I’ve been back and forth how to respond to my Gentile friends who are often inviting me on their hunting trips. Although I’m not an observant Jew, I’ve yet to join them because something feels Jewishly wrong about hunting for sport (although I might be contradicting myself because I do fish for sport).
One of my friends argues that if God allowed us to eat animals, there’s no difference between enjoying them by eating and enjoying them through sport. What is the Jewish view? Is fishing the same?
— Kyle W.
I support your feelings as the conclusion of much rabbinical literature is that hunting for sport runs contrary to the very fiber of Judaism. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 32a) derives this from the verse, “If you see the donkey of someone you hate crouching under its burden, would you refrain from helping him?! You shall surely help him” (Exodus 23:5). From here we learn the prohibition of tzar baalei chaim, or inflicting unnecessary pain upon an animal, and the commandment of relieving an animal from a painful situation.
The caveat to all of this is that when the animal is causing pain or danger to a human being, or if it is needed for medicinal purposes or to be eaten, it is permitted by the Torah to kill the animal. This is all derived from the fact that the Torah allowed the slaughter of animals for consumption (Kitzur Shalchan Aruch 191:1). This is all for human needs, not for entertainment.
One could make the argument that entertainment is also a human “need,” and therefore hunting for the sake of pleasure would come under the broad category of permission which we derive from the mitzvah of kosher slaughtering. This argument was actually accepted by one of the most eminent authorities of Jewish law (Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, 18th century, in Noda B’Yehuda Tinyana Yoreh Deah 10). Rabbi Landau concludes, however, that he’s very shocked that a Jew would even pose this question because even if it is technically not forbidden, it’s not aligned with the way of the Jewish people; we only find hunting in the Torah in connection with Nimrod and Esau (two wicked men), and never with the patriarchs, as it is not the way of the Jews.
The question of using animals for medical research is one which the Jewish authorities grappled with, but allowed it on the basis of medical need as mentioned above. This is in sharp contradistinction to killing animals strictly for sport, something the very idea of which should be painful to a sensitive Jewish soul.
An example of the Torah’s view is the prohibition of muzzling a plowing animal to prevent it from eating while plowing, something that would cause it anguish (Deuteronomy 25:4). We are further instructed to refrain from harnessing an ox and a donkey to the same plow, as an ox is stronger and will cause undue stress to the donkey (Deuteronomy 22:10). We are forbidden from slaughtering a cow and its calf on the same day (Leviticus 22:28), due to the callousness it would cause to the one doing so.
On the other side of the coin, kindness to animals was a source of virtue to our patriarchs and matriarchs. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, Moses and David were all shepherds. The rabbis comment that those great Jewish leaders learned the trait of compassion by caring from flocks of animals before they became “shepherds” for the flock of the Jewish people.
If compassion to animals is so central to Judaism, why is it that we are allowed — it is even a mitzvah — to slaughter animals for the purpose of serving man? We shall explore that in next week’s column, as well as the question of fishing for sport.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel.
Questions can be sent to him at