A biblical injunction to take care of pets

  • Pets
The Internet and newspaper classified sections are chock-a-block with advertisements urging people to adopt pets - especially dogs and cats - but there are also horses, ducks, rabbits, budgies, monkeys, even Bearded Dragons and snakes.
by SUZANNE BELLING | Aug 05, 2015

Most pets are acceptable according to South African law, except tortoises and other indigenous animals, says an observant Jewish veterinarian who does not want to be named for professional reasons. “The unusual animals are bred in captivity and are used to living this way - so there is no problem having a pet that is different,” he said.

The SPCA, among other animal protection organisations, invites people to visit its centres, stating that “working hand-in-paw with our animal behaviourists, they assess the temperament of each animal to see what kind of owner will suit them best”.

Recently, there was a shocked reaction to President Jacob Zuma’s remark in the press that having a pet was white, not African, culture. He said black South Africans who bought a dog and took it for walks and to the vet, were copying white culture.

Speaking at a traditional ceremony in KwaZulu-Natal, he stated that people who loved dogs more than humans had a “lack of humanity”. He said there was a new generation of Africans who tried to adopt other lifestyles.

But what of the Jewish community and its teachings regarding animals and their care?

“The Torah is replete with instances and laws which highlight the extent to which we are concerned about cruelty to animals. For example, the Torah prohibits using an ox and a mule to jointly plough a field (Devarim 22:10), the logical reason being that the two are unequally matched,” Rabbi Gidon Fox, of the Pretoria Hebrew Congregation, told the SA Jewish Report.

“The Sefer Hachinuch in Mitzvah 550 says that this prohibition is part of the biblical prohibition against cruelty to animals, known as Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim. It is manifest also in the fact that we are obliged to assist an animal when we see it overburdened by the load it is carrying (Exodus 23:5). These and others are a reflection and implementation of the biblical prohibition against cruelty to animals.”

Jews were so concerned with this prohibition that the Shulchan Aruch (OC 167:6) instructed us not to eat unless we ensured that our animals had eaten first, so much so that if a person had already made a bracha on the bread but had not yet eaten, he was allowed to instruct someone else to feed the animals and need not make another bracha on the bread.

“Feeding one’s animals is an element of the meal and not an unrelated superfluous issue,” Rabbi Fox said. “The Mishne Halachos, Rabbi Menashe Klein (6:216), points out that not only may one not eat prior to one’s animals eating, the same is true also for fish as well.”

Regarding the killing of Cecil, the famous lion by a tourist in Zimbabwe, Rabbi Fox referred to the teaching by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Choshen Mishpat 2:47) who advised against physically killing insects, such as flies. It was not a prohibition, but the killing should be done in an indirect manner. In this instance, it was better to put down poison to kill rats. This was because killing was not a Jewish act and should be avoided directly.

Rabbi Yechezel Landau (Yoreh Deah 10) prohibited hunting and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Yechave Da’at) forbade watching traditional Spanish bullfighting. In days of yore, even if an ox had killed a person, it could only be put down on the decision of 23 dayanim (judges).

The veterinarian said dogs should be kept inside unless suitable shelter was provided.

Regarding human consumption of meat, he said the Noachide Laws, incumbent on all people, prohibited meat to be cut off a living animal.

In keeping with the stringent laws prohibiting any benefit from a mixture of meat and milk “you cannot feed an animal milk and meat together - there should be separate bowls for them - and, on Pesach a Jew must ensure that there is no chometz in the animal food they provide to their pets”.

He added that the Torah prevented us from castrating animals and a rabbinical decree prevented an animal from being spayed.

Rabbi Fox added that it was permissible to visit a zoo “for even though the animals are in captivity, it provides a person (with) an opportunity to see and appreciate the wonders of Hashem’s creations, their diversity and majesty.

“Naturally, the zoo must ensure that the animals are well cared for.”





  1. 8 Denis Solomons 06 Aug
    Recently there was the story about the pastor who made his people consume snakes and people wanted to report him to the SPCA ; I know that snakes eat a lot of rats and vermin but who is partial to snakes ?
    If a couple of snakes go missing will anybody mind ! 
  2. 7 Gary Selikow 06 Aug
    We need to take the injunction to look after our pets very seriously, please make sure your pets are healthy and happy. And please donate to animal charities like Animals in Distress
  3. 6 nat cheiman 06 Aug
    Denis, if there is a shortage of snakes, the pastor may not be able to heal his flock.
    We should all chip in to fund this fellows supply of rats and snakes. The UN could also take note since they are running out of food. 
  4. 5 nat cheiman 08 Aug
    I agree with Gary. Rather lets give and donate to the many animal charities who do excellent work looking after pets and animals that the majority of people in this country either ignore or maltreat.
    Rather than donate to people who do not appreciate and expect handouts (entitlement) we should give generously to ANIMAL charities .
  5. 4 Denis Solomons 11 Aug
    In response to Nat I would like to say that snakes are dangerous as sources of food .
    Even when decapitated they have a reflex biting reflex and many a herpetist has succumbed to reflex bites from mamba and boomslang .
    I had a friend who looked at boomslang venom clotting times as an area of research and they had to dissect out the venom sacks.He stated that even when decapitated the serpents were extremely venomous and dangerous .
    So eat at your peril.
  6. 3 natcheiman 11 Aug
    Denis, you are correct. I was being silly and light hearted.
    Any snake in my view is dangerous (other than molesnakes)
  7. 2 Denis Solomons 12 Aug
    Most snakes are non-venomous ; but hey who would like to tangle with a python ! ?
  8. 1 Denis Solomons 13 Aug
    Sorry that should read herpetologist !


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