To what extent does tzaar baalei chayyim--the prohibition on causing needless pain to animals--apply to animal testing of products such as cosmetics? What are the potential halachic problems for both the person conducting such tests (if Jewish), and for potential consumers of the product?

*Please note that I am specifically not referring to animal testing in medical research, nor the animal testing of any products with a medically indicated use.*

A bit of background:

Many categories of product are legally required to be tested on animals. For most of these, the products cannot be manufactured safely and effectively without animal testing. (Generally, I am not referring to such products in my question. However, some of these products--tobacco products, certain chemical-based household cleaners and pet foods, drugs used for purely cosmetic purposes--are not essential for use. I would be interested on any potential halachic limits on the use of these in light of their animal testing.)

There are also some types of product that are not legally required to be tested on animals in the Western world. The products for which non-required animal tests are performed include cosmetics, toiletries, and household products. Animal tests on these products are generally considered not necessary to confirm safety or efficacy, since alternative means of testing exist. However, many manufacturers still perform animal tests on such products, largely because lawyers counsel them to do so to avoid liability.

Many of the tests are undoubtedly cruel and painful to their animal subjects.

Non-animal-tested cosmetic and household products are widely available; however, the brands that do not test may be more expensive, and they do not necessarily offer the same product formulations as animal-tested brands.

There is a distinction between products that use ingredients that have been tested for safety/efficacy on animals in the past, and cases in which the "finished product" is tested on animals by the company itself. Most cosmetics and household product companies that claim not to test their products on animals are referring to finished products, and (often) also to any proprietary ingredients that they may invent. However, they are not referring to ingredients that have been tested on animals by others in the past. Companies that do test on animals may test finished products and/or the new ingredients that they develop specifically for their products. I can't imagine there would be concern with purchasing products with ingredients that have ever been tested on animals in the past; what I am asking about is the case where new animal tests are undertaken to produce something.

NOTE: As of 2013, the E.U. and Israel have banned all non-drug cosmetic and household products tested on animals, as well as animal testing of new ingredients, so this question applies mostly to Jews in the U.S. and other countries.

I am interested in answers that address any or all of the following:

  1. Is purchasing or using animal-tested products for non-medical reasons halachically questionable?

  2. If so, under what circumstances might it be permissible?

    • If you simply have a preference for a household or cosmetic product that is animal tested, is that reason enough to use it?
    • If you cannot easily find or afford non-animal-tested products that suit your basic needs, is that reason enough to use tested products?
    • What about a quasi-medical need for an animal tested product, such as using it to prevent pimples or dandruff? (Many products in these categories are considered "drugs" by the U.S. FDA and therefore must be animal tested.)
  3. Does one have a responsibility l'chatchila to know the animal testing status of the products available, or may one remain ignorant?

  4. Is it permissible for a Jew to engage in the animal testing of products such as cosmetics?

  5. If it is known that a Jew was involved in the unnecessary animal testing (or testing of an unnecessary product), would it then be an even greater transgression to buy and use this product? Assume the animal testing was cruel.


1 Answer 1


According to Shulchan Aruch even Hoezer (very end of Siman 5), "anything that is for Refuah (healing) or for a purpose does not carry the prohibition of Tzar Ba'alei Chaim, therefore is would be permissible to pluck feathers from a living duck (I guess to use for a quill - mz) but the Minhag (custom) is to refrain from this because it is Achzoriyos (cruelty)."

  • Does "for a purpose" literally mean for any purpose? Even for fun?
    – SAH
    Mar 24, 2013 at 16:56
  • @SAH I think so.
    – Double AA
    Feb 19, 2015 at 5:21
  • @DoubleAA The gemara in Shabbos numerous times talks about a "psik reisha", something where I want to do action X and result Y will perforce occur. The term "psik reisha" is explained by rashi that the father is cutting off the head of the chicken to give it to his child to play with. That's the gemara's example- you can't say you didn't intend for the chicken to die! But you see that cutting off the chicken's head (not doing shechita) for a toy is perfectly fine.
    – Binyomin
    Apr 27, 2020 at 17:32

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