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Judaism and Animals:
Hunting in Law and Tradition


By Rabbi J.J. Tilsen





Judaism & Animal Rights

Judaism & Vegetarianism

Should Jews Eat

Is Fur a Jewish Issue?

What's Jewish About a Vegan Diet?

Hunting in Law & Tradition

Kosher Slaughter

A Sacred Duty



Islam & Animals

Christianity & Animals

Jewish Humane Education Kit




In Western civilization, hunting is seen as a noble and manly pursuit. In Greek and Nordic mythology hunters are heroes; in popular culture hunting is the epitome of manliness.


Jewish culture and law, however, take a different view of hunting. The "Great Hunters" of the Bible are viewed by the Sages of Israel as wicked men: Nimrod, whose very name means "one who rebels [against God]," and Esau, who is the utter antithesis of the spirit of Jewish Civilization.


Rashi, who lived some 900 years ago in France, comments on the first verse of Psalms, "Happy is the one who has not walked in the path of sinners" by saying that this means "one who does not hunt with dogs for sport or entertainment."


Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg, the most influential German rabbi of the 13th century, declared that "whoever hunts animals with dogs, as do the gentiles, will not [partake of the pleasures of the World to Come]."


The Shemesh Tsedaqa, writing in the early 18th century [1681-1740], forbade hunting as a profession and for sport. He said that those who hunt "have taken hold of the occupation of Esau the wicked, and are guilty of cruelty in putting to death God's creatures for no reason. It is a doubled and redoubled duty upon people to engage in matters which make for civilization, not in the destruction of creatures for sport or entertainment." He concludes that killing for purposes of trade would constitute trading in forbidden merchandise.


In Pahad Yitzhak, we find, "Moreover, since the gentiles and idolaters are accustomed to hunting animals and birds with weapons for sport and recreation, the prohibition of 'you shall not walk in their statutes (Lev. 18:3)' applies. Thus a person who indulges in this is unworthy of the name Jew."


Our sages teach that the Torah forbids hunting on several grounds. First, it represents cruelty to animals (tsa'ar ba'alei hayim). Second, it violates the prohibition against wanton destruction. Third, it constitutes "spilling of blood." Fourth, it is a forbidden act of "copying the ways of the gentiles." These four grounds represent Biblical prohibitions (Isurei deOraita). One who hunts would thus violate four distinct Biblical commandments and numerous secondary rules.


How we view and treat animals is not unrelated to how we treat people. As part of God's creation, life is of immense value. When we take life for pleasure, we sink to the lowest levels of human existence.


Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen has been the spiritual leader of the Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel in New Haven, Connecticut, USA, since 1993. Rabbi Tilsen is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly, the global organization of 1,600 Masorti-Conservative rabbis.