Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.

- Deuteronomy 25:4

Why did God tell people not to muzzle cows?

The Christians claim that the Jewish laws were there to protect renters from short-changing animals they rent. That's quite imaginative and will take a lot of explanation. So, I want to see if the opinion given there is the same as what Jews say. Is this really what it means?

1 Answer 1


tl;dr: There is some basis for the Christian interpretation in Jewish sources, but it is not the only reason for the prohibition.

In the Bavli it is stated:

ת"ר החוסם את הפרה ודש בה לוקה ומשלם ד' קבין לפרה וג' קבין לחמור
(Bavli Bava Metzia 91a)

Our Rabbis taught: If one muzzles a beast and threshes therewith, he is flagellated, and pays [to the owner of the cow] four kabs in the case of a cow, and three kabs for an ass. (Bavli Bava Metzia 91a, Soncino Translation)

When one muzzles a cow or donkey while threshing, one must pay the owner of the animal for the food the animal would have eaten if it was not muzzled. However, in addition to the payment, one also receives lashes, indicating that there is an additional aspect to the commandment, besides compensating the owners.

In addition, one is prohibited to muzzle the threshing animal, whether one loaned / rented the animal or one owns it.

Thus, while there seems to be some basis for the Christian interpretation, there must be an additional reason for the prohibition:

משרשי המצוה. ללמד עצמנו להיות נפשנו נפש יפה בוחרת הישר ומדבקת בו ורודפת אחר החסד והחמלה, ובהרגילנו אותה על זה אף על הבהמות שלא נבראו רק לשמשנו, לחוס עליהן לחלק להן חלק מיגיעת בשרן תקח לה הנפש דרכה בהרגל זה, להטיב אל בני אדם ולשמר אותם מהעביר עליהם הדרך בשום דבר שראוי להם, ולשלם שכרם ככל אשר יעשו טוב, ולהשביעם מאשר יגעו בו, וזה הדרך ראוי ילכו בה עם הקדש הנבחר.‏
(Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 596)

Among the roots of the Mitzvah: To teach ourselves to make our soul a beautiful soul, which chooses right and keeps to it and runs after kindness and compassion, and when one makes it [the soul] used to this even with animals which were only created to serve us, to spare them to give them part of their body's work, then the soul would get used to this, and learn to be good to humans and guard from taking from them anything they deserve, and to pay their salaries when they do well, and to feed them from what they worked in, and this is the path which the holy chosen nation should walk.
(Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 596, my translation)

According to Sefer HaChinuch, muzzling the animal while it is threshing is cruel, and the commandment teaches us to avoid cruelty, even to animals.

  • What is the purpose? So the animal couldn't eat while working?
    – user4234
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 14:19
  • @SharenEayrs My thinking - the concept seems similar to how we're supposed to treat slaves. IIRC, a slave who works in the field is allowed to eat from the corners of the field. Likewise, a working animal should be able to eat from the grass as it works.
    – DanF
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 14:27
  • @SharenEayrs i second DanF's opinion. Just as a person is allowed to eat from whatever fields he works on (the second gleanings, what is left on trees, or the corners of the fields) so too an animal has this same right. The same as the Sabbath, every worker, or slave, or animal has the right to rest on the Sabbath
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 16:42
  • @DanF It is not only slaves who are allowed to eat from the field, but any worker.
    – Inkbug
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 16:51
  • @SharenEayrs The purpose of muzzling is that the animal wont eat; the reason one may not muzzle is to avoid cruelty to the working animal.
    – Inkbug
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 16:52

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