Hunting: Theological Views
According to the Torah (Genesis 6:9), Noah is honored as a "tzaddik," or
a righteous man. Commentators say this is because he provided charity
("tzedakah") for so many animals on the ark. The high level of awareness and
concern given to the care and feeding of the animals aboard the ark reflects
the traditional Jewish value of not causing harm to animals, or "tsa’ar
This moral principle—officially set down as law in the Torah and elaborated upon in the Talmud (Shabbat 128b), the medieval commentaries and the Responsa literature—permeates the many legends that grew up around the leading figures in the Torah and in Jewish history.
Kindness to animals was so valued by the Jewish tradition; it was also considered an important measure of a person’s piety, compassion and righteousness. From this value emerged the stories about how shepherds such as Moses and David were elevated to national leadership because of their compassion for their lambs.
There are also many "maysehs," or moralistic folktales in Judaism about sages who rescued or fed stray cows and hungry chickens, watered thirsty horses and freed caged birds.
In the Talmud (Eruvin 100b), Rabbi Yochanon teaches, "Even if we had not been given the Torah, we still would have learned modesty from the cat, honesty from the ant, chastity from the dove, and good manners from the rooster. Thus, the animals should be honored."
According to the Talmud (Shabbat 77b), the entire creation is to be respected: "Thou thinkest that flies, fleas, mosquitos are superfluous, but they have their purpose in creation as a means of a final outcome...Of all that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in His world, he did not create a single thing without purpose."
The Talmud (Avodah Zorah 18b) also forbids association with hunters. Rabbi Ezekiel Landau (1713-93) was once asked by a man if he could hunt on his large estate. The rabbi replied:
"In the Torah the sport of hunting is imputed only to fierce characters like Nimrod and Esau, never to any of the patriarchs and their descendants...I cannot comprehend how a Jew could even dream of killing animals merely for the pleasure of hunting...When the act of killing is prompted by that of sport, it is downright cruelty."
The Talmud (Gittin 62a) further teaches that one should not own a domestic or wild animal or even a bird if he cannot properly care for it. Although there is no general rule forbidding animal cruelty, so many biblical commandments call for humane treatment, the talmudic rabbis explicitly declared compassion for animals to be biblical law (Shabbat 128b).
The medieval work Sefer Chasidim, or The Book of the Pious, says, "Be kind and compassionate to all creatures that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in this world. Never beat nor inflict pain on any animal, beast, bird or insect. Do not throw stones at a dog or a cat, nor should ye kill flies or wasps."
According to Shulhan Aruch, the Orthodox Code of Jewish Law, no special blessings are given for meat dishes. "It is not fitting to bless God over something which He created and which man has slain." It is also forbidden to celebrate the acquisition of a leather garment. Similarly, it is a custom never to wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur. "One does not ask for forgiveness of sins while wearing articles made from the skins of slaughtered animals."
Shulhan Aruch teaches: "It is forbidden, according to the Torah, to hurt any living creature. It is, on the contrary, one’s duty to save any living creature, be he ownerless, or if he belongs to a non-Jew."
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch taught, "The boy, who in crude joy, finds delight in the convulsions of an injured beetle or the anxiety of a suffering animal will also be dumb towards human pain."
British historian William Lecky noted, "Tenderness towards animals is one of the most beautiful features of the Old Testament."
The late Reverend Janet Regina Hyland (1933-2007), author of God's Covenant with Animals (it's available through PETA), notes:
"The Christian voices that were raised in protest against the wanton murder of animal beings were ignored. Even the repugnance toward hunting and hunters that was encoded in Catholic Canon Law, was ignored. 'Esau was a hunter because he was a sinner; and in the Holy scriptures we do not find a single holy man being a hunter.' (From the Corpus Juris Canonici. Rome, 1582.)"
"Thanks be to God!" wrote John Wesley, founder of Methodism, to the Bishop of London in 1747. "Since the time I gave up the use of flesh-meats and wine, I have been delivered from all physical ills." Wesley was a vegetarian for spiritual reasons as well. He based his vegetarianism on the Biblical prophecies concerning the Kingdom of Peace, where "on the new earth, no creature will kill, or hurt, or give pain to any other." He further taught that animals "shall receive an ample amends for all their present sufferings."
Wesley's teachings placed an emphasis on inner religion and the effect of the Holy Spirit upon the consciousness of such followers. Wesley taught that animals will attain heaven: in the "general deliverance" from the evils of this world, animals would be given vigor, strength and swiftness...to a far higher degree than they ever enjoyed."
Wesley urged parents to educate their children about compassion towards animals. He wrote: "I am persuaded you are not insensible of the pain given to every Christian, every humane heart, by those savage diversions, bull-baiting, cock-fighting, horse-racing, and hunting."
The Quakers have a long history of advocating kindness towards animals. In 1795, the Society of Friends (Quakers) in London passed a resolution condemning sport hunting. The resolution stated in part, "let our leisure be employed in serving our neighbor, and not in distressing, for our amusement, the creatures of God."
John Woolman (1720-72) was a Quaker preacher and abolitionist who traveled throughout the American colonies attacking slavery and cruelty to animals. Woolman wrote that he was "early convinced in my mind that true religion consisted in an inward life, wherein the heart doth love and reverence God the Creator and learn to exercise true justice and goodness, not only toward all men, but also toward the brute creatures..." Woolman's deep faith in God thus led to his reverence for all life. "Where the love of God is verily perfected and the true spirit of government watchfully attended to," he taught, "a tenderness toward all creatures made subject to us will be experienced, and a care felt in us that we do not lessen that sweetness of life in the animal creation which the great Creator intends for them."
Joshua Evans (1731-1798), a Quaker and a contemporary of Woolman's, stated that reverence for life was the moral basis of his vegetarianism. "I considered that life was sweet in all living creatures," he wrote, "and taking it away became a very tender point with me...I believe my dear Master has been pleased to try my faith and obedience by teaching me that I ought no longer to partake of anything that had life."
The "Quaker poet" and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-92), wrote: "The sooner we recognize the fact that the mercy of the Almighty extends to every creature endowed with life, the better it will be for us as men and Christians."
In a 1991 article entitled “Hunting: What scripture Says,” Rick Dunkerly of Christ Lutheran Church, observes:
“There are four hunters mentioned in the Bible: three in Genesis and one in Revelation. The first hunter is named Nimrod in Genesis 10:8-9. He is the son of Cush and founder of the Babylonian Empire, the empire that opposes God throughout scripture and is destroyed in the Book of Revelation. In Micah 5:6, God’s enemies are said to dwell in the land of Nimrod. Many highly reputable evangelical scholars such as Barnhouse, Pink and Scofield regard Nimrod as a prototype of the anti-Christ.
“The second hunter is Ishmael, Abraham’s ‘son of the flesh’ by the handmaiden, Hagar. His birth is covered in Genesis 16 and his occupation in 21:20. Ishmael’s unfavorable standing in scripture is amplified by Paul in Galatians 4:22-31.
“The third hunter, Esau, is also mentioned in the New Testament. His occupation is contrasted with his brother (Jacob) in Genesis 25:27. In Hebrews 12:16 he is equated with a ‘profane person’ (KJV). He is a model of a person without faith in God. Again, Paul elucidates upon this model unfavorably in Romans 9:8-13, ending with the paraphrase of Malachi 1:2-3: ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.’
“The fourth hunter is found in Revelation 6:2, the rider of the white horse with the hunting bow. Scholars have also identified him as the so-called anti-Christ. Taken as a group, then, hunters fare poorly in the Bible. Two model God’s adversary and two model the person who lives his life without God.
“In scripture,” notes Dunkerly, “the contrast of the hunter is the shepherd, the man who gently tends his animals and knows them fully. The shepherds of the Bible are Abel, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and David. Beginning in the 23rd Psalm, Jesus is identified as ‘the Good Shepherd.’
“As for hunting itself, both the Psalms and Proverbs frequently identify it with the hunter of souls, Satan. His devices are often called ‘traps’ and ‘snares,’ his victims ‘prey.’ Thus, in examining a biblical stance on the issue of hunting, we see the context is always negative, always dark in contrast to light...premeditated killing, death, harm, destruction. All of these are ramifications of the Fall. When Christ returns, all of these things will be ended...
“Of all people,” Dunkerly concludes, “Christians should not be the destroyers. We should be the healers and reconcilers. We must show NOW how it will be THEN in the Peaceable Kingdom of Isaiah 11:6 where ‘the wolf shall lie down with the lamb...and a little child shall lead them.’
"We can begin now within our homes and churches by teaching our children respect and love for all of God’s creation...”