What Does Judaism Say About the Treatment of Animals?

Answered by
Rabbi Emily Langowitz

Judaism teaches that it is our ethical and religious responsibility to treat animals with care and, when necessary, to minimize their suffering.

Beginning with the Torah and continuing into Jewish legal and rabbinic texts, there are many guidelines for the ways we are to treat animals.

In the creation story of the first chapter of Genesis, we see God's care in creating all different types of animals, culminating in the creation of humans on the sixth day. Humans are tasked with caring for God's creations, animals included. While permission is given to eat animals, Jewish tradition builds in rules to guard against their suffering. In rabbinic tradition, this principle becomes known as "tzaar baalei chaim," the belief that humans must treat animals with care and do everything in our power to minimize their suffering.

The laws of kashrut are perhaps one of the most well-known set of rules about human and animal interaction. While human beings may eat animals, they must be killed in a humane way.

In addition to the rules around animals as food, Jewish tradition contemplates many other ethical ways to treat the animals in our care: allowing animals to rest along with the human members of your household on Shabbat and holidays, yoking animals with their own species to lighten their burden, helping horses pull their cart, feeding our animals before we feed ourselves, and more.

"It is forbidden," the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, a 19th century compendium of Jewish law, states, "to inflict pain on any living creature. On the contrary, it is our duty to relieve the pain of any creature, even if it is ownerless or belongs to someone else."

Jewish tradition seeks to build an ethical society, and proper treatment of animals is an essential part of this moral code.