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Laws of Religion

Laws of Judaism Concerning Food

 

18.  Humane Treatment of Animals

 

from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)

and the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

 

Humane Treatment of Animals

From the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)

 

It is forbidden to muzzle an ox while it is treading on grain (to thresh it).[1] There are other passages in the Hebrew Bible outside of the Torah that relate to the humane treatment of animals. One proverb states that a righteous man is concerned about his animals.[2] Also, in the final passage of the story of Jonah, God expresses his concern for the cattle of Nineveh as well as for the people.[3]

 

 

Humane Treatment of Animals

Jewish Law (Halakha) from the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

The verse of the Torah (Deuteronomy 24:4) concerning an ox treading grain means that all types of animals doing any type of work on plants that grow in the soil are to be permitted to eat the growing crop and also anything on the animal’s back that it can reach and eat by itself. The punishment for preventing a working animal from eating by muzzling it or shouting at it is flogging.[4] (Editor’s note: Note the provision discussed on a previous page, Food Obligations to Workers and the Poor, that preventing a worker from eating what he is entitled to is not to be punished by flogging.) It is also forbidden to prevent a working animal from eating by asking a heathen to muzzle the animal and put it to work, by working the animal if a thorn in its mouth prevents it from eating, by inducing a lion to lie down nearby to frighten the working animal, by laying a hide over the grain being threshed or by failing to give a drink to a thirsty animal, though these transgressions are not to be punished by flogging.[5]

 

Mounting or loading a pack upon an animal is forbidden on the Sabbath, as is climbing a tree. If one has intentionally climbed a tree on the Sabbath, it is forbidden to climb down (because climbing down would constitute additional forbidden work on the Sabbath). However, it is permitted to dismount or unload a pack from an animal on the Sabbath for the sake of the animal.[6]

 

In contrast, it is forbidden on the day of a religious festival to release an animal that is caught in a trap if it may have been trapped that same day.[7]

 

It is forbidden on a religious festival day to remove a firstborn animal that fell into a well, though the animal should be fed and made as comfortable as possible. It could be removed if it were fit for slaughtering, but it is not so it cannot be removed.[8] (As a firstborn, it is consecrated and must be given to a priest rather than slaughtered.[9] Removing it would be work forbidden on a festival day, since it is not for slaughter, food preparation or another type of work specifically permitted on a festival day.[10])

 

However, if a mother animal and her offspring fall into a well, one can remove the animals on a festival day one at a time by intending to slaughter one of the animals, removing that animal from the well, deciding not to slaughter it but rather to slaughter the one still in the well and then removing that animal. This subterfuge is permitted for the sake of the welfare of the animals.[11] (The intention at any given time must be to slaughter only one animal because it is forbidden to slaughter a mother animal and her offspring on the same day, as discussed on a previous page, Animals and their Offspring, Including Milk and Meat Restrictions.)

 

________________

 

Laws of Religion is a project of the Religion Research Society.

 

Updated October 16, 2016

 

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Abbreviations used in footnotes:

Gen: The Biblical book of Genesis.

Exod: The Biblical book of Exodus.

Lev: The Biblical book of Leviticus.

Num: The Biblical Book of Numbers.

Deut: The Biblical Book of Deuteronomy.

MT:  The Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (Code of Maimonides). The names of the specific books and treatises within each book are given according to the Yale University Press translation and also the Moznaim/Touger Hebrew transliterations to facilitate locating the texts posted here.

F:  indicates page numbers in the Feldheim Publishers, Ltd., translation of Book 1 of the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, the Book of Knowledge.

M:  indicates page numbers in the relevant volume of the Moznaim Publishing Corporation’s Touger translation. (Some of the books of Mishneh Torah are published in several volumes by Moznaim, so the Moznaim volume numbers do not correspond to the Book numbers of Maimonides’ work.)

Y:  indicates page numbers in the translation of the Yale University Press Judaica Series.

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Judaism.

 



[1] Deut 25:4

[2] Proverbs 12:10

[3] Jonah 4:10-11

[4] MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws, Sefer Mishpatim; Treatise 1on Hiring, Sechirut; Chapter 13, secs 1-2 (pages 128M 48Y)

[5] MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws, Sefer Mishpatim; Treatise 1on Hiring, Sechirut; Chapter 13, sec 3 (pages 130M 49Y)

[6] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 1 on The Sabbath, Shabbat (Shabbos); Chapter 21, sec 9 (pages 144-146M 131-132Y)

[7] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 4 Repose on a Festival, Sh’vitat Yom Tov; Chapter 2, sec 8 (pages 202M 277-278Y)

[8] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 4 Repose on a Festival, Sh’vitat Yom Tov; Chapter 2, sec 4 (pages 198M 276Y)

[9] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 4 Repose on a Festival (Hilchot Sh’vitat Yom Tov), Chapter 2, sec 3, footnote 5 on page 197M

[10] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 4 Repose on a Festival, Sh’vitat Yom Tov; Chapter 1, sec 8 (pages 180M 270Y); MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 4 Repose on a Festival, Sh’vitat Yom Tov; Chapter 1, sec 17 (pages 188M 272Y)

[11] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 4 Repose on a Festival, Sh’vitat Yom Tov; Chapter 2, sec 4 (pages 198M 276Y)