe and warm if their forests are left untouched.

But unfortunately, many forests are not left untouched. Animals suddenly left without homes, or a food source, or place of warmth, because some humans have decided to create, let's say, a parking lot, will have to migrate somewhere else. Suddenly, the forests that do exist become crowded and overpopulated by animals whose homes were taken away by our fabulous capitalist system.

Overpopulation, in turn, upsets the balance of the ecosystem, and many animals end up starving to death because there is just not enough food to go around.

So now, what? What should we humans do? There are animals dying of starvation in an overcrowded forest. Should we kill some of them, so they don't have to suffer?

My answer is an emphatic NO. That's simply putting a band-aid over a profusely bleeding wound. It does not solve the problem at all. Suddenly, the hunters look like kind, humane people who just want to end the suffering of animals, while their daughters and sons are enjoying themselves at the nice new strip mall that was put up - on the homes of the animals they are now about to shoot!

We caused the problem in the first place. The right thing to do is to attack this problem at its root - or it will never end. Furthermore, there is a vacuum in nature. If you kill starving animals in order to fix the ecosystem, more animals who need a place to live will simply fill in the space. This is why, for example, exterminating stray cats from an area never works, but something known as Trap, Spay/Neuter, Return (TSNR) does work.

In my opinion, we must channel our energies into creating more and more nature preserves, and into curbing human greed that masks itself in the name of the capitalist spirit. That, and only that, is true tsa'ar ba'alei chayim.

Oh, and by the way, the fact that we do not need fur or leather to keep ourselves warm, because we've got better alternatives, should mean that fur and leather is unkosher (especially considering the fact that, to my knowledge, there are NO humane fur farms in existence).

Once again, I want to stress that I am no educated rabbi or Yeshiva student. But I have never believed that you need to know each and every halachic law to be doing the right thing. We should never go looking for loopholes in the Torah in order to allow us to get away with murder.

Thank you once again for your article,

S. Fleischer