Humane Religion Magazine
March - April 1996 Issue
JUDAISM AND COMPASSION FOR ANIMALS
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.d
“Animals are part of God’s creation and people have special responsibilities to them. The Jewish tradition clearly indicates that we are forbidden to be cruel to animals and that we are to treat them with compassion. These concepts are summarized in the Hebrew phrase tsa’ar ba’lei chayim, the biblical mandate not to cause ‘pain to any living creature."
“Psalms 104 and 148 show God’s close identification with the beasts of the field, creatures of the sea, and birds of the air. Sea Animals and birds received the same blessing as people: ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ (Gen. 1:22). Animals were initially given a vegetarian diet, similar to that of people (Gen. 1:29-30). The important Hebrew term nefesh chaya ( a ‘living soul ‘ ) was applied in Genesis ( 1:21, l:24) to animals as well as people.
“Although the Torah clearly indicates that people are to have ‘dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creepeth upon the earth (Gen. 1:28), there was to be a basic relatedness, and the rights and privileges of animals were not to be neglected or overlooked. Animals are also God’s creatures, possessing sensitivity and the capacity for feeling pain, hence they must be protected and treated with compassion and justice....
“The Psalms indicate God’s concern for animals, for ‘His tender mercies are over all His creatures (Ps. 145:9), providing food for the beasts and birds (Ps. 147:9), and, in general, ‘preserving both man and beast’ (Ps. 36:7)....
“Perhaps the Jewish attitude toward animals is best summarized by the statement in Proverbs 12:10, ‘The righteous person regards the life of his beast.’ This is the human counterpoint of ‘The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His creatures. “ (Ps. 145:9). In Judaism, one who is cruel to animals cannot be regarded as a righteous individual.”
From Judaism and Vegetarianism, by Richard H. Schwartz, © 1988. Used with permission and available from Micah Publications:. 255 Humphrey St., Marblehead, MA 01945. $15.00 postpaid.