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There are certain cases in which an animal designated for a sin offering (Chat'as) could not be brought in the Temple, but was required to be killed ("חטאות המתות"), according to some opinions, by starvation. This seems like it conflicts with the Torah's notion of not causing "tza'ar ba'alei chayyim", excessive pain to animals. How can we reconcile this?

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This same ruling is given for animals that are dedicated for temple use nowadays when there is no Temple: "נועל דלת לפניה והיא מתה מאליה": we lock it inside and it dies on its own (Yoma 66a). I would ask the same question there. –  Yosef Nov 30 '10 at 19:52
    
Kehati in Temurah 2:2 summarizes the alternatives. –  Yosef Dec 1 '10 at 19:28
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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Tzaar baalei chayim is usually measured by the ratio of animal pain to human gain. I guess the gain is considered high/necessary enough here?

The Noda BiHudah says directly killing the animal in any normal sort of way, e.g. deer hunting, is not considered tzaar baalei chayim per se. But yes, starvation is more problematic.

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The Rambam (Hil. Pesulei Hamukdashin 4:1, from Temurah 15b ff) points out that this is a law given to Moshe (ודברים אלו כולם מפי משה רבנו נשמעו). He may be stressing that point in order to explain how indeed the rules for treating such animals can override the rule about avoiding tzaar baalei chaim.

[It's actually a matter of dispute as to whether the latter is a Biblical-level mitzvah anyway; this is discussed in Bava Metzia 32b-33a, and tangentially in other places. The accepted halachah is that it is (Rambam, Hil. Rotze'ach Ushemiras Nefesh 13:13; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 272:9 in Hagah).]

On a basic level, it may boil down to the fact that killing it outright would be a violation of another mitzvah, that of not slaughtering sacrifices outside of the Beis Hamikdash, a sin which is punishable by kares (spiritual excision). While it is true that this penalty doesn't apply to chataos hameisos (Rambam, Hil. Maaseh Hakorbanos 18:6), that doesn't necessarily mean that it is permissible to do so.

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True, killing it outright would be problematic, but there are other possibilities which aren't so brutal. Indeed, there are the alternatives given by the other authorities. –  Yosef Nov 25 '10 at 2:40
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There are opinions (cited in Encyclopedia Talmudis, vol. 14) that these chataos should actually be killed, true. But I think that according to the opinions that we have to leave the animal to die, the only other alternative given (Rashi to Sanhedrin 112b, s.v. היו בה) is to put it in a confined area and feed it barley until its stomach ruptures - which, frankly, doesn't sound like any better a form of death than starvation. –  Alex Nov 25 '10 at 5:17
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Regarding your third paragraph above, I saw a summary of an analysis of the Ran (should appear in his commentary on the Rif, but I haven't been able to track down the exact citation) where he notes that it cannot be slaughtered because then someone might come to eat it; it can't be killed in a non-kosher way because of "לא תעשו כן לה' אלוקיכם", and צער בעלי חיים doesn't apply במקום מצוה. That last clause is puzzling to me, since one of the basic applications of צער בעלי חיים is violating the laws of מוקצה to give a trapped animal something to drink; so the "במקום" rule is not quite so general. –  Yosef Nov 30 '10 at 20:01
    
Sure, but מוקצה is only a derabanan law, while שחוטי חוץ is Biblical. I'd want to see what the Ran says, though. (I do see where he says that כבוד הבריות overrides צער בעלי חיים - see hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14321&st=&pgnum=468, a few lines from the bottom.) –  Alex Nov 30 '10 at 20:58
    
My point of the במקום מצוה is not that צער בעלי חיים should override the prohibitions of שחוטי חוץ or לא תעשו כן, but that it should force you to find an alternative to נועל דלת בפניו. –  Yosef Nov 30 '10 at 21:38
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