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So a friend of mine showed me the following verse from Matthew 12:11 (strange to bring a New Testament quote into a halacha question, I know)

... they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” 11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?

He (my friend) asked me what was going on here. I understand the first bit about healing (I assume that this is a general reference to the prohibition against medicine due to grinding), but the second part is strange. It seems from here that the prushim agreed that lifting a sheep out and helping it is not a problem.

I am rather confused by this. Does it mean that there was an eruv or similar, and that one really is allowed to do quite a bit to ease the pain of animals on shabbat (the only exception that I had heard of before this was milking dairy cows)? Or is there something else that is going on in this quote?

Note: I believe that the people that were being spoken to here were the prushim (Pharisees), who I believe had the right mesora and everything, and from whom Jews today come.

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Downvoters care to comment? –  soandos Aug 17 '12 at 19:09
    

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

http://www.dinonline.org/2011/09/13/cruelty-to-animals-halachos-of-tzaar-baalei-chayim/

Elsewhere, however (Shabbos 128b), with regard to the laws of muktzeh on Shabbos, the Gemara states that the prohibition is a Torah law. Where an animal has fallen into a pit, and cannot be fed, one may assist it to ascend by placing cushions under it. Although this involves a rabbinic prohibition (of ‘annulling’ the cushions—they become muktzeh), it is permitted on account of the pain experienced by the animal.

It is important to point out that the Torah prohibition of causing animals to suffer does not apply for all degrees of pain. The Nimmukei Yosef (Bava Metzia, loc. cit.) writes that the prohibition applies to “great distress,” but not to “slight distress.”

The example he brings is of an animal that fell into a pit on Shabbos. Although the animal surely experiences certain discomfort in being stuck in a pit, it is only permitted to help the animal out (in transgression of a branch of the rabbinic muktzeh prohibition) if the animal cannot be fed in the pit.

Where it is possible to cater for the animal’s needs in the pit, the discomfort of being stuck in the pit will not be sufficient cause to defer the rabbinic prohibition.

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