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One reason frequently advanced for shechitah is that it minimizes pain to the animal being slaughtered. But Gentiles have no such restrictions (shechitah is not a Noahide law) and fish do not require shechitah. Doesn't that invalidate that particular reason?

More generally, one possible way to assess whether ethical reasons are behind a commandment is whether the commandment applies to non-Jews also. For example, the Torah says:

You may give [carrion] to the stranger who is in your cities, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. [Deut. 14:21]

Now, is God saying He doesn't care whether Gentiles live or die? Surely not. Therefore health is not a reason for kashrut.

Some say there are no reasons for the commandments other than "God said so", or that it's a waste of time to look for them. Two heavyweights disagree:

(1) "There is not a single commandment that does not have a reason and a purpose." [Rambam, end of Sefer Ha-Mitzvot]

(2) Rabbi Akiva tells us [Eruvin 54b] it’s a duty to look for reasons for commandments. (Presumably, if you satisfy yourself that you know the reason, you will be even more inclined to follow a commandment.)

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    What does it mean to "invalidate" a reason? – Double AA Jun 4 at 13:32
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    It means "whatever the reason is, that's not it". – Maurice Mizrahi Jun 4 at 13:34
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    Your title and question body don't match so clearly – robev Jun 4 at 13:34
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    One reason frequently advanced for tzedakah is that it minimizes pain to poor people. But Gentiles have no such requirement (tzedakah is not a Noahide law). Doesn't that invalidate that particular reason? – Heshy Jun 4 at 13:42
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    Probably the point, correctly stated, is not that shechitah minimises pain to the animal, it is more that shechitah constrains the way in which we utilise animals, by forcing us to slaughter the animal in an as-humane-as-possible. Therefore your objection from gentiles falls away. (Fish do not such a highly developed nervous system.) – The GRAPKE Jun 4 at 13:45
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In this answer, I'll first establish that this assumption about the operating principle of darshinan taama dekra doesn't fit with the sources, and then offer three possible resolutions to the difficulty.

There is a big Talmudic dispute whether we interpret the reasons behind commandments, with Rabbi Shimon famously endorsing the position. However, even those who say we don't so interpret often discuss reasons for commandments, and it is meritorious to do so. The core difference is whether the interpreted reason can be used to qualify and restrict the application of the law. For instance, if the purpose of prohibiting taking the garment of a widow as a pledge (because otherwise, you need to return it at night because she will have nothing in which to sleep, and we don't want this to occur for other reasons), this should not apply to a rich widow. See Sanhedrin 21a for this example.

דתניא אלמנה בין שהיא ענייה בין שהיא עשירה אין ממשכנין אותה שנאמר (דברים כד, יז) לא תחבול בגד אלמנה דברי רבי יהודה רבי שמעון אומר עשירה ממשכנין אותה ענייה אין ממשכנין אותה ואתה חייב להחזיר לה ואתה משיאה שם רע בשכנותיה

As it is taught in a baraita (Tosefta, Bava Metzia 10:3): In the case of a widow, whether she is poor or whether she is wealthy, one may not take collateral from her for a loan, as it is stated: “You may not take the garment of a widow for a pledge” (Deuteronomy 24:17); this is the statement of Rabbi Yehuda. Rabbi Shimon says: In the case of a wealthy widow, one may take collateral from her. But in the case of a poor widow, one may not take collateral from her, because you are obligated to return it to her, and you will give her a bad name among her neighbors.

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To put your assumption to the test, according to Rabbi Shimon, how could he say that the ethical consideration of this poor widow be the concern? After all, this religious obligation does not apply to gentiles! If God wanted to protect widows, it would have applied to Jewish lenders and borrowers, and gentile lenders and borrowers alike! Yet, Rabbi Shimon still says what he says. This is, in my view, a proof by contradiction that the assumption underlying your question is somehow false. (Why it would be false is a separate question, but the proof by contradiction takes statements by Rabbi Shimon, the main proponent of darshinan taama dikra, as axiomatic, so any argument which then undermines these statements must be false. You can of course feel free to question Rabbi Shimon as well, and not take it as axiomatic. You could also argue that this reason regarding the poor widow is not ethically guided, but I don't see that as convincing.)

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As to why ethically-guided commandments would only apply to Jews and not gentiles, I can offer a few suggestions.

a. It could be that while God desires the result, He is not imposing it as a requirement upon all people, only those who opt in to the more difficult level of obligations. There are different and good ways of living one's life, and righteous gentiles fulfill one level, and imposing all sorts of ritual obligations on gentiles is not what God intended, just that they broadly live ethical lives.

b. The point is process rather than result. If indeed the purpose of shechita is that it is less painful (though I don't necessarily endorse this as the reason), God wants the Jewish nation to develop their trait of compassion, and slaughtering animals in this more compassionate manner helps develop that trait.

c. There are several reasons for the commandment, and we might say that minimizing pain is one of the reasons. See Ein Ayah (to TB Shabbos 23b, §26) by Rav Kook, that there may be multiple reasons for the commandment. (In shiur, I heard this idea developed, that we may not know all the reasons for a commandment, which is why we don't rule like Rabbi Shimon to use this to limit the application of the law. After all, perhaps a different reason applies, and we don't even know all of the reasons.)

Taking this idea and running with it, it could be that the ethical component is the reason for the particulars of the mitzvah. In other words, requiring that Jews slaughter their animals in a prescribed manner has several effects, such as distinguishing their diets from the diets of the neighboring nations (so that they won't intermarry). Why did God choose this specific way of changing the diet? Because it is also more ethical, and reduces the pain of the animal. Or, for another reason, it enhances health - not that it will kill the stranger or foreigner, but it will reward those who follow His commandments and promote His ethics, by giving them fewer health problems. That does not mean that He will impose upon the gentiles that they may not eat this food because it is less healthy. And it is one of several reasons which sum up to a commandment imposed upon Jews.

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  • I prefer to think that ethics is not among the reasons for ethical-sounding commandments that do not apply to non-Jews, or that seem not to care about the pain of animals. From all I know, and you confirm it, there is no single answer to my question, and one is left with the freedom to choose an answer. – Maurice Mizrahi Jun 4 at 20:34
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In Guide for the Perplexed 3:28 Rambam writes the following about reasons for commandments in general:

I will show that all these and similar laws must have some bearing upon one of the following three things, viz., the regulation of our opinions, or the improvement of our social relations, which implies two things, the removal of injustice, and the teaching of good morals.

(Friedlander translation)

Regarding the specific examples you mention, in both instances Rambam states that the reason is that which you attempt to reject. In Guide for the Perplexed 3:48 he writes regarding kosher foods:

I maintain that the food which is forbidden by the Law is unwholesome. There is nothing among the forbidden kinds of food whose injurious character is doubted, except pork (Lev. xi. 7), and fat (ibid. vii. 23). But also in these cases the doubt is not justified. For pork contains more moisture than necessary [for human food], and too much of superfluous matter. The principal reason why the Law forbids swine's flesh is to be found in the circumstance that its habits and its food are very dirty and loathsome. It has already been pointed out how emphatically the Law enjoins the removal of the sight of loathsome objects, even in the field and in the camp; how much more objectionable is such a sight in towns. But if it were allowed to eat swine's flesh, the streets and houses would be more dirty than any cesspool, as may be seen at present in the country of the Franks. A saying of our Sages declares: "The mouth of a swine is as dirty as dung itself" (B. T. Ber. 25a).

The fat of the intestines makes us full, interrupts our digestion, and produces cold and thick blood; it is more fit for fuel [than for human food].

Blood (Lev. xvii. 12), and nebelah, i.e., the flesh of an animal that died of itself (Deut. xiv. 21), are indigestible, and injurious as food; Trefah, an animal in a diseased state (Exod. xxii. 30), is on the way of becoming a nebelah.

(Friedlander translation)

Regarding slaughtering he writes in the same chapter:

The commandment concerning the killing of animals is necessary, because the natural food of man consists of vegetables and of the flesh of animals: the best meat is that of animals permitted to be used as food. No doctor has any doubts about this. Since, therefore, the desire of procuring good food necessitates the slaying of animals, the Law enjoins that the death of the animal should be the easiest. It is not allowed to torment the animal by cutting the throat in a clumsy manner, by poleaxing, or by cutting off a limb whilst the animal is alive.

(Friedlander translation)

As for your question of why these commandments were only given to Jews, Ralbag in his commentary to Parshat Noach writes:

והנה הספיקו אלו המצות לבני נח לתקון קבוציהם ולפי שכבר ידע השם יתע' שלא יאות בהם בכללם שיקבלו מהשלמות יותר מזה ואולם לבני ישראל צוה נימוס [יותר] שלם להגיעם אל השלמות האנושי להיותם נכונים להתנהג בו

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    Could you please translate that piece of Ralbag – robev Jun 6 at 8:31
  • @robev I deliberately didn’t translate it. – Alex Jun 6 at 16:29
  • @Alex Either the Ralbag's point is worth summarizing or translating in English, or it's not worth including in the answer at all. Please edit to reflect one choice or the other. – Isaac Moses Jun 8 at 12:15

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