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Feeding Animals

Feeding Animals

Parshat Noach

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During the great flood, Noah and his family were kept busy feeding all the animals in the ark. The Talmud1 recounts that Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, asked of Shem, Noah’s son, how they were able to take care of all of the animals and give them individual attention, given that the habits and needs of different species of animals are so divergent.

[Shem] replied: “We had much trouble in the ark. The animals that are usually fed by day we fed by day, and those normally fed by night we fed by night. But my father did not know what was the food of the chameleon.2 One day he was sitting and cutting up a pomegranate, when a worm dropped out of it, which [the chameleon] consumed. From then onward he mashed up bran, and when it became wormy, it devoured it . . .”

Midrash Tanchuma3 tells that one day Noah was late in feeding the lion. As a result, the lion struck Noah, and he became permanently crippled.4

Maharimat5 explains that Noah was commanded to feed the animals in the proper times. As the verse says:6 “And you, take for yourself of every food that is eaten and gather it in to you, and it shall be for you and for them to eat.” Because on this occasion he did not fulfill this command, he was punished.

In fact, the Torah commands every person to ensure his animals are fed—and in the proper time. Actually, we are commanded to feed our animals before we eat ourselves. The Talmud7 derives this from the verse,8 “And I will give grass in your field for your livestock”—and only thereafter “and you will eat and be sated.”

What follows is a digest of laws that pertain to feeding animals.

Feeding Animals before Eating

Righteous men have always sought to observe the precept of feeding animals before themselves. It is told that Rabbi Aharon Rokeach, the Belzer Rebbe of righteous memory, would purchase (or at least become a part owner of) a horse, just so he could observe this mitzvah. Before eating, he would often check to see that the animal was taken care of.9

Some say that feeding one’s animals before eating is a Torah obligation.10 Others say that it is a rabbinic mitzvah (that is merely “supported” by the verse from Deuteronomy quoted above).11 Still others maintain that it’s a pious practice, not an outright obligation.12

The Reasons:

Several reasons have been suggested:

  1. It is cruel to eat while the animals that depend on us for sustenance are hungry.13
  2. We must emulate G‑d’s ways. Concerning G‑d it is written,14 “And His mercy is upon all His creatures”; so we, too, show our mercy to animals.15
  3. The Midrash16 suggests that an entire society might be receiving rain, sustenance, etc., in the merit of the animals. The humans may have sinned to the extent that they do not deserve such blessings, yet G‑d continues to bestow them in the merit of their animals, which committed no sin. Since our food might actually be in the merit of our animals, it’s only fair that they should be fed first.17

Which Animals?

  • This rule applies to all animals, birds and fish in one’s possession that are dependent on their owner for food.18
  • This rule does not apply to animals that belong to another,19 or if they are ownerless. Nevertheless, if one encounters a hungry animal, it is proper to feed it, unless that will cause the animal to continually return for more.20

More Details:

  • One need not necessarily feed his animals before his every meal; some animals only require one feeding a day. The rule simply means that if the animals’ mealtime has arrived, one may not eat before they are fed.21
  • Similarly, if the animals are hungry, the owners must feed them even if they are not yet eating. This falls under the general prohibition against causing pain to animals. Thus, one must feed his animals even on a fast day.22 In fact, it was the custom of some righteous men to personally feed their animals on Yom Kippur, to elicit divine mercy.23
  • If one recited a blessing on his food and then realized that he has not yet fed the animals, he may interrupt—before taking a bite—and instruct someone to feed the animals24—this although it is generally forbidden to speak between the blessing and actually eating.25
  • There is disagreement between halachic authorities whether the rule applies to snacking too. Taz26 holds that it is forbidden only to have a full meal before feeding the animals, whereas snacking is permissible.27 Magen Avraham28, however, holds that one may not even have a taste of food before feeding the animals.29
  • Sefer Chassidim30 says that it is permissible to drink before one’s animals. He proves this from the story of Rebecca and Eliezer—where the Torah says that Rebecca gave Eliezer to drink first, and only afterwards did she fill the trough for the camels. Similarly, when Moses drew water from the rock, it says:31 “An abundance of water gushed forth, and the congregation and their livestock drank”—implying that the people drank before the animals.32

To conclude with a fascinating story: The holy Arizal once mentioned to one of his students that he had a “mark” on his face as a result of the sin of causing pain to animals. Upon investigating, this Torah scholar found out that instead of feeding their chickens in the morning, his wife would let them forage for their own food. When he corrected this, the Arizal remarked that the mark on his forehead was gone.33

Feeding Animals Non-Kosher Food

One may feed animals non-kosher food, unless the food contains a mixture of meat34 and milk that were cooked together.35 Therefore, one should ascertain that pet foods do not contain such a mixture.

Chametz on Passover

As it is forbidden to benefit from chametz (leavened bread or grain) on Passover, one needs to find suitable non-chametz foods for one’s animals. Check your local (or online) Kosher for Passover food list to find out which pet foods are acceptable.

Feeding Animals on Shabbat & Holidays

On Shabbat and major Jewish holidays, it is forbidden to feed stray animals.36 Stray dogs are an exception to this rule, due to their limited food sources.37 Some extend this allowance to include any animal that is actually starving.38

For this reason, it is better not to feed birds on Shabbat Shirah39 (the Shabbat when we read the Song of the Sea as part of the Torah reading), despite the common custom to do so.40 Similarly, one should not feed the fish when reciting Tashlich on Rosh Hashanah, despite the popular custom to do so,41 though some justify this custom.42

Feeding Animals Human Food

It is forbidden to feed animals food that is fit for human consumption, as this is seen as a degradation of the food, and akin to showing contempt for the bounty that G‑d has given us.43 Eliyah Rabah44 questions whether this is the actual halachah, or just one opinion expressed in the Talmud. Some permit the feeding of human food to one’s own animal, but not to someone else’s.45

If the food is leftover and will otherwise be discarded, it is certainly permitted to feed it to animals.46


Sanhedrin 108b (based on Rashi’s interpretation, s.v. “Heichi”).


In the original, zikita. Some translate this as a small bird resembling a quail.


Noach 9.


As a result, Noah was not fit to offer the sacrifices after the flood, and instead his son Shem acted as the kohen (priest).


Quoted in Me’am Loez, Genesis 7:24.


Berachot 40a.


I saw this in Rescuing the Rebbe of Belz by Yosef Israel (Artscroll—Mesorah Publications, 2005).


Magen Avraham 271:12.


Authorities quoted in Beur Halachah 167, s.v. “Umikol Makom.”


Chayei Adam 5:11, note 11, based on Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Laws of Slaves 9:8.


See Piskei Teshuvot on Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 167:15.


Psalm 145:9.


Sefer Chareidim 14:1.


Tanchuma, Emor 6.


Yad Efraim on Code of Jewish Law, ibid.


Shevut Yaakov 3:13; Piskei Teshuvot, Orach Chaim 167:15.


Pri Megadim, Mishbetzot Zahav 167:7.


Piskei Teshuvot, ibid., note 114.


Piskei Teshuvot, ibid. 15, based on Eshel Avraham.


Piskei Teshuvot, ibid., note 108.


Taamei Haminhagim 724, in Kuntres Acharon.


Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 167:5.


This is so even though there are opinions that it is permitted to eat a small amount before feeding the animals, as mentioned in the text below (Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 167:8).


Orach Chaim 167:7.


He bases this on the verse from Deuteronomy: “And you will eat and be sated”—meaning that it is forbidden only to eat to the point of satiation.


Ibid. 167:18.


Support for this position can be drawn from this teaching as quoted in the Talmud (Gittin 62b): “Assur lit’om”—“It is forbidden to taste [before feeding one’s animals].”


No. 531.


Har Tzvi (1:90) suggests that eating, unlike drinking, takes a long time, and the Torah is therefore concerned lest the person forget about the animal. (See there and in Yad Efrayim ibid. for other explanations for this exception.)


Sefer Chareidim 14:1.


Dagul Merevavah (to Yoreh De’ah 87:3) suggests that if the meat is non-kosher, it is permitted to benefit from a mixture of it and milk—but this is not the accepted halachic ruling (Badei HaShulchan, ibid., note 60).


Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh De’ah 87:1.


Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 324:11.




Aruch Hashulchan, ibid. 2.


Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 8.


Though some do find explanations to permit this practice (quoted in Piskei Teshuvot, ibid. note 5).


Eliyah Rabbah, end of sec. 583.


Minhag Yisrael Torah, vol. 3, 583:6.


Magen Avraham 171:1, based on Talmud, Taanit 20b and Rashi ad loc.


Ibid. 1.


Responsa Ketav Sofer, Orach Chaim, no. 33.


Pardes Yosef, Chayei Sarah 24:19.

Rabbi Aryeh Citron was educated in Chabad yeshivahs in Los Angeles, New York, Israel and Australia. He was the Rosh Kollel of The Shul of Bal Harbour, Florida, and is now an adult Torah teacher in Surfside, Florida. He teaches classes on Talmud, Chassidism, Jewish history and contemporary Jewish law.
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Schrodie Texas April 25, 2016

Human food for animals I believe that it is permissible to feed human food to animals so long as it doesn't cause any person or animal to go hungry or cause harm. If there is an abundance of suitable human food available, then I see it as proper to share a little of that with the animals. G-d created the animals before He created people, so it is an honor in remembrance of that to share our abundance and the plenitude of G-d's blessings and generosity with them to the extent that it is healthy and suitable. Of course, animals should be fed a species-appropriate diet and not receive food that is harmful to them. But an occasional safe treat of human food is a blessing that we can bestow on our animals as a reflection of the special gifts that G-d gives to us. Reply

Alessandro Brazil April 7, 2014

Issue? Pets are good to pratice your own altruism. I don't see any problem to a religious jew has own pets. Reply

Marty Denver November 7, 2011

Restrictions on petting pets If it's forbidden to pet pets on Shabbat and holidays, then observant Jews shouldn't own pets. Animals need love and attention probably more than we do.
Thank you Reply

H.A. Arnevet Holon, Israel October 27, 2011

to Anonymous, Delray Beach, Florida The VERY FIRST commandment in Torah (Bereshite 1:22) "And G-d blessed them (all creatures created on Day 5) saying: Be fruitful, and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. Animals that are bipeds and quadrapeds were not mentioned. Translation from Hertz/Soncino humash. Reply

Aryeh Citron Surfside, Fl October 26, 2011

Neutering animals Some animals received a blessing to be fruitful and multiple (Gen. 1, 22, see also 8 , 18) while others did not.
Certainly animals were not commanded to be fruitful as they are instinctive creatures that do not need commandments.
The prohibition to neuter animals is from Levit. 22, 24 where it says: "[Any animal whose testicles were] squashed, crushed, pulled out, or severed, you shall not offer up to the Lord, and in your land, you shall not do [it]."
G-d implanted the desire to reproduce in animal kind and we should not stifle it.
The overpopulation of cats and dogs is a man made problem, for which we should find a solution. Not one that abrogates the Higher Authority. Reply

Anonymous Delray Beach, Florida October 26, 2011

Since it is only humans who were told to be fruitful and multiply, It should be perfectly acceptable to neuter animals--especially since about a million--yes, a million-- dogs and cats are put to death every year because there are no homes for them.
Additionally, anyone who could sit down and eat in the face of hungry animals should not have animals in his home. It's simply cruel. Reply

Shaaron K. October 26, 2011

Feeding animals: my promise to G-d Thank you for your lesson on the feeding of animals. I am an animal lover and have been all my life. I have always felt that the love of animals is a gift that G-d has given me and that I need to be a good steward I thank Him daily for my pets as they are my constant companions and it always seems that needy animals find a way to my house where they know they will be cared for. Reply

Aryeh Citron Surfside, Fl October 26, 2011

Petting Pets on Shabbat I do not know if there is a chabad ruling per se as to whether pets are muktzah and may or may not be pet on Shabbat and Holidays. Although the Shmirat Shabbat KeHilchato, a widely respected book on the laws of Shabbat, quotes the leneient opinions, he rules that one should be strict in this regard and not pet pets. He is lenient regarding seeing eye dogs and moving an entire aquarium (chapter 18, note 62 and chapter 27 note 96). Reply

H.A. Arnevet Holon, Israel October 25, 2011

Petting pets Petting pets on Shabat & haggim.
Some say No!
Some say OK if it is YOUR pet.
Some say OK if it is your pet in your house.
Chabad says ?? Reply

Amin Wahyudi Semarang, Indonesia October 23, 2009

FOOD-ANIMAL Most articles I have read in magazine are new perspectives for me, including this one. Although I'm not growing up under Torah guidance, there is nothing wrong with doing what is right according to G-d. Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem, Israel October 22, 2009

Feeding animals It seems that we must also feed the "animal" within us - quiet our passions with a little food, exercise, etc., so that we can then go on to higher pursuits.... Reply

Silvana Origlia Vienna, Austria October 22, 2009

Dogs, Cats & Co. Thank you, Rav Citron, for the information on this subject, and for telling me about Thanks for the attention! Reply

Aryeh Citron Surfside, Fl October 22, 2009

halachic questions /spaying & neutering The issue of spaying & neutering is one that definitely needs to be addressed. Generally these procedures are forbidden. Perhaps in a later article I will get to address these questions, with G-d's help. I also would recommend an excellent book by Rabbi Natan Slifkin called: "Man & Beast". You can purchase it via Reply

Aryeh Citron Surfside, Fl October 22, 2009

Where May A Dog Go There are opinions that a dog may not be brought into the Sanctuary of a Shul. Most opinions permit seeing eye dogs. In a case that one room in a home serves as a Sanctuary, if that room is only used in this manner some of the time & is used as an ordinary room most of the time, that room does not have the same status as an actual Shul. Nevertheless, it is better for the dog to be kept out of that room during the time of prayer, but certainly it may be in the other rooms of the house at that time. Reply

Silvana Origlia Vienna, Austria October 22, 2009

halachic questions for dog&cat ownerships This seems to be e great, maybe even hard task, but I feel deeply that it may be very important, for us as well as for poor animals - and maybe for Torah too(?). So, thanking Noach and the very beatiful article of Rav Aryieh Citron, I'll try now to put the first question re halacha, showing clearly what I do not know...:
Is it allowed or not allowed from a halachic point of view to have "castrated" male cats? Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles, CA October 21, 2009

Spaying & Neutering It would be nice if the article was updated to address the practical aspects of dog & cat ownership.

Anyone who has owned an indoor male cat and encountered "spraying" or dealt with a female in heat would benefit from halachic advice. Reply

Silvana Origlia Vienna, Austria October 21, 2009

poor animals Thank you, dear Rabbi, for your words of loving kindness! Reply

Anonymous San Antonio, TX October 21, 2009

Where may a dog go? In a home one room serves as a sanctuary for a small synagogue.
Is it allowable for the dog (cleaned and polite) to be on a leash stay in another room or even in the back of the sanctuary. The dog is quiet and does not cause a disturbance or touch any food eaten there by the congregation nor is any food brought in for the animal while he rests and the owner stays to pray. Reply

Aryeh Citron, author Surfside, Fl October 21, 2009

Better Thank you for your comments & question.
In general, one should keep as many mitzvos as they can. Seven out of ten is certainly better than zero out of ten. Whether it's better than zero out of zero is not so clear.
Nevertheless, if you are generally responsible people & you intend to care for the animal in a kind way, as taught to us by the Torah, I don't think you need to refrain from acquiring one because of the fear that you might make an occasional mistake. Do the best you can, & G-d will aid you so that you keep this mitzvah in an exemplary manner. Reply

Silvana Origlia Vienna, Austria October 21, 2009

May it be "BETTER FOR TORAH"...? As we were told and you, dear Rabbi, taught us, Torah commands every person to ensure his/her animals are fed— But as animals became rather useless and rare in modern, urban life (we use motor cars or the metro), and we don't consider dogs like animal friends or "partners" in protecting goats and sheep..., , so as a matter of fact we rarely possess animals . And so we can no longer do what Torah commands because animals belonging to us don't nearly exist in our lifes.. So thank you for having taught me that all so precisely:: I'll ask now my husband whether we should and could take in our house a poor dog which had been left alone. Or some smaller, vegetarian animal... Let us see!. We are not so good in puctuallity, but it may be nevertheless better for a poor animal which had been left alone - and is not a wild, independent animal -, to be fed by us than by nobody. And now a question: MAY IT BE "BETTER FOR TORAH" TOO, IF WE FULFILL THIS COMMAND SEVEN TIMES FROM TEN INSTEAD OF NEVER? Reply

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