On a boat, Reuven owns five ostriches and one of them eats a diamond off of Shimon's hat which is on his head. Though we are not sure which one ate it we know with certainty that one of them did. Assume that we would have to kill them one by one in order to find the right one.

Do ethics regarding animal rights play a role here? Also, does Shimon have any part ownership in the ostrich to the extent that Reuven cannot sell it until the matter is clarified? Is killing a possibility in order to retrieve the diamond?

What is the straight halacha and the hashkafic view of animal rights in this situation?

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    shmuel price, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for the interesting question! I look forward to seeing you around.
    – Isaac Moses
    Jul 6, 2012 at 14:58
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    Why would an ostrich eating a diamond owned by Shim'on give Shim'on ownership of the ostrich? I assume you mean does Shim'on's rights to the diamond prevent Reuven from exercising his rights to the ostriches vis a vis selling any ostrich, until we have retrieved the diamond?
    – Seth J
    Jul 6, 2012 at 15:00
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    The Yerushalmi in Moed Katan 3:7 (17b) cites a closely related story: R. Ba and R. Huna bar Chiya were sitting together, and an ostrich came and ate the latter's tefillin. R. Ba proceeded to strangle the ostrich in order to save the tefillin from destruction. [It doesn't say what he would have done if the ostrich had run away and mingled with others. Also, it seems to have been a bird from the wild, and it's not clear whether killing it would have been permitted if it was owned by someone. And of course we don't know whether there is any comparison to cases involving simple monetary loss.]
    – Dave
    Jul 6, 2012 at 15:25
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    Correction: It actually says that the ostrich snatched the tefillin, not ate them.
    – Dave
    Jul 6, 2012 at 15:33

1 Answer 1


When an animal or bird eats something that is not food it's considered Keren and the owner would be obligated to pay half the damages (if it's a Tahm), see Choshen Mishpat 391:2. As far as Ta'ar Ba'alei Chayim see Even Hoezer 5:14 that when there is a necessity there is no prohibition.

  • Is this true even if the item is not destroyed due to eating (as in the case of a diamond)? I can't imagine that the owner is responsible to pay if the item is fully retrievable.
    – Dave
    Jul 6, 2012 at 18:34
  • Put it this way, in order for the owner of the bird to have any responsibilty 2 witnesses would have to see the bird eating the diamond. So if that bird gets mixed up with 10 other birds -belonging to different people- each owner could tell the owner of the diamond 'prove me that it was my bird or have a nice day'. Jul 8, 2012 at 2:31
  • #2, if Bais Din ascertains which bird it was they have no obligation to kill the bird, they may want to wait for the bird to 'empty it out himself'. The way it's paid for -if it's a Tahm- they sell the bird and whatever the bird is worth its owner pays up to half the damage. E.g. if the diamond is worth $1000 and the bird $100 -even if we could sell the bird $1100 he would not have to pay more than $500. Jul 8, 2012 at 2:40
  • So the owner of the bird pays $500, then kills the bird (or waits for it to 'empty out'), and then sells the diamond for $1,000, making a few hundred on the deal. Now why doesn't that sound right???
    – Dave
    Jul 8, 2012 at 2:52

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