Assuming that animals feel physical and emotional pain in some way that is comparable to human feeling, why does Judaism discount their needs? I am interested to hear rabbinic discussions about this.

I suppose the first thing to consider is whether chazal hold that animals do have such feelings at all.

Some issues include:

  1. There are cases where Jewish law requires animals to be made to suffer, including times when a human made a choice that causes the animal to be punished (see here), and the fact that alleviating animals' suffering on Shabbat would not always be allowed.

  2. There is a concept of not causing 'unnecessary' suffering to animals; that is, suddenly the suffering is acceptable to us if it is useful for our (human) purposes. This includes using animals for research.

  3. Pests can be killed even using quite painful traps and pesticides.

  4. It says here that a calf found in the womb, as long as it was removed after the mother died, and that mother was properly slaughtered, can be eaten without slaughter and that, potentially, even eating its limbs while it is alive is permitted (because, technically, it is considered part of its mother's body, not a living creature in its own right).

I'm not asking about the difference between killing an animal and killing a human, or using an animal for labour or pets in a caring way (perhaps akin to the license the Torah gives to own slaves - but requires us to treat them with compassion).

But purely in terms of causing or allowing pain, fear, and grief to animals I am trying to understand the discrepancy between my perception of reality (that the animal is a living thing that feels pain) and the technical approach allowed by the Torah.

  • Why would you make your opening assumption?? The human brain is way more complex than a pigeon's.
    – Double AA
    Aug 29, 2013 at 7:51
  • Then, say a comparable way. I've had pet cats, dogs, and rabbits, and I know that they certainly experience all of these things to a large degree, even if not exactly the same as my own experience. In any case even insects show fear and agony so, for them in the world of their own experience, that has got to mean something. In terms of the bonds of family relationships and friendships, many animals also experience clear grief and even mental instability when they have their children, parents, or friends taken away, especially if it is traumatic. I think it matters in light of my own experience
    – Annelise
    Aug 29, 2013 at 8:01
  • "Jewish question." (n.) Someone gets up and makes a statement, then just changes the intonation at the end to make it sound like a question.
    – Shalom
    Aug 29, 2013 at 12:30
  • 1
    this question could have included whether chazal hold animals to have 'emotional feelings' at all and whether that would impinge on specific cases in halacha.
    – bondonk
    Aug 29, 2013 at 12:53
  • 1
    @Annelise Is the fact that the world was created for humans, not animals, insufficient?
    – Daniel
    Aug 29, 2013 at 13:38

2 Answers 2


As explained by Maimonides in Guide for the Perplexed 3:48, the Torah does recognize animals' physical and emotional feelings, and several commandments reflect this:

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.

It is also prohibited to kill an animal with its young on the same day (Lev. xxii. 28), in order that people should be restrained and prevented from killing the two together in such a manner that the young is slain in the sight of the mother; for the pain of the animals under such circumstances is very great. There is no difference in this case between the pain of man and the pain of other living beings, since the love and tenderness of the mother for her young ones is not produced by reasoning, but by imagination, and this faculty exists not only in man but in most living beings. This law applies only to ox and lamb, because of the domestic animals used as food these alone are permitted to us, and in these cases the mother recognises her young.

The same reason applies to the law which enjoins that we should let the mother fly away when we take the young. The eggs over which the bird sits, and the young that are in need of their mother, are generally unfit for food, and when the mother is sent away she does not see the taking of her young ones, and does not feel any pain. In most cases, however, this commandment will cause man to leave the whole nest untouched, because [the young or the eggs], which he is allowed to take, are, as a rule, unfit for food. If the Law provides that such grief should not be caused to cattle or birds, how much more careful must we be that we should not cause grief to our fellowmen. (Friedlander translation)

Accordingly, animals' needs are taken into account; however, in some cases there may be other factors that override the animals' needs (e.g. the need to consume meat mentioned by Maimonides here).


Gensis 1:28:

וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם, אֱלֹהִים, וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְכִבְשֻׁהָ; וּרְדוּ בִּדְגַת הַיָּם, וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּבְכָל-חַיָּה, הָרֹמֶשֶׂת עַל-הָאָרֶץ.

And God blessed them; and God said unto them: 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creepeth upon the earth.'

The world was given over to humans, not to animals. It was created for us, not for them. That's why our well-being is considered superior to theirs. This doesn't mean that we don't care about animals. On the contrary, we are required to minimize their suffering when we do permitted things like eating meat.

  • Right. The question said that I am not questioning the killing of animals for use or the way we use them for labour or for pets. But the points above relate to their suffering; I don't know that 'have dominion' explains them.
    – Annelise
    Aug 29, 2013 at 13:55
  • I do realise though that the question half-questions the rabbinic process and half-questions the Torah itself, which makes it complicated. But I am still looking for Jewish discussions about these things rather than expecting philosophical answers!
    – Annelise
    Aug 29, 2013 at 13:56
  • @Annelise Most of the points above relate to the suffering of animals with respect to the process of preparing to eat them. For example, points 3, 4, 6, and 9 all directly relate to slaughtering animals. Point 1 has to do with taking the eggs for eating.
    – Daniel
    Aug 29, 2013 at 13:58
  • @Annelise We aren't allowed to cause animals to suffer unneccesarily. Your question of why our suffering is considered more important than their suffering is addressed by saying that the world is created for us, not for them.
    – Daniel
    Aug 29, 2013 at 14:00
  • Mm, true that most of my points are about the process of eating animal products, and whether that is done in a kind way. And I know it doesn't make sense to say I hypothetically agree with killing and eating meat and yet feel very uneasy about 3 and 4. Still (to your next comment), I see what you mean, but I guess I was talking about our own responsibility and actions: what we choose to cause or not to cause to them. That's where it's at, for me. What do you think there?
    – Annelise
    Aug 29, 2013 at 14:03

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .