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Rambam writes in all his major Jewish works (PH, MT and MN) that if God cared about individual animals He wouldn't allow us to slaughter them for food.

He writes that the pesukim that reflect divine care for animals are for the species generally but not for individual animals.

Ramban echoes the sentiment.

They write that all the laws that prescribe merciful behavior towards animals are to inculcate in humans merciful tendencies but aren't motivated by God's compassion for individual animals.

Emotionally, it feels like a difficult idea to swallow.

One can argue that God cares about all his creatures but allows humans to use animals for their needs in as painless a manner as possible and that the mitzvos that are concerned with the welfare of animals are driven by both God's concern for the animal's welfare as well as teaching humans to be sensitive to pain wherever it may be found.

Was (is) this normative medieval Jewish hashkafah? What thinking motivates adoption of such a position?

(I'm not dealing with MN 3:48 that seems to indicate otherwise)

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    +1 for thought provoking question. מצודת דוד על תהילים קמ״ה, ט׳ב: טוֹב־ה' לַכֹּל וְרַחֲמָיו עַל־כׇּל־מַעֲשָׂיו׃ , - על כל מעשיו. על כל הבריות שבעולם This seems to imply that He cares about all individual creatures. See Ibn Ezra ad loc. Not necessarily a contradiction. "Was (is) this normative medieval Jewish hashkafa" - what exactly are you referring to? The previous paragraph or the Rambam's take?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Feb 22 at 1:24
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    @RabbiKaii Thanks. Rambam would say that it refers to the collective. See there in MN: Our opinion is not contradicted by Scriptural passages like the following: "He giveth to the beast his food" (Ps. 147:9); "The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God" (ibid. 104:2 1);" Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing" (ibid. 145:16); or by the saying of our Sages: "He sitteth and feedeth all, from the horns of the unicorns even unto the eggs of insects." . .
    – Nahum
    Feb 22 at 1:35
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    I would be interested if any employ the word רַחֲמָיו. The word (and pasuk itself) strikes me as less compatible with this explanation. It might not contradict, though, but be part of the nuance.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Feb 22 at 1:43
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    @RabbiKaii Yes I'm referring to the Rishonims take
    – Nahum
    Feb 22 at 1:44
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    @rabbikaii see BM 85a, which relates how Rebbi told his maidservant to be kind to weasels, and "v'rachamav" is invoked as the reason sefaria.org/Bava_Metzia.85a?lang=bi
    – AKA
    Feb 22 at 5:04

5 Answers 5

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My impression is that, yes, this is the normative and overwhelming view among the Rishonim. One can rally many more sources as seen below that affirm that particular divine providence does not extend to animals, rather they are subject to general providence (nature). The reason for this conclusion seems to fall primarily into two general categories:

  1. Hashgaha emerges where the intellect is developed (acquired). The greater the intellectual perfection, the greater the hashgaha. Animals, thought to be incapable of intellectual perfection, remain without such direct hashgaha.

  2. The idea that God’s providence extends over a particular organism does not square with a license to freely use animals to satisfy our appetites and whims. This is set up as a sort of binary. If particular providence extends to animals, then no animal would be permitted to slaughter, maim, etc. in satisfaction of human want/need. We know that such is permitted (to the exclusion of wanton infliction of pain) therefore providence does not extend to animals.

This is a generalization intended to roughly approximate the collective view, there are of course nuanced differences (and/or additional reasons) between the sources which reflect the unique thought of each figure. Each is a study unto itself.

In addition to the Rambam and the Ramban you cite, here are additional sources (in no particular order) that affirm the perspective that individual/direct providence does not guide the animal kingdom. Where possible I have copied over the text here, at times it is simply a link to the section of relevant text. I have also attempted to link to English translations where possible:

Sefer ha-‘Iqarim 3:12:

אלא שאם היתה ההשגחה בפרטי האנשים על הדרך שהיא בשאר בעלי חיים לשמור מינם, היה ראוי שימנה השכר והעונש שורש מסתעף ממנה, אבל בעבור שלא היתה ההשגחה הנמנית בעקרים או בשרשים על דרך ההשגחה שהיא במיני הבעלי חיים לשמור המין בלבד, אבל לתת לאיש כדרכיו וכפרי מעלליו בכל פרטי מעשיו בעולם הזה ובבא כפי מה שתגזור החכמה העליונה, לזה שמנו השכר והעונש עקר וההשגחה שורש מסתעף ממנו, לפי שמין ההשגחה שהוא לשכר ולעונש אינה כמין ההשגחה ההווה במיני הבעלי חיים שהיא לשמור המין בלבד.

Seforno, end of Tazri’a:

הנרדמים אשר לא ידעו כלל ולא התעוררו כלל לדעת דבר מזה והם כל בני הנכר ורוב האומה הישראלית זולתי יחידי סגולה הם בלי ספק תחת הנהגת הטבע והגרמים השמימיים הנכבדים מאותם בני אדם כשאר מיני בעלי חיים אשר לא תפול השגחה אלהית באישיהם אבל במיניהם בלבד

Rabbenu Bahya b. Asher, Kad ha-Qemah; Hashgaha:

ההשגחה הפרטית אינה נמשכת אלא אחר השכל ועל כן אינה נמצאת בשאר בעלי חיים וכל שכן בצמחים, שאין העלה שנפל לו מן האילן הוא בהשגחה מאת הבורא יתעלה, ולא שזה העכביש טרף זה הזבוב בגזרה מאתו יתב', ולא הרוק שרקק ראובן ונפל על היתוש והרגו שהיה ממנו יתעלה, ולא שזה הדג חטף ובלע התולעת הצפה על פני המים ברצון אלהי אלא כל זה מקרה גמור, והראיה שאין בשאר בעלי חיים השגחה פרטית מה שאמר חבקוק (חבקוק א) ותעש אדם כדגי הים וגו' למדך הכתוב כי שאר בעלי חיים נעזבים הם אין ההשגחה בהם פרטית, אבל בבני אדם אינו כן זה הוא שאמר (שם) ה' למשפט שמתו וגו'. למדך שהשגחת ה' יתברך פרטית על האדם להנהיגו בדרכי המשפט ולהוכיחו בתוכחות על עון

and in R. Bahya's commentary on Gen. 18:19:

וצריך שתשכיל כי ההשגחה בעולם השפל במין האדם היא כללית ופרטית, ופסוק מלא הוא, שמצינו גדול העצה ורב העליליה אשר עיניך פקוחות על כל דרכי בני האדם לתת לאיש כדרכיו וגו', ובשאר בעלי חיים היא כללית לא פרטית רק בכלל כדי לקיים המין.

Sefer ha-Hinukh 294:

משרשי המצוה שייתן האדם אל לבו כי השגחת השם ברוך הוא על כל מיני בעלי חיים בכלל, ועם השגחתו עליהם יתקיימו לעולם, כי השגחתו בדברים זהו קיומם, ועל כן לא יבטל מן המינין לגמרי כל ימי עולם, ואף על פי שהשגחתו על מין האדם בפרט, וכמו שכתבתי למעלה בסדר "אשה כי תזריע" (מצוה קסט), לא כן מיני שאר בעלי חיים, אלא דרך כלל במין ישים השגחתו ברוך הוא, ועל כן נמנענו מלכלות האילן וענפיו ביחד, לרמז זה. ועוד נוכל לומר בענין על צד הפשט כמו כן, שהוא לקבע בנפשותינו מידת החמלה ולהרחיק מידת האכזריות, שהיא מידה רעה. ולכן אף על פי שהתיר לנו האל מיני בעלי חיים למחייתנו, ציונו לבל נהרוג אותו ואת בנו ביום אחד, ולקבע בנפשנו מידת החמלה

Meiri on Berakhoth 33b:

האומר על קן צפור יגיעו רחמיך לשלח את האם מעל הבנים כך יהיו רחמיך על עמך ישראל משתיקים אותו, ונראה לי מפני שהוא מיחד השגחה פרטית בבעלי חיים וכבר אמר כמתרעם ותעשה אדם כדגי הים הורה שאין ההשגחה בבעלי חיים רק השגחה מינית לבד, וזהו לדעתי מה שאמר בגמ' מפני שמטיל קנאה במעשה ברשית והקנאה תסור בהיות כל דבר מושגח כפי הראוי

Meshareth Moshe of R. Qalonymus b. Qalonymus

Neweh Shalom (4:1) of R. Abraham Shelomo b. Yishaq of Catalonia

[If I come across additional Rishonim that discuss this topic, I will add them here]

Lest this erroneously lead one to believe otherwise, it bears repeating that from within this view, everything in existence, down to the smallest and infinitesimal of creatures, is brought into existence by God and is known intimately by Him (H. Yesode ha-Torah 2:9).


Though you did not ask, so I offer this as more of an unsourced postscript, my impression of the Aharonim is that they are more of a mixed bag on this topic. Many continued to perpetuate this view of the Rishonim. However under the influences of Lurianic Kabbala, and Hasidism, it seems that the tide began to ebb in the other direction, with many Aharonim departing from the traditional Rishonic view and affirming that animals are indeed subject to particular/individual providence.

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  • Essentially this answer assumes (fairly) that since hashgacha doesn't apply to individual animals it must follow that G-d does not have mercy on them
    – AKA
    Feb 26 at 16:18
  • @AKA It seems to me that you are highlighting a seeming contradiction between this view of the Rishonim and what is stated in Tehillim 145:9. I think that they would respond that there is no contradiction, and that the pasuq has been misapplied/misunderstood. Feb 26 at 16:33
  • Does hashgacha in this context connote awareness or care/concern? Ie is it that God cannot be aware of particulars (individual animals) vs universals (the species as a whole which was believed to continue in perpetuity as they didn't know from extinction yet) or is it that He is aware of them but that His mercy does not extend to them individually for whatever reason? In other words does awareness necessarily result in Gods mercy or not necessarily?
    – Nahum
    Feb 26 at 16:48
  • Again, these are many different writers expressing something similar, so the answer may be nuancedly or even drastically different based on which specifically you are analyzing... but to try to generalize, I think one can suggest that it was understood that God's awareness extends to every aspect of creation. However his protection of creation is manifest through two different but interelated systems. General providence, where the systems of nature were woven into the creation and thereby mercifully sustain. Particular providence, with increased protection afforded as a correlate to שלמות. Feb 26 at 16:58
  • I've upvoted your answer as it's very well written and has great sources. But I'd like to ask your personal opinion on the matter
    – Aaron
    Feb 26 at 17:10
1

Tehillim 145:9, with Radak (a medieval commentator)

טוב ה' לכל ורחמיו על כל מעשיו

Hashem is good to all and His mercy is on all His works

טוב י״י לכל – אפילו למיני החיות והבהמות והעופות הוא טוב ומרחם. וכן ראוי לאדם ללכת בדרכיו אלה, ואין לו לאדם להשחית החיים כי אם לצורך, או להשמר מנזקיהם. וכן מצאנו כי רבינו הקדוש הזהיר שפחתו שלא לאסוף החולדות הקטנות עם דומן הבית, אלא תניחם להיות דרים בעיקרי הבית. אמר לה: ורחמיו על כל מעשיו כתיב

The Radak explains that based on this verse a person should not destroy living things except as necessary.

He proves this interpretation (as opposed to Rambam's that it refers to the species as a whole, or those who interpret it to be talking about the wicked) from the story of Rebbi brought in Bava Metzia 85a. There it says that he instructed his maidservant not to drive out weasels, and in doing so cited this verse.

On the other Meiri explains it as the Rambam does - that

He provides for the species that it remains, even though the individuals are destroyed

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  • Note - Sefaria puts the Radak on V8 by accident. Meiri on Tehillim isn't easy to find online but I believe it's in the standard versions of his pirush on Shas
    – AKA
    Feb 22 at 6:01
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    Nice find in Meiri. I didn't know it was avail online. Im not convinced of that reading of Radak. His language is "למיני" which means species or types.
    – Nahum
    Feb 22 at 15:05
  • @Nahum if it was that reading, there'd be no reason for Rebbi to tell off the maidservant - weasels wouldn't become extinct! For that matter I doubt the Radak would learn an applicable lesson to us (as he explicitly does) if he meant destroying an entire species, which wouldn't have been that easy 800 years ago
    – AKA
    Feb 22 at 21:32
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    We don't typically control the fate of an entire species however God who does is merciful upon the collective so too we can learn to be merciful on what is relevant to us ie the individual creature even if paradoxically Gods concern does not extend to any particular animal
    – Nahum
    Feb 22 at 22:14
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    In any event Radak is showing that Rebbi learned that this pasuk refers to animals
    – Nahum
    Feb 22 at 22:23
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The idea that God doesn't care about individual animals seems hard to justify given what the Bible says.

Originally mankind was commanded to be vegetarian, along with all animals. So the original divine plan was that zero individual animals would be eaten, by man or by another animal.

Genesis 1:29-30

God said, “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food. And to all the animals on land, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything that creeps on earth, in which there is the breath of life, [I give] all the green plants for food.” And it was so.

Rabbi Albo says the background of Kain and Able has to do with these laws of vegetarianism. According to Albo, Kain brought vegetable offerings to be in line with God's command. Abel brought a strange/prohibited offering that required the killing of an animal, and so Kain thought Abel was guilty of a capital crime and felt justified in killing Abel.

This helps explain why God doesn't kill Kain for the murder of his brother, which is what we would all have expected to happen. Kain ends up being spared by God, because from my read of scripture Abel had bloodguilt on his hands despite his animal sacrifice being accepted. In much the same way that David was still beloved by God, but David was still not allowed to build the temple because of all the blood on his hands.

When God decided to flood the Earth we don't often highlight how He was apparently okay with mankind dying out as long as the animals survived. Scripture makes it clear that Noah is being spared due to his righteousness, but the animals God wanted to repopulate the Earth.

Genesis Chapter 7

א וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה לְנֹחַ, בֹּא-אַתָּה וְכָל-בֵּיתְךָ אֶל-הַתֵּבָה: כִּי-אֹתְךָ רָאִיתִי צַדִּיק לְפָנַי, בַּדּוֹר הַזֶּה. 1 And the LORD said unto Noah: 'Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before Me in this generation. ב מִכֹּל הַבְּהֵמָה הַטְּהוֹרָה, תִּקַּח-לְךָ שִׁבְעָה שִׁבְעָה--אִישׁ וְאִשְׁתּוֹ; וּמִן-הַבְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא טְהֹרָה הִוא, שְׁנַיִם--אִישׁ וְאִשְׁתּוֹ. 2 Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee seven and seven, each with his mate; and of the beasts that are not clean two [and two], each with his mate; ג גַּם מֵעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם שִׁבְעָה שִׁבְעָה, זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, לְחַיּוֹת זֶרַע, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ. 3 of the fowl also of the air, seven and seven, male and female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.

God only allowed the eating of animals after nearly wiping out all of mankind in the flood. And even then there are lots of limitations. For example we learn that other than eating an animal, mankind only has the right to kill an animal if that animal has killed a human.

Genesis 9

God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fertile and increase, and fill the earth. The fear and the dread of you shall be upon all the beasts of the earth and upon all the birds of the sky—everything with which the earth is astir—and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hand. Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these. You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it. But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of humankind, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of everyone for each other! Whoever sheds human blood, By human [hands] shall that one’s blood be shed; For in the image of God Was humankind made.

And even with the Children of Israel He commanded them in Leviticus that anything they wanted to eat needed to be a sacrifice on the altar, or else they would be held liable for bloodguilt.

Leviticus 17

יהוה spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the Israelite people and say to them: This is what יהוה has commanded: if anyone of the house of Israel slaughters an ox or sheep or goat in the camp, or does so outside the camp, and does not bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to present it as an offering to יהוה, before יהוה’s Tabernacle, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that party: having shed blood, that person shall be cut off from among this people.

So while we were in the desert if someone were to just properly slaughter an animal for dinner to feed his starving family, he would incur bloodguilt. How bad is bloodguilt? According to the Jewish Virtual Library, the following categories of sin incur bloodguilt: Deliberate Homicide, Accidental Homicide, Homicidal Beast, Unlawful Slaughtering of an Animal. The punishment of bloodguilt is death by heaven.

Based on all the above, I'd say the killing of animals ranks really high on God's priority list. It's usually in the same category as killing humans, who we all agree God cares for individually. The more I reread Tanakh and actually sit and contemplate these odd verses about animals, the more vegetarian I end up. Based on my read of the Bible, all meat should be treated with the same care and strictness that many modern Jews treat Kashrut during Pesach.

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    Rambam agrees that there is hashgacha for the species to continue as a whole just not for any individual animal. Interesting point about killing animals prior to the deluge.
    – Nahum
    Feb 22 at 1:02
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    I was always struck by Hashem's concern for the animals in Yonah 4:11. But again, it doesn't speak of individual animals. On the other hand, there are stories of people being punished and rewarded because of their care for individual animals.
    – shmosel
    Feb 22 at 2:46
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    Even not killing animals can be explained as bad middos, which Rambam/Rambam agree to, just like shiluach hakan and oso v'es beno
    – AKA
    Feb 22 at 5:12
  • @AKA I mean I don't disagree with anything you're saying. But scripture goes out of its way to compare the improper killing of animals to being similar to the murder of humans. For me this is a step beyond "bad middos." From God's perspective I'm not sure scripture sees a difference between animal or human murder
    – Aaron
    Feb 22 at 16:57
  • @aaron Maybe, but at the point this law was made it was permissible to bring sacrifices (and 40 years later to kill outside the Temple), so it's hard to say it's murder
    – AKA
    Feb 22 at 21:34
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Was (is) this normative medieval Jewish hashkafah? What thinking motivates adoption of such a position?

Just to offer an answer to part of your question. I think the medieval Jewish philosophers who professed this view believe that Man is the purpose of creation, and everything is created with that in mind. As such, anything else is only important in as much as it relates to Man. For example, if a person has a flock of 20,000 sheep, the number of sheep they have is much more important than the welfare of an individual sheep. (This is what made Moshe and King David's care for individual sheep so praiseworthy, and an indication that they'd be suitable to rule the Jewish People).

We see something similar in the Shomer Emunim's description of the 10 levels of Hashgacha (Vikuach II, towards the end). In the first level, he catagorizes creations that have no free will or reward, and says they only have Hashgacha Klalit (read there for how it works). Then, in the 4th level, he says that there are animals that do receive personalized Hashgacha from G-d, when it is necessary for G-d's plan that an animal be in the right place at the right time, etc.

-1

It seems to be that God also cares about animals. Since we Jews are not allowed to eat portion of animals since it would be cruelty to cut off an leg of an animal and eat it and also we must drain the blood of an animal; since we believed that the life of the animal is within the blood.

"The reasons behind the draining of blood at the time of slaughter are mandated in the Torah. The Torah explicitly prohibits the consumption of blood because of the belief that the life of the animal is contained in the blood.

Lev. 7:26-27

"Moreover you shall eat no blood whatever, whether of fowl or of animal, in any of your dwellings. Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people."

https://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Projects/Reln91/Blood/Judaism/kashrut/kashrut.htm#:~:text=The%20Torah%20explicitly%20prohibits%20the,is%20contained%20in%20the%20blood.&text=%22Moreover%20you%20shall%20eat%20no,cut%20off%20from%20his%20people.%22

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    As noted in the original question, the laws against cruelty to individual animals are not a proof. "They write that all the laws that prescribe merciful behavior towards animals are to inculcate in humans merciful tendencies but aren't motivated by God's compassion for individual animals"
    – AKA
    Feb 22 at 5:14

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