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January 20, 2014 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Mishpatim

In discussing Exodus 23:12 (mandating Shabbat rest for donkeys and oxen) Scharfstein lists four other examples of halacha’s support for kindness to animals: the requirement that one who sees a fallen beast of burden must help, animals’ right to search for food during the sabbatical year, the requirement that animals of different species may not be harnessed together while ploughing, and kosher slaughter.  

One thing all these rules have in common is that none of them prohibit or significantly restrict Jews’ ability to kill animals.  Four of them mandate kind treatment of animals while they are alive, and kosher slaughter relates to the technique of killing.  Thus, the Torah’s agenda is very different from that of the animal rights movement, which treats preservation of animal life as an important value.  The Torah says: don’t be cruel to animals while they are alive, but it is pretty much OK to kill them.  

This does not mean that the Torah consistently conflicts with the animal rights agenda.* One could argue that the Torah’s treatment of animals, like its slavery rules, are the first step in a long-term trend of greater kindness, and that just as most of humanity has expanded on the Torah’s rules by abolishing slavery, we could expand on the Torah’s rules in this area as well.  (Whether this would be a good thing I leave to deeper thinkers than myself!) 

*At least as long as animal sacrifice is not an option.  One could argue that animal sacrifice will return with the Messiah, but until or unless an actual Messiah survives, I am happy to reserve judgment on this question.

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