How does the concept of Tza’ar Ba’alei Chaim deal with putting an animal out of its misery by killing it in order to prevent unnecessary pain (of the animal)?

For instance, when one sees an animal with a broken spine lying on the side of the road and he cannot take it to the vet without hurting it, and one cannot, for whatever reason, bring a vet to the animal, or else assume that one is a vet and can determine that there is no way to nurse the animal back to health.


3 Answers 3


This answer is from Dinonline:

Killing Animals to Prevent their Suffering

The Chazon Ish is cited (in Dinim Ve-Hanhagos Mi-Maran Ha-Chazon Ish Vol. 2, p. 40) as having been asked by a member of the family how a dying fly should be treated. The Chazon Ish responded that the fly should be killed, so as to prevent its extended suffering.

However, it is possible (Tzaar Baalei Chayim Chap. 4, no. 3) that this ruling will only apply to small insects, and not to larger animals, such as mice, and so on. The reason for this is that with regard to larger animals, killing the animal—even if done to prevent its suffering—is perceived as an act of cruelty, and therefore it should be avoided even for noble motives.

  • So... Maybe, maybe not, you’re not sure? At least this answers the question by insects, so +1 for that.
    – DonielF
    Sep 17, 2018 at 2:44
  • In another version of this ruling here dinonline rules "Yes [euthanasy is the right course of action], as there is no available treatment [or at least anyone willing to provide it] [euthanasy] will end the animal’s suffering and remove danger from humans." - you might wish to add this
    – mbloch
    Sep 17, 2018 at 4:09

I would like to discuss some aspects of צבע"ח. This topic is very loaded emotionally, and it is crucial to neutralize one's emotions while discussing it Halachicly.

  1. There's no Halachic reference to animals other than being a property. As such, one is free to make any use of it including making it suffer or killing it (don't rush!) as long as one benefits from it. If one does not benefit from injuring or killing HIS animals he's probably transgressing בל תשחית, but nothing from יורה דעה. (See JT Shabbat 7,2 explanation of עורות אילים מרודמים that the animals were beaten to make their skin red, or Soyto 9-10 about letting the blood of an animal before sacrifice). This approach is called scientifically "Anthropocentric Ecology" or Anthropocentrism.
    This is פשיטא from the explicit verses of the Torah:

"ויברך אותם אלוקים ויאמר להם אלוקים פרו ורבו ומלאו את הארץ וכיבשוה ורדו בדגת הים ובעוף השמים ובכל חיה הרומשת על הארץ"

"ומוראכם וחתכם יהיה על כל חית הארץ, ועל כל עוף השמים, בכל אשר תרמוש האדמה ובכל דגי הים, בידכם נתנו. כל רמש אשר הוא חי לכם יהיה לאוכלה כירק עשב נתתי לכם את הכל"

  1. The same logic applies to Hafker animals, that one is free to catch or make use of or kill for any need incl. fun (Nodah BeYehuda openly permitted hunting for fun only, but many opposed). Therefore, killing an animal is defaultively allowed and by itself does not fall under צעב"ח at all.

  2. The whole concept of צעב"ח is questionable as all the Mitzvot we learn it from have some weird limitations, e.g שילוח הקן is limited to עוף טהור, אותו ואת בנו is limited to defectless animals, פריקה וטעינה is limited to חברך etc.

  3. Therefore צעב"ח was never unified in any form of Halacha, and it is only mentioned "by the way" when other Mitzvot are discussed (Se Rambam Avida, Rotzeah also in Shu"A)

  4. Most Poskim agree that the concept is used not as a practical Mitzvah, but as a tool to exercise one's Midos in order to mimic Hashem's qualities ( חסדים ורחמים). Therefore, the Mitzvah will not be the חפצא - to help the animal, but גברא - to use the situation to exhibit and exercise good Midos. The story about Rebbi (BM 85a shows exactly that - he did not show his sympathy), or the opposite - to prevent developing bad Middos such as cruelty (See Rem"O אה"ע סי' ה' סעי' י"ד).

  5. As the matter of Midos, two people might be acting completely differently and still "performing the Mitzvah of צעב"ח" - One might express his compassion by killing it immediately, another might only pet it, and still another by spending a fortune to find a cure.

I'm sorry to stop, I can go on and on but hope this will suffice.

  • Hm. Interesting approach. I’d be curious to see the Noda BiYehudah, as I’m almost certain that he’s a Da’as Yachid.
    – DonielF
    Sep 17, 2018 at 13:32
  • 1. Even you admit that one cannot kill an animal for the sake of killing an animal (i.e. assuming that one does not derive joy from it and does not derive any other benefit either). So I’m not sure how accurate “killing an animal is [by default] allowed” is. 2. I hear your point re: Tza’ar Ba’alei Chaim being a Middah not a Mitzvah, but what do you think the Gemara means in BM 32 when it asks whether it’s D’Oraisa or D’Rabbanan? If it were just a good Middah to practice that’s a nonsensical question.
    – DonielF
    Sep 17, 2018 at 13:40
  • 1. I never said anything about liability. All I asked was if it’s permissible, not if one can be punished by Beis Din for it. 2. I don’t see anything in that discussion asking if there is an explicit mitzvah of Tza’ar Ba’alei Chaim. The discussion starts with מדברי שניהם נלמד צער בעלי חיים דאורייתא - according to Rava, even R’ Shimon holds that צעב״ח is from the Torah. The maskana is that צעב״ח is d’Oraisa according to all opinions except R’ Yosi HaGelili (הא מני ריה״ג היא שאמר צעב״ח לאו דאו׳), a position repeated throughout 33a until the end of the sugya.
    – DonielF
    Sep 17, 2018 at 18:51
  • I found an OU article that refers to a Teshuvah by the Noda BiYehudah on the topic. Is this what you’re referring to? Because if so, you seem to be misrepresenting his opinion. He does say that it’s permissible, but he adds two caveats - that the animal be killed quickly, with no torture; and that you probably shouldn’t be doing it, even if it is technically okay. If this is the Teshuvah you’re referring to, you should edit it in.
    – DonielF
    Sep 17, 2018 at 18:59
  • I further found a Chabad article that, in addition to the Noda BiYehudah quoted by the OU, also quotes other possible prohibitions, ranging from Bal Tashchis to Leitzanus (though you might call that latter one just a bad Middah rather than a bona fide lav).
    – DonielF
    Sep 17, 2018 at 19:03

It is a sin not to put an animal out of its suffering of pain and keep it alive, when it has a constructive purpose in its death e.g shechita for the sake of food.

Bava Bathra 73b:
ואמר רבה בר בר חנה זימנא חדא הוה קא אזלינן במדברא וחזינן הנהו אווזי דשמטי גדפייהו משמנייהו וקא נגדי נחלי דמשחא מתותייהו אמינא להו אית לן בגוייכו חלקא לעלמא דאתי חדא דלי גדפא וחדא דלי אטמא כי אתאי לקמיה דרבי אלעזר אמר לי עתידין ישראל ליתן עליהן את הדין
In summary Rabba bar bar Chana went to the desert on his travels and saw the fat geese that were so fat when they lifted their wings oil flowed out. These were destined to be slaughtered for Tzadikim to eat, and Rabbi Elazar said that we will be brought to account on the geeses behalf, for delaying the end of days when they will be eaten.

ליתן עליהם את הדין - שבחטאתם מתעכב משיח ויש להם צער בעלי חיים לאותן אווזים מחמת שומנן:
i.e the delay of Moshiach keeps them alive and causes these geese pain to move because they are so full of fat.

Shitta mekubetzet:עתידין ישראל ליתן עליהם את הדין. פירוש כשאוכלים אותם לעתיד לבוא מנכים להם מזכיותיהן
i.e we will lose our merits for the anguish we caused those geese to stay alive when Moshiach comes and we finally slaughter and eat the geese at the feast.

  • I don’t see where you’re getting your inference from. Since these geese were intended for the times of Mashiach, they couldn’t be shechted before then, and so even Tza’ar Ba’alei Chaim isn’t enough to spare them? Maybe that case is different, since they’re designated for the times of Mashiach (or since the geese signaled to him that they were intended as such); therefore we can’t kill them except for that purpose. Perhaps by an ordinary animal that’s suffering one might be obligated to kill it.
    – DonielF
    Sep 18, 2018 at 1:08
  • (Con’t) Let me put it this way: if these animals are in such pain, to the point that we are punished every day for prolonging their suffering, would the one who ends their pain not be praiseworthy? We simply are not able to do so until Mashiach comes. For any other animal, which does not have that restriction, shouldn’t we save them immediately?
    – DonielF
    Sep 18, 2018 at 1:10
  • @DonielF when we do aveiros we don't even realise we are causing animals harm, if we are punished for causing animals harm when we not thinking , how much more so we should be punished for actively seeing animals suffering which can be used to feed ourselves and end their misery before they suffer more.
    – user15464
    Sep 18, 2018 at 9:21
  • Again, maybe that animal is different since it’s specifically designated for the times of Mashiach, but for ones which aren’t, one should put them out of their misery.
    – DonielF
    Sep 18, 2018 at 11:14
  • @DonielF read my previous comment i meant i am agreeing with you that we should put the animal out of their misery the geese dedicated for mashiach are inaccessible but regular animals if they can be shechted then they should as a constructive purpose to be put them out of their misery
    – user15464
    Sep 18, 2018 at 12:22

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