Notions of Compassion
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy


Ruth Eisenbud

"It is true that many religious traditions contain notions of non-violence. The first Buddhist precept is not to kill. The Hebrew Bible speaks eloquently of how the lion will lie down with the lamb. And in Christianity there is the idea that love will finally triumph over violence. But only Jainism has made ahimsa its central doctrine. It alone has consistently held the vision of a peaceable world, realisable by moral effort and spiritual discipline." Reverend Andrew Lindzey, Oxford University


There was a recent dialogue posted on the ALL-Creatures website with Father Classen, a priest who attempted to use the Torah and Biblical references to justify his love of hunting: 

One of the commenter's stated: "Torah (Hebrew Bible) teaches that Animals and Humans are co-creations of G-D. As such animals have souls. They are beings and not things (commodities) to be used by Humans for any frivolous activity. Activities such as hunting and fishing do not meet the criteria of essential need unless they are critical for human survival. We Humans do not own animals to do with them as we please. Torah is very explicit in defining how and in what manner we are to use animals. Anything outside these limitations constitute CRUELTY which is expressly forbidden. Those who violate G-D's laws against cruelty (the infliction of unnecessary suffering on sentient creatures) constitutes a severe violation of Torah Law. Those who are guilty place themselves in great risk of the wellbeing of their immortal soul." Jerrold L. Terdiman MD

After reading this statement I had the uncomfortable feeling that something was not quite right. At first it appears to be a statement of compassion, but when read closely it is actually an endorsement of animal exploitation, harm and slaughter with a nod to compassion. It seems to say you can be compassionate while ab(using) animals. In short abuse never sounded so compassionate.

While this statement alludes to the language of compassion and goes so far as to say that humans do not own animals to do with as they please, it seems to backslide on these lovely words by adding that animals may be used, which implies ownership. You can use your car. An animal is not property, it is a living being with intrinsic worth in its own life, not its extrinsic worth to humans.

Adding the descriptive clause 'non-frivolous reasons' to allowable harm crosses a line where-in animals become human property, where they may be used, but only if their slaughter and the harm done to them is compassionate. There is a problem with this language as harm and slaughter can never be compassionate. To the animal being slaughtered or used as a subject in an experiment, all slaughter and harm is frivolous.

Though non-frivolous harm appears to be a subtle distinction and implies compassion, even sounds like the real thing...when you think about what is really being said... it grants humans permission to harm or slaughter animals.

It is easy to say the right words, but when you follow up with contradictions the good intentions of the original statements are minimized. While it's easy to say animals have a soul, when you do not follow-up and state that animals and humans have an equal right to remain free from harm, the initial statement is meaningless, as you allow for the suffering of that soul to benefit man. Placing human needs above an animals right to exist does not result in compassion.

No where does Dr Terdiman state that animals are entitled to the full respect given to humans, or that human need is NOT above an animal's right to live free from harm. The refusal to acknowledge, that any harm of animals is unjustifiable is a short coming of his position. When you state:

In the Torah, humanity is given dominion over animals (Gen. 1:26), which gives us the right to use animals for legitimate needs. Animal flesh can be consumed for food; animal skins can be used for clothing." Prof Richard Schwartz

It is not reasonable to expect that compassion will follow.

Based on the provision of permissible 'non-frivolous' harm, it is not difficult to understand how Father Classen deduced that hunting deer was a legitimate activity, as he does so to consume the meat.

Though Dr Terdiman states that hunting is a frivolous activity, if done for sport, I wonder how one can justify the slaughter of deer at Musicon Kosher Slaughter, where the method of slaughter must be approved by a religious authority: the rabbi. This slaughter differs only in technique from that of Father Classen. The distinction between hunting and 'legitimate' slaughter is not clear, as in either case animal lives are violated and extinguished.

Some will quibble about whether the slaughter at Musicon is carried out according to strict Jewish law and therefore compassionate, they miss the point: slaughter, whether sanctified by religion or secular is cruel. Reducing this reality to a technical exercise of proper slaughter methods belies the underlying violence of all slaughter:

See: Deer Slaughter

While Father Claussen was rightly criticized for enjoying the actual hunt, the goals of the slaughter at Musicon are similar: pleasure for the consumers and profit for the business:

"The next day, I turned the cute deer I'd seen on Musicon's Web site into cholent. It was delicious." Rob Eshman:


Clinging to ones religious beliefs and promoting them as compassionate when they barely are, in view of the horrors faced by billions upon billions of animals due to these values, trivializes the meaning of compassion. It is one thing to love ones religion and quite another to shamelessly promote it with regard to animal compassion, when it is responsible for so much harm:

"I would like to offer you a complimentary DVD with our recently released documentary A SACRED DUTY: APPLYING JEWISH VALUES TO HELP HEAL THE WORLD." Professor Richard Schwartz

Is it responsible to cite the Torah as a source of compassion in view of the terrible track record of the concept which places man above the animals and DOES ALLOW for their harm and slaughter. Is it time to re-evaluate this message?

Has the effect of the double-message of half-hearted compassion alongside of permissible harm so diluted any compassion that it is virtually non-existent? Why is it that since the 5000 odd years that this message has been introduced there has been an increasing spiral of abuse, while when religion states unequivocally that ALL beings have the same right to remain free from harm, there has been an evolution towards meaningful compassion?

Sophistry and clever arguments to preserve an antiquated model of compassion: dominion. that is responsible for so much animal abuse, cannot be justified and will not lead to compassion. Only Ahimsa will result in the change we seek.


Ruth Eisenbud

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