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Is Animal Testing Kosher?

Is Animal Testing Kosher?

The Jewish take on animal experimentation



I am a doctorate student in biology. I work mainly in the laboratory and do research on animal models. I was wondering whether, from a Jewish perspective, it is okay to sacrifice animals for research and therapeutic purposes.


From a Torah perspective, there is no question about the sensitivity required in caring for the physical as well as psychological well-being of animals. This we learn from (among other places in the Torah) the commandment to help a suffering donkey that is collapsing under its burden,1 as well as from the prohibition to muzzle one’s ox while plowing lest the ox be pained that it is surrounded by so much food it cannot eat.2

Every creation has an intrinsic value and purpose for its creation, as the Talmud puts it: “Of all that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He did not create a single thing without purpose.”3 And we are, therefore, prohibited from destroying or wasting resources for no reason.4 On the other hand, the Torah explicitly grants man dominion over the animal kingdom;5 and man may benefit from animals for both work and consumption.

This power granted to man can perhaps be better understood by looking at the basic structure of creation. In general, all of creation can be divided into a hierarchy of four general realms or kingdoms: Inanimate (or Mineral), Vegetable, Animal and Human. Built into this hierarchy, G‑d created a natural means of progression from lower forms of creation to higher forms through the consumption or use of the lower form by the higher form. For example, plants grow from the soil and are then eaten by animals. The animal is then used or consumed by man, and elevated to a higher state.

This progression reaches its peak when a person steps beyond himself in the service of his Creator.6 As the Talmud put it, “These creatures were created to serve man and man was created to serve his Creator.”7

Based on this principle, Rabbi Moshe Isserlis rules that when it comes to healing or other beneficial purposes there is no prohibition of causing pain to animals, (Tzaar Baalei Chayim).8 He adds in a gloss to this ruling, however, that even in cases where it may technically be permitted to cause pain to an animal, one should refrain from causing unnecessary pain9 since acting in a cruel manner can have a negative effect on a person’s character.10

In light of the above gloss, some postulate that while according to Jewish law it may be permitted to cause pain to animals for scientific research or medical study, one should, as a measure of piety, refrain from doing so as this may cause the person to develop a cruel nature.11

However, this position is countered by Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg (1885-1966) who writes that one may opt to act with extreme piety only when it is his own welfare that is involved. But when the lives other people are involved, one is not allowed to let his personal morality or “piety” hold him to a standard higher than that set by Jewish law. For what type of morality is it that permits placing concern for the welfare of animals over that of human beings? Therefore, even according to Rabbi Moshe Isserlis, it is permitted to experiment on animals for the good of human beings.12

The above discussion about misplaced piety holds true with regards to research done for the sake of medicine and the like. However, when it comes to the use of animals for other purposes and forms of research, one has to take into account the warning of Rabbi Moshe Isserlis to refrain from cruelty.13 One should consult with a Rabbi who is an expert in these laws to determine whether a specific case is permitted.

See also Does a Spider Have a Soul?

Rabbi Yehudah Shurpin


Talmud, Shabbos 77b.


Maimonidies, Laws of King 6:10 based on Deutronemy 20:19.


This idea can be further understood based on the Kabbalistic explanation that every single creation has a soul which gives it intrinsic value. However, that soul is like a static spark, without the capacity, on its own, to advance creation's mission to unite with its Creator. Only man with his G‑dly soul has the ability, through utilizing other creations, to activate or ignite these sparks, reuniting them with their Source.


Talmud, Kidushin 82a.


Code of Jewish Law, Even HaEzer 5:14; See also Shulchan Aruch Harav, Choshen Mishpat,Hil. Ovrei Derachim V’Tzar Balei Chaim 4.




Terumat HaDeshen 2:105.


Chelkat Yaakov, Choshen Mishpat 34 .


Seridei Aish 3:7; also cited in Chelkat Yaakov; ibid. 35.


See Shevut Yaakov 2:100 and 3:71.

Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for's Ask the Rabbi service.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Barbara Ellison WISTER April 15, 2015

Denver,,,, You're welcome. :) Reply

peninnah south africa March 18, 2015

animal testing There are perfectly reliable ways of testing medicines today that make animal testing unnecessary. The truth of the matter is that animals are not our property to do with as we please - food, experiments, entertainment and abuse. As Jews we need to step down, adopt a bit of humility and compassion, learn more of the immense suffering of animals in our world today and understand that we walk this world together. Educate yourselves - google alternative means of testing medicines, products and diseases today that do not involve animals - you will be pleasantly surprised, there are delicious alternatives to animal protein and a lot healthier, fur should be obselete and cruelty free cosmetics are easily available. Thinking we have the right to inflict suffering is arrogance and very unattractive in a nation that claims compassion. Compassion to whom? Reply

Anonymous Denver March 15, 2015

Ms. Ellison It is not to say that my primary diet is not vegan, after all to much of a good thing, meat, is not a "good thing,'" And yes I have lived on soybean past. It's not very tasty, no mater what you do with it. And I live next to a Wallmart. A company to whom I sell a large portion of my crop's. Including soy beans and almonds. I will also admit that it's been several year's (approximately 7) since I've spent any significant time in Juno. So thank you for the info. Reply

Anonymous March 2, 2015

Knowing or Seeing the Slaughter.... ...can't change a heart that is set belligerently on satisfying his or her palate rather than any need for survival of self or other.. Many who have seen it up close and personal as a child turned away from it solely because of the pain and terror that emanated from those who were being slaughtered.. If you can't find compassion for those who are slaughtered in other species than your own, then you can't find any true compassion for your own species... Reply

Anonymous March 2, 2015

I can almost hear G-d saying ......since you did not trust me enough to ask me for a simpler solution but trusted in your wicked ways to find a healing therefore I will only confuse you Reply

Nancy Sylvain NE Albuquerque February 25, 2015

Experimenting on animals Those who do not respect the works of His fingers or the operation of his hands He will destroy them and will not build them up!!!! Reply

Unanimous Canada February 24, 2015

I disagree with Paul McArtney He quotes himself as often saying that if slaughter-houses had glass walls everybody would be a vegetarian. I do not believe it. Of course,many, perhaps most, would be nauseated and refrain from eating meat for a short time, but with some exposure, I believe most people would simply get used to the process and stop whining. Most people in the past witnessed animal slaughter on a personal basis, as it was the normal way of life. Nowadays there are factories that do it, so we don't see what we are about to eat, and we are shocked when exposed to it, either in person or on video, but its only a matter of habitualization. There are problems in the meat industry, but they are not insurmountable. The only people who can't tell the difference between killing an animal and killing a human being, are the vege-folk who have lived in a bubble outside a supermarket all their lives. Reply

Barbara Ellison WISTER February 23, 2015

Dear "Denver"...Juneau, Alaska has a Walmart Super Center, and there are plenty of less expensive alternatives for protein than animal flesh...Have you checked online for all the non-animal foods (vegetables, beans, nuts, etc) there are with protein and their amounts per serving? Or looked at some vegan dishes with recipes? Lots of good information..I personally live in a place where the idea of veganism is viewed as alien, yet our Walmart and other stores are now stocking items that are not only soy, but in some cases soy free and when compared to animal products is no more expensive..At least 4 stores are now stocking almond milk, which would have been laughable just a year ago...Check it all out online...You might be happily surprised. Reply

Cammy Colorado February 23, 2015

Animal testing is no longer necessary considering todays advanced technology. Our technology can take human cells for testing and come up with more accurate results than using animals. Computer models are more accurate as well. Besides, if we would obey the Torah, we wouldn't have all the diseases, pestilence, and curses mentioned in Moses. But since we can't seem to be obedient - we do have technology!! Either way, no need to torture animals. Reply

Anonymous Denver February 22, 2015

Yes, spider's have soul's. As for the above argument. It was beautifully written! And as to the vegans below, spend a year in Juno, AK. Meat is one of the least expensive forms of protein, and tastes a lot better then soybean paste. Reply

Barbara Ellison WISTER February 22, 2015

Testing There are many alternatives to animal testing.. and animal eating... We were not created to eat animals and were not supposed to eat them to begin with. I try not to do to anyone, whether human or animal, what I would not want done to me because they feel as we do.

They want to live. And we do not have to torment and kill animals in order to survive ourselves. How can we ever learn to treat each other rightly as long as we treat animals like objects for our use? Reply

Leonardo Mogi das Cruzes, SP Brazil February 22, 2015

As a personal opinion, I'd say it is totally okay to test new medicine and health treatment on animals, as it's for the good of us humans, that will affect us positively with progress in finding the cure of some horrible diseases. However, testing on animais for cosmetic purposes is absolutely disgusting, an horrible pain suffered by a G-D's creation for the sake of a beauty industry. You could argue that modern medicine is an industry, but it's a necessary industry, that saves lives. Modern Medicine is the only physical medicine we have, it keeps children from dying at birth in impovirished countries. The meat industry is unecessary, but we sadly still use it, just for the sake of pleasure. This difference between pleasure and saving human lives is the difference between meat and cosmetics and medical industry Reply

raph brous melbourne, australia August 29, 2011

Judaism and animals
For health reasons, we don't have to eat meant nowadays. The modern supermarket is full of healthy kosher food. Frankly, it's cruel to kill animals just because we like their taste. Even before the animal reaches the shochet, it has often suffered terrible cruelty and confinement

I am observant and I keep the daily mitzvot. So I put weight in midrash. But let's not confuse what we can do with what we should do. Jewish compassion is best exemplified by vegetarianism. Reply

peninnah johannesburg, south africa April 4, 2011

animal testing To digress slightly, It amazes me how our religion lays claim to being one of compassion toward animals. This might have been applicable thousands of years ago when our treatment of animals as laid down in the Torah was far superior to that of other nations who were positively barbaric, but by todays standards that is no longer true. Animals in the fur and meat industries suffer horrifically as do those used in animal testing and experiments. The sentience of animals is now well documented and yet with all of this and the perfectly acceptable alternatives available it is condoned by our Rabbis to wear fur, leather, eat factory farmed eggs and meat and experiment on animals - smacks of hypocrisy to me. Reply

Colin Winkler Saranac Lake, nY March 27, 2011

I couldn't willfully hurt an animal I could never hurt an animal on my own accord. The Torah hints at returning to an age of vegetarianism anyways, so perhaps we better get moving away from this ill treatment of other sentient creatures. As for the "medical need" , I think that is bogus. There are dozens of treatments available to the world that do not involve the harm of God's creatures. Yes, look at acupuncture for instance. And there are herbs that G-d prescribed at the Torah's inception. Just think people. Modern medicine is an industry.

And if you don't think animals feel, think about the origins of the word dog in Hebrew. They sense well. Ka'lev. One came up today and made me feel better as evening approached as I was in the forest. But yet, dogs are sent away to laboratories. It is heartbreaking and not a honorable thing.

Lastly, I could barely boil a pot of sprouts because I realized that the hot water would essentially kill the germinating seeds... so I guess that is why we must treat all life as sacred Reply

Irina Brenner Berlin, Germyy March 24, 2011

comment to is animal Testing commited in Judaism Dear Rabbi Shurpin
I agree with you that "And we are, therefore, prohibited from destroying or wasting resources for no reason."
now that there are viable alternatives, do you agree that we should move forward and use them.

> Altweb 

> Dr Hadwen Trust 

> Stop Animal Tests

> British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) 

> Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)  

Hi Jim
I now about your impact on the cause. I now that you care about animals a lot. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA March 15, 2011

The words "permitted" in Judaism... This is indicative of our religion that there are a number of prohibitions, and micromanaging of right and wrong laws. However, as far as answers go, this answer was showing compassion for people as well as a balance of compassion for the animals. In my opinion. Reply

Irina Brenner Berlin, Germany March 15, 2011

reader comment for Jehudah Shurpin Just think about the animals you are not allowed to eat according to Jewish law . What the Rabbi is saying about food and hierarchy sounds silly to me. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA March 7, 2011

Even with animal testing, So many medicines are being allowed with the provision that side effects must be mentioned. They often include such things as: sudden death, etc. How can this be? I don't get it. As far as animals, I would accept non-mammals as test subjects but not mammals. I do think mammals have feelings, and they even get sad and afraid. They feel love and loyalty. Particularly animals which are pets or could be pets if someone loved them, and more particularly, those which came from the same genetic chain as humans in the past, such as the bipeds. Reply

peninnah johannesburg, south africa March 4, 2011

animal testing Is animal testing still permitted when there are other perfectly good ways of reaching the same conclusion in a humane way? From what I understand there are many alternatives today that involve invitro cell culture techniques and in silico computer simulation - both efficient and reliable. I can understand in terms of the animal human hierarchy according to torah that if there is no other alternative it is necessary but today this is not the case at all. As there are alternatives this would surely make the pain and torture the animals endure unnecessary and therefore not allowed. Reply

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