Monday, October 22, 2007

The Animals

"A man enters synagogue on Yom Kippur with his dog and tells the gabbai this is a very smart dog, he can talk. "If he will talk for you," says the man, "will you let him sit next to me?" The gabbai says "let's hear him." Man turns to dog and says what is on top of this building which keeps the rain out? the dog says ruf ruf. The guy says see he said it was a roof. But if you are not satisfied with that, I will have him answer another question. He says to the dog, who was the most famous baseball player of all time? Dog says ruf ruf. Man says see he said Babe Ruth. The gabbai throws man and dog out. Dog looks up at the man and says, "Should I have said Willie Mays?"
-- Jewish Joke
I thought it may be instructive to examine what Judaism says about animals. In the course, I hope to highlight some lesser known bibliographical items. The Torah appears to place significant obligation on people vis-à-vis animals. For instance, we are commanded to remove an overburdened animal (Deut. 22:4), we are told to feed one’s animals prior to one eating themselves (TB, Berachot, 40a), and finally there is a general injunction against mistreating animals. It is from this final prohibition – tzar ba’alei hayyim – that we continue with the remainder of our discussion.

Although we are commanded to treat animals well, Jews are also not prohibited from eating animals. The combination of these two ideas were for some rishonim an understanding of how and why shehita is the obligatory process for eating meat. They explain that purpose of shehita is to minimize pain to the animal even when we do kill it.[1] They point to law of a smooth knife as well as cutting specifically on the neck as trying to minimize pain. The issue of animal pain, was raised on numerous occasions for some to argue that shehita should be prohibited. In the defense of shehita the idea that it is the least painful method of killing was usually marshaled. In at least one instance, at the turn of the 20th century, this defense “caused even non-Jews to only use Jewish shehita and the Society for [the prevention] of Cruelty to Animals in America attempted to obligate this in all places.”[2]

In America as well there was a question of the legitimacy of shehita as a humane method. A book was published, originally in Hebrew and subsequently to English, which bore the title Tub Taam, or Vindication of the Israelitisch Way of Killing Animals by R. Aaron Zev Friedman (downloadable here). According to a family legend, this book convinced Ulysses S. Grant to eat only kosher meat.[3]

While all the above is true, there appears to be an opposite view of animals, one which places less respect to the animal world. R. Moshe Isserles, in his commentary on Shulhan Arukh, states “Anything that is necessary for health, or for anything else there is no prohibition against inflicting pain on animals; therefore, it is permissible to pluck quills from live duck and there is no consideration of causing pain to the animal. But, it is best to avoid all this as it is heartless.”[4] Thus, according to Rama, whenever there is any need, there is no prohibition of causing pain. According to this understanding, one need not understand the commandment of shehita to have anything to do with minimizing pain, as there is no need to minimize pain as the meat will be used.[5]

The view of Rama was applied by R. Yaakov Reischer when he asked [in an undated responsum] whether it is permissible to use an animal to test the efficacy of a drug.[6] He responded that based upon this Rama, animal testing is permitted. He explained that the caveat of Rama, that “it is heartless” and therefore should be avoided, is inapplicable to this case; as in the case of animal testing, the animal may not feel pain immediately, and as a result, according to R. Reischer, poses less of an issue of tzar ba’alei hayyim.

R. Ezekiel Landau, in his Noda BeYehudah[7] similarly applies Rama to a different question. He was asked whether it is permissible for a Jew to hunt animals. R. Landau says based upon Rama, there is no issue of tzar ba’alei hayyim. While he counsels against this practice for other reasons[8] these reasons are not out of concern for animals. R. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, in Haamek Davar, places Noah as the first to own pets. R. Berlin explains that the raven and dove were Noah's own pets and not part of the animals he collected into the ark. R. Berlin alleges that the dove was actually trained similarly to a homing pigeon. (Haamek Davar, vol. 1, 8:7)

In discussing animals and Judaism there is a related discussion concerning the propriety of dog ownership and dogs in particular in Jewish thought. R. Jacob Emden rails against dog ownership.[9] He decries dog ownership solely for pleasure or as a companion and goes so far to claim that dog owners are suspect of engaging in bestiality.[10]

On the other hand, historically, the dog specifically, has actually been used as a positive icon. For instance, in the Hamburg Miscellany, there is a depiction of a wedding scene with a dog at the feet of the groom.[11] Similarly, the Washington Haggadah contains a depiction of a dog (see here).

The Sefer Hasidim claims that all animals can teach humans positive traits.[12] He singles out the dog for teaching loyalty, which is easily what the depiction in the Hamburg Miscellany could be depicting in the wedding scene – a scene which describes what is essentially a loyalty ceremony.

While the positive aspect of a dog can be found in some illustrations, the negative view of animals and specifically dogs can also be found in illustrations. In the Prague 1526 haggadah we find a depiction of a hare hunt being used for the mnemonic YaKNeHaZ (the order the blessing are recited when Pesach night falls on a Saturday night). The usage of the hare hunt is in German, the term for hare hunt or Jagen-has sounds like YakNeHaZ. In Augsburg, 1534 haggadah, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi notes it not only shows a hare hunt, but the hare escaping.[13] He says the hare is representative of the Jewish people and the dogs their enemies and therefore, “it is plausible to conclude that hate two successive representation of the Jagen-has are not only an innovation in themselves, but together comprise an allegory of the persecution and salvation of the Jewish people.”[14] In this depiction the dogs are actually the enemies of the Jews conforming with the prior negative views of dogs.

Finally, in the apocryphal work Tobit, in many versions there is a positive mention of a dog. In some editions, however, the dog is missing. One scholar posits the removal was deliberate in that, according to him -- and as we have seen above this is not universal -- Jews (and other Eastern cultures) do not depict dogs positively.[15] Thus, the dog had to go. Again, this follows the negative view of dogs.

In conclusion, there appears to be two schools of thought regarding animals and specifically dogs. Some view them and animals positively and is borne out in practice, while there is another tradition inapposite.

I wanted to thank Eliezer Brodt and Menachem Butler for their additional insights and sources which added significantly to this post.

[1] See Sefer haHinuch, commandment 451; see also Eshkoli, Tzaar Baalei Hayyim, [], 2002, 79-80 (collecting sources).
[2] See Greenwald, ha-Shohet ve-haShehita be-Safrut ha-Rabbunut (New York, 1955), p. 19.
[3] For the source and a description of this book in general see Yosef Goldman, Hebrew Printing in America (New York, 2006), 2:1092. See also, Shnayer Z. Leiman, "Montague Lawrence Marks: In a Jewish Bookstore," Tradition 25:1 (Fall, 1989): 66, 69, nn.12-13.
For more on the German attempt to ban shehita and R. Y.Y. Weinberg's response, see Hirsh Jakob Zimmels, The Echo of the Nazi Holocaust in Rabbinic Literature (New York, 1977), 181-193 and Marc B. Shapiro, Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy (Littman Library, 1999), 117-129; and regarding the highly controversial nature of R. Weinberg's responsum, Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog hesitated to allow it in print at all, see p. 192. Shapiro also cites a letter where it is suggested that "Herzog later agreed that publishing the responsum would not create difficulties" (ibid., n.86).
[4] Rama, Even haEzer, 5:14; see generally Eshkoli, supra n.1, chapter 12.
[5] R. Yosef Toemim, in his introduction to Pri Megadim discussing shehita cautions against applying rationales generally for commandments, and specifically for shehita. Pri Megadim, Peshiha Kollelet l’Hilchot Shehita.
[6] R. Yaakov Reischer, Shevut Ya’akov, vol. 3, no. 71.
[7] R. Ezekiel Landau, Noda b’Yehuda, Mahdurah Tinyana, Yoreh Deah, no. 10.
[8] He offers that Biblically, the only hunters were Esau and Nimrod thus hunting is not a “Jewish pastime.” Further, he argues that one is prohibited from putting himself in danger. He goes so far to claim that the simple reading of Esau’s statement “I am going to die” as an expression that Esau was aware that he was involved in a dangerous profession.
David Katz recently noted that R. Ezekiel Landau "laughingly applied" to R. Jacob Emden the Talmudic dictum (BT, Yoma, 30b) concerning mad dogs: "They bark and bark but no one hears!" David Katz, "A Case Study in the Formation of a Super-Rabbi: The Early Years of Rabbi Ezekiel Landau, 1713-1754" (University of Maryland, 2004), 17, 420-421.
[9] R. Jacob Emden, She'elat Ya’avetz, vol. 1 no. 17; Eshkoli, supra n.1, pp. 221-224; id. 225-28 (discussing cats).
[10] There is a related discussion about the Antisemitic use of the dog to depict Jews. See Ruth Mellinkoff, Antisemitic Hate Signs in Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts from Medieval Germany (Jerusalem, 1999), pp. 38-9; now, see generally, Kenneth Stow, Jewish Dogs: An Image and Its Interpreters (Stanford, California, 2006), 28-32 and passim. Additionally, it is worth noting that there is actually a Jewish explanation as to why non-Jews have called Jews dogs. See R. Y.Y. Stahl, ed., Sefer Kushiyot (Jerusalem, 2007), no. 128 p. 100 (finding scriptural basis for the dog epithet!).
[11] Bezalel Narkiss, Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts (Israel, 1984) plate 59 p. 185; this illumination also appears in Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1967), vol. 16, opp. col. 616. Sperber notes other instances of dogs in Jewish items but attributes it to Christian ideology. See Daniel Sperber, Minhagei Yisrael, vol. 4 pp. 84-5, n.12. But, as is shown above from the Sefer Hasidim, the use of a dog to display loyalty has Jewish roots as well.
[12] Margoliyot ed., no. 47, p. 106. See also, Sefer Hasidim (Sefer HaMaskil) p. 12 "at all times one should have in their home animals or birds, at the very least a rooster or duck. One should then feed the animal first to fulfill the obligation to feed animals prior to one eating themselves." For a discussion regarding this Sefer Hasidim vis-a-vis the Sefer HaMaskil, see R. M.M. Honig, in "al Mahduroso haHadasha shel Sefer HaMaskil (Sefer Hasidim) l'R' Moshe Bar Eliezer HaKohen," Yerushashanu, vol. 1 (2007): 196-240.
[13] Both of these are available in their entirety from the JNUL site.
[14] Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Haggadah and History (Jewish Publication Society 1997), plate 15. For a fuller discussion of this imagery, see Elliott Horowitz, "Odd Couples: The Eagle and the Hare, the Lion and the Unicorn," Jewish Studies Quarterly 11:3 (August 2004): 243-258, and idem., "The People of the Image," The New Republic 223:13 (September 25, 2000): 41-49.
[15] Israel Abrahams, "Tobit's Dog," Jewish Quarterly Review (old series), I, 3 (1888/1889): 288.

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