January 30, 2007
Week 167, Day2
11 Shevat 5767  

Pity for the Living

Core Word  
pain of living things tsa’ar ba-alei chayim
pain, sorrow tsa’ar
trouble, misfortune tsarah
troubles, misfortunes


prevention of cruelty to animals

tsa’ar ba-alei chayim

One of the most touching expressions in the Jewish lexicon is tsa’ar ba-alei chayim, literally, “pain of living things.” In the Jewish view, animals are just as much creatures of God as is humankind; and humankind has the responsibility, not only of respecting their needs and their feelings, but also of treating them with compassion. Animals suffer tsa’ar, pain, sorrow, and Jews are therefore prohibited from inflicting pain upon them. The familiar Yiddish word, tsores, is simply the Hebrew word tsarah, trouble, misfortune, in its plural form, tsarot.

The Torah shows exquisite sensitivity to the feelings of animals—sensitivity rare in the ancient world. On the Sabbath, domestic animals as well as human beings must rest (Exodus 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:14). Deuteronomy 25:4 prohibits the muzzling of an ox while it is threshing (it may want to eat). An animal may not be slaughtered on the same day as its young (Leviticus 22:28). Before the days of tractor, farmers were forbidden to plow with an ox and an ass yoked together (the ox, being larger, might cause pain to its smaller partner). Deuteronomy 22 spells out additional injunctions for Jews living an agrarian life: If you see an ox or an ass collapsed on the road under its burden, you must help it get on its feet; if you find a stray sheep or ox, you must return it to its owner or, if the owner is unknown, you must care for it until the owner claims it.

The Rabbis of the Talmud and of later generations went even further: Jews were enjoined never to sit down to eat before their animals had been fed; they were prohibited from buying an animal unless they could afford to feed it; and hunting for sheer sport is brutally cruel and hence forbidden to Jews. Slaughtering animals for food must be done as quickly and as painlessly as possible to avoid unnecessary or prolonged torment for the animal. In Modern Hebrew, tsa’ar ba-alei chayim is refers to the mitzvah of the “prevention of cruelty to animals.”

Adapted from Edith Samuel, Your Jewish Lexicon (New York: UAHC Press, 1982), 40-41. (Now back in print and available solely through through Amazon.com)

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