ANIMAL CRUELTY

Animals, be they insects, mammals, birds, or slugs, are man’s constant companions on this planet. They were created before man, yet are clearly subservient to him, as the Torah tells us:

The fear and dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, every fowl of the air, and upon all that teems on the ground and all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be for food for you; as the green herb have I given you all.1

Despite the subservient position of animals, man’s relationship to them is not without boundaries. Man cannot do to them whatever he pleases. In this and the following lesson we will explore the Torah’s expectations for man’s relationship with his fellow creations.

The Source for Tzaar Baalei Chayim – The Prohibition of Causing Pain to Living Things

The Torah prohibits causing the suffering of any living creature without valid necessity (“valid necessity” will be defined later in this lesson). Though the Talmud2 states that this prohibition is biblical, there are varying traditions as to its exact source. For Noahides, making such a determination is important for knowing whether or not the law applies to them.

The Gedolim, great Torah scholars, have proposed a number of possible sources.

Halacha LeMoshe MiSinai

Ritva3 & Rabbeinu Peretz4 explains the prohibition as a Halacha le Moshe miSinai, a precept communicated directly by God to Moses without explicit textual source in the Torah.

However, it only tells us that Jews were commanded via Halacha le Moshe miSinai and implies nothing about Noahides.

Deuteronomy 25:4

Shita Mekubetzes & Raavad offer Deuteronomy 25:4 as a source for the prohibition against cruelty to animals:

You shall not muzzle an ox while he is treading out the grain.

Muzzling an ox during threshing, thus preventing it from feeding as necessary is cruel. This verse does not come to teach only this specific prohibition, but a broader prohibition against cruelty to animals.

However, this verse was only communicated to the Jews and not to Noahides.

Exodus 23:5

According to Rashi5 the prohibition is from Exodus 23:5:

If you see your enemy's donkey lying under its burden would you refrain from helping him? You shall surely help along with him.

Regardless of one’s relationship to the donkey’s owner, Rashi holds that one must relieve the donkey of its suffering. However, this verse, as Deuteronomy 25:4 above, was never commanded to Noahides. Therefore, it does not tell us anything about Noahide obligations.

Part of Ever Min HaChai

Maimonides6 & Nachmanides7 write that an underlying purpose of the prohibition of ever min ha-chai (flesh taken from a living animal) is to prevent causing cruelty to animals. Such an interpretation means that the prohibition of causing suffering to animals is intrinsically part of the Noahide code. Maimonides further cites the incident of Balaam and his donkey as proof of the prohibition’s inclusion in the Noahide laws:

The she-donkey saw the angel of the Lord, and it crouched down under Balaam. Balaam's anger flared, and he beat the she-donkey with a stick. The Lord opened the mouth of the she-donkey, and she said to Balaam, "What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?" Balaam said to the she-donkey, "For you have humiliated me; if I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now." The she-donkey said to Balaam, "Am I not your she-donkey on which you have ridden since you first started until now? Have I been accustomed to do this to you?" He said, "No." The Lord opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a sword drawn in his hand. He bowed and prostrated himself on his face. The angel of the Lord said to him, "Why have you beaten your she-donkey these three times?8

 1 Genesis 9:2-3.

2 Bava Metzia 32a to 32b.

3 To Bava Metzia ibid. D.H. Teida.

4 Bava Metzia ibid.

5 To Shabbos 128b.

6 Moreh Nevuchim III: 48.

7 To Genesis 1:28.

8 Numbers 22:27 to 32

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