Jewish Vegetarian - Vegan ArticlesJUDAISM AND DISSECTION
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by Richard H. Schwartz

Many high school and college biology classes, including some in Jewish schools, use the dissection of animals as a learning approach. Some Jewish students have protested the requirement to dissect animals at Jewish schools. How does Judaism view this issue?

Judaism teaches that only human beings are created in the image of  God and thus it values human life more highly than the lives of animals.

However, although it is not well known, Judaism has very powerful teachings about the proper treatment of animals

According to Judaism, animals are part of God's creation and people have special responsibilities to them. The Jewish tradition clearly indicates that

Jews are forbidden to be cruel to animals and are to treat them with compassion. These concepts are summarized in the Hebrew phrase tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, the Torah mandate not to cause "pain to any living creature."

Because Judaism teaches that people are more important than animals, animals may be harmed and even killed in order to meet an essential human need, if there is no other readily available means to meet that need. Hence, hunting for sport is forbidden by Judaism, because no essential human need is met by the killing of an animal.

What is the application of the above teachings to the issue of dissection in classrooms. As Rabbi David Sears points out in his book "The Vision of

Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism," animals may not be exploited to serve every human whim, or simply to satisfy intellectual curiosity, but only to contribute to the betterment of human life. Thus, vivisection as part of an educational curriculum is forbidden. He cites the following sources for his conclusion:

Teshuvos Issur VíHeter, 59:36; Rama on Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 5:14; Shevus Yaakov, III, no. 71; Teshuvos Imrei Shefer, 34:1; Chelkas Yaakov, 1:30-31; also note R. Yoel Schwartz, V'Rachamav Al Kol Maasav, p. 56, s.v. limud.

In his article, "Animal Experimentation: The Jewish View," Dr. Fred Rosner, an expert on Jewish medical ethics states: "animal experimentation is permissible by Jewish law only if its purpose is to obtain practical benefits to mankind and not to simply satisfy intellectual curiosity. Furthermore, if alternative means, for example, tissue culture studies, of obtaining the same information are available, animal experimentation might be categorized as unnecessary cruelty to animals and be prohibited."

Among the alternatives to dissection are multimedia computer simulations, models and simulators, films and videos, and demonstrations. The advantages of alternatives have led to their increasingly widespread adoption. The advantages (compiled by the American anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS)) include:

Better science education

Research has shown that students learn as well if not better when they use an alternative method, such as a computer CD-ROM. Students can use an alternative during a lab exercise and later for review purposes. This ability to repeat the lab is an effective pedagogical tool that animal labs cannot offer. Oftentimes an alternative has a testing section; thereby reinforcing the lessons learned. Some alternatives, like Duncan Software's DryLab series, even have the ability to be tailored to the discretion of the educator. The newer alternative methods have truly transformed science teaching, making the alternative method, the pedagogically better option for improved science education.

Financial savings

Buying animals year after year costs far more than purchasing software which will last several years. Thus, educators can save large amounts of money by purchasing alternative methods rather than using animals.


Every year, millions of animals are dissected in schools and universities. Species used include cats, frogs, fetal pigs, grasshoppers, mink, earthworms, rats, mice, dogs, pigeons, turtles, and many more. Most of these animals suffer during capture, handling, transport, and killing for educational use.

While some are purchased as dead specimens, many are subjected to painful and lethal procedures while still alive. Hence, educators have increasingly begun to question the value of this use of animals.

Many educators understand that there is also an important lesson taught when not using real animals; students learn to respect living beings and begin to appreciate and understand the role of animals in nature. Dissection is a desensitizing experience for many students. It can be perceived as condoning violence. Sensitive students feel that It is not moral to harm animals when there is no compelling reason and when alternative activities can teach the same content and skills

Students' health

Most dissection specimens that come from biological supply companies are preserved with a carcinogenic formaldehyde derivative called formalin. While the chemicals in which these specimens are preserved are marketed under names that evoke safety, they are still a health hazard, especially for students with asthma or lung ailments. Alternative methods do not require harmful chemicals. With alternative methods educators can breathe easy, knowing that their students are learning without inhaling toxic substances.

Computer programmers have developed exciting, interactive CD-ROM software applications that fully engage and educate today's science students. One such program is the award-winning Digital Frog 2. It allows students to "dissect" a computer-generated frog with a "digital scalpel." Animations, quizzes, and movies help make biology fun for students. They can investigate the structure and function of anatomy at their own pace and are able to repeat the dissection as many times as needed in order to fully understand each lesson without the ethical dilemmas and messy distractions of dissections.

Many students indicate that they have avoided advanced biology courses or a career in the sciences because of their objection to dissection labs. However, changes are rapidly occurring, recently. The number of U.S. medical schools that have dropped live animal laboratories from their curricula in favor of high-tech, humane, and cost-effective teaching methods, has increased to an overwhelming majority. This radical shift has enabled many compassionate students to return to medicine and other areas of scientific study.

Among the many U.S. medical schools that use only nonanimal methods to train doctors are: Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, Baylor College of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dartmouth Medical School, Duke University School of Medicine, Emory, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

MMedical College, School of Medicine of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, Northwestern University Medical School Illinois University School of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine Sciences, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and Yale University

School of Medicine.

Further information about alternatives to dissection can be found from The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine , The American Anti-Vivisection Committee , the National Anti-Vivisection Society , and several other groups.

In summary, the use of dissection at Jewish schools is inconsistent with Jewish teachings. Certainly, Jewish students who object to dissection should be permitted to use another approach to learn the material. Even better, all dissection at Jewish schools should be ended, and one or more of the many effective alternatives should be used.

WWe hope that this position paper will help lead to an end of dissection at Jewish schools, and an extensive, respectful discussion and debate in the Jewish community related to Jewish teachings on the proper treatment of animals.

Further information on Jewish views on animals and related issues may be obtained from the following groups:

1. The Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA)

2. Jews for Animal Rights (JAR)  

3. CHAI (Concern for Helping Animals in Israel)  

4. International Jewish Vegetarian Society (IJVS)  

Significant background books include:

Kalechofsky, Roberta. Judaism and Animals Rights -- Classical and Contemporary Responses. Marblehead, Massachusetts: Micah publications, 1992.

Schwartz, Richard. Judaism and Vegetarianism. New York: Lantern, 2001

SSears, David. The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism. Spring Valley, NY: Orot, 2003.

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D. Author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 100 articles at: . President of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, College of Staten Island 2800 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island, NY 10314 Phone: (718) 761-5876 Fax: (718) 982-3631 E-mail address: [email protected]  

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