Ask the Rabbi: Not sporting

Kosher slaughtering greatly reduces the animal's pain since the massive immediate blood loss renders it unconscious.

hunting 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
hunting 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Q As a follow-up to my question regarding foie gras and cruel treatment of animals, what is the permissibility of recreational hunting and medical experimentation on animals? - Ben K., Dallas, Texas A As a fellow native Texan, I certainly understand your curiosity regarding hunting. My gym teacher was an avid hunter, and the recreational gun culture certainly has a prominent place in Texas culture. Your question also touches on the meaning of shehita, the slaughtering regulations that govern kosher meat. Following Noah's flood, God permitted humans to eat meat (Genesis 9:3), rescinding the prohibition He had initially given to Adam (Genesis 1:30, Sanhedrin 59b). Yet the Torah imposed strict restrictions on meat consumption. In addition to the prohibition of drinking blood (Genesis 9:4), Jewish law also requires that the animal be killed through a precise transverse cut in the animal's throat with an extremely sharp knife. This process greatly reduces the animal's pain since the massive immediate blood loss renders it unconscious (subsequent movements are spasms). In addition to this precise method, Halacha also demands that someone should inspect the animal to ensure it was healthy enough to live another 12 months. The lungs receive the greatest inspection, with meat determined as kosher if no symptom of a fatal illness appears, and glatt (smooth) kosher when we find completely smooth lungs that indicate greater assurance of the animal's health. As such, hunted animals are undoubtedly not kosher since they were not properly slaughtered. The question remains whether the allowance to properly slaughter animals for food also permits us to kill them for other purposes, such as sport or medical experimentation, to take polar extreme examples. Alternatively, we might deem such killing as tza'ar ba'alei haim, violating the Torah's prohibition against cruelty to animals that we documented in your previous question. This issue might relate to the rationale behind the shehita regulations. Maimonides (Guide 3:26, 48) contends that the requirements, including using an extremely sharp knife and slitting the animal in the back of the neck, stem from an attempt to minimize the amount of pain toward animals. He subsequently concludes that killing an animal (such as an unwanted pet) for sport constitutes tza'ar ba'alei haim (Guide 3:17) Many rabbinic sources, however, disparage the attempt to find rationales for the mitzvot, and especially to draw legal conclusions from them. They contend that many regulations discipline our actions and purify our character, but don't have more specific or integral reasons (Tanhuma Shemini 7). Rabbi Moshe Sofer (19th century, Hungary) also noted that that if the laws of killing were solely intended to minimize pain, then we should have similar regulations for killing fish and grasshoppers, something unheard of in the Torah (Hatam Sofer Likutim 6:24). Leaving the rationale for shehita aside, many decisors nonetheless determine that killing animals for illegitimate or unnecessary purposes violates tza'ar ba'alei haim. R. Yosef ibn Migash (12th century, Spain), for example, forbids killing domestic animals and feeding their flesh to dogs (Shita Mekubetzet BB 20a). While many decisors share this opinion, one notable detractor was R. Yehezkel Landau (18th century, Prague). He argued that only cruel behavior to a live animal constitutes tza'ar ba'alei haim, but not killing it. Yet at the end of his celebrated responsa, he argues that hunting violates Jewish ethos, instills cruel values and endangers humans as well, and urges people to refrain from this sport (Noda Beyehuda Tanina YD 10). R. Ya'acov Breisch (20th century, Zurich) took this spirit to an extreme, contending that one should even refrain from medical experimentation on animals (Helkat Ya'acov CM 34). This position has been widely dismissed, however, as misplaced piety, since the potential treatments, like food, have definitive use for humans (Seridei Esh 2:91). Nonetheless, many decisors insist that animal pain should be as limited as possible (Tzitz Eliezer 14:68). Greater caution might be warranted in cases of testing for cosmetics and other commercial products, which, while legal, certainly represent less pressing needs than medical treatments. We should judge each case individually, carefully balancing our rights to benefit from animals with the requirement to avoid unnecessary cruelty. The Conservative movement is reportedly planning a supplementary "Hechsher Tzedek" certification to supervise the ethical practices of slaughterhouses and other businesses, although it is unclear how this will be received by companies, consumers, and kashrut organizations. In recent years, a few high-profile cases have exposed certain abuses with regard to the handling of the animals before slaughtering. It is important to note that as long as the actual slaughtering is performed properly, the meat remains kosher. To take a more extreme example, the continuous severe limiting of animal movement to produce veal might constitute tza'ar ba'alei haim, yet the food itself remains kosher. Nonetheless, the spirit of these laws dictates extra caution, and we should salute the kashrut agencies which urge the slaughterhouses to handle the animals as tenderly as possible before their slaughtering. The writer, editor of, teaches at Yeshivat Hakotel and is pursuing a doctorate in Jewish philosophy at the Hebrew University. [email protected]