According to Jewish thought, do animals have the self-awareness to know that they exist? Do they know that they are animals? Does an animal differentiate itself from other animals?

  • Animals act differently towards their own than to others, so they do differentiate. A lion won't eat a lion, but it'll eat other animals.
    – user613
    Sep 3, 2014 at 6:18
  • Related: in chassidus, an animal only cares about itself, only does what it wants. The head is physically equal with the whole body, not higher like people, because it's it's sechel, it's brain isn't above, doesn't control, the midos in the heart
    – user613
    Sep 3, 2014 at 6:21
  • I've moved a good number of comments here to chat instead, where you can continue the discussion, and deleted such comments as don't attempt to improve or clarify the question, including such as discuss the on-topic-ness of this question (which latter is being discussed on Meta).
    – msh210
    Sep 5, 2014 at 3:46
  • User, generally speaking animals don't eat their own kind, but look at the black widow, it eats it's own husband to supply food for it's baby's! That's why it's called a black widow because after mates it turns on him. And snakes eat other snakes. Sep 5, 2014 at 15:21
  • @user613 "A lion won't eat a lion, but it'll eat other animals." Some animals eat their own young. So you may be incorrect.
    – Ephraim77
    May 20, 2019 at 17:26

2 Answers 2


"There was a calf which was about to be taken for slaughtering, and it ran away, and put its head under the garment of Rabbi (Yehuda HaNassi), and cried. And Rabbi answered: 'Go; you are created for this purpose'. Then it was said by Heaven that, as he has no mercy with creatures, he shall be afflicted with chastisements." (Babylonian Talmud - Bava Metzia 85a)

This medrash, if taken literally, suggests some level of awareness on the part of the calf, perhaps related to your question.

Also (perhaps less relevant): "They further questioned: Why does the dog know his master, and the cat does not? and his answer was: It is certain that he who eats from what is left by a mouse is apt to have a poor memory, so much the more so the cat that himself consumes the mouse." (Babylonian Talmud - Horayot ch. III)

  • 3
    +1, I think these are good starting points. But is it clear that the lack of mercy is because of the experience of the animal or perhaps because of his own lack of sensitivity, regardless of the animal's feelings? Sep 4, 2014 at 18:18
  • How about Isaiah 1:3: "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib"?
    – wfb
    Sep 19, 2014 at 17:11

Animals seem to know things outside themselves Yeshaya 1(3)

An ox knows his owner and a donkey his master's crib;

On which Rashi comments:

Heb. קֹנֵהוּ [is] like מְתַקְּנוֹ, the one who affixes him to the plowshare for plowing by day, and since he has accustomed him to this, he knows him. The dull donkey, however, does not recognize his master until he feeds him.

Rashi's comment might suggest that self-knowledge is unlikely in animals.

  • Does this mean that they don't have self knowledge, or (like I think it is) just a statement about classical conditioning in animals? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_conditioning
    – MTL
    Sep 3, 2014 at 15:36
  • @Shokhet I see your point. I wanted to suggest that Rashi regards the donkey as less aware since he only recognises his master when he is fed (rather than when he is prepared for work). I see in this a very low level of awareness and infer (possibly) that self awareness is most unilkely. Sep 3, 2014 at 15:50
  • Fair enough. [15 char]
    – MTL
    Sep 3, 2014 at 18:21

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