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April 22, 2013 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Emor

At the very end of this week’s portion, the Torah notes that one who kills a beast shall make restitution for it, while one who kills a human shall be executed (Lev. 24:21).  More broadly, Levine notes that the Torah “consistently differentiates between human life and the life of animals.”  

On the other hand, the Torah has numerous provisions designed to prevent cruelty to animals.  This week’s portion notes that no one may offer a mutilated or castrated animal as a sacrifice, and then adds “You shall have no such practices in your own land, nor shall you accept such from a foreigner… for they are mutilated.” (22:24).  

Isn’t the first sentence quoted redundant?  Levine thinks not; he suggests that the latter sentence reveals “a general prohibition of abhorrent practices” such as “genital mutilation” and gelding horses- in other words, that this language is not limited to sacrifice but is a general prohibition of mutilating animals.  And halacha appears to agree .

Of course, today pet owners neuter and spay animals for their own good.  So do these rules bar “fixing” pets?  Many rabbis tend to agree.  However, there is enough division that a few modern rabbis argue for leniency (see the end of this article). 

At any rate, my broader point is that the Torah steers a middle way between an “animal rights” perspective and a complete refusal to acknowledge that nonhuman animals ever have valid interests.

On another note, the JPS commentary has an interesting view of the relationship between Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Why is Sukkot five days after Yom Kippur?  Prof. Levine notes that the rituals for Yom Kippur include ritual purification of sacred shrines (first the Tabernacle, later the Temple).  Thus, “scheduling [Yom Kippur] only a few days prior to the major pilgrimage festival of the year ensured that the sanctuary … would be restored to a state of fitness in time for the celebration of the autumn Sukkot festival.”


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