Judaism and the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Judaism and the Ethical Treatment of AnimalsWORLD ANIMAL DAY takes place Friday, Oct. 4. According to WorldAnimalDay.org, the awareness day began in 1931, created by a group of ecologists as a way of “highlighting the plight of endangered species.” The day has since evolved to become a time for respecting all animals — and the people who love them.

This year, corresponding with World Animal Day is the Shabbat reading of the biblical story of Noah and the Ark. The convergence offers an ideal opportunity to look at Judaism and animals and the values families can impart upon their young ones.


The ethical treatment of animals is a core Jewish value. As Rabbi Jill Jacobs writes in her MyJewishLearning.com piece, “Ethical Treatment of Animals in Judaism,” the early chapters of the Torah establish “a fundamental connection between human beings and animals.”

That connection is given further specificity, Jacobs explains, with the story of Noah’s ark. “When the waters recede,” she writes, “God gives Noah seven laws — now known as Noahide laws — aimed at establishing a just society.” Among these laws is God’s protection of animals “against unduly cruel slaughter.”

Within the Talmud, Jacobs adds, this sort of cruelty is expounded upon. “This prohibition against unnecessary cruelty acquires a name — tzaar baalei hayim: the suffering of animals.”

“The prohibition against tzaar baalei hayim not only prevents unnecessary cruelty to animals, but also imposes certain positive obligations on those entrusted with caring for animals,” Jacobs says. “Owners must feed, water, and otherwise care for their animals' basic needs, and may, in some cases be required to take extra precautions to alleviate the suffering of their animals.”

This Oct. 4, encourage your children to think about animals and the ways in which they interact with them on a daily basis.

One way to pique a child’s interest about animals might be to write an inquisitive letter to Noah.  On its webpage, “Dear Noah,” Chabad.org encourages children and families to submit their questions about Judaism and animals.

Questions that have been asked and answered include, “What Rights Do Animals Have According to Judaism?” and “Does Judaism Address Animal Conservation?

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