There is no verse in the Ten Commandments that reads, “Thou shall not hunt for sport.” Nor, for that matter, does that verse appear in any other part of the Bible.
So what’s so un-Jewish about hunting?
Of the billions of people who have read the Bible, more will remember its stories than its commandments. And it’s quite obvious that, as a book in which every letter is calculated, the stories that the Bible chooses to tell are there for a specific reason. For starters, there are the messages they convey to us through the depiction of their heroes. Even a child can pick up lessons about hospitality from Abraham, or lessons in leadership from Moses.
Then there are the lessons we learn from the bad guys: what not to do and who not to be. Two ignoble characters who appear early on in the Bible are Nimrod and Esau.
Nimrod’s name means “rebellion,” referring to the fact that it was he who led his generation to build the Tower of Babel as a revolt against G‑d. Nimrod is also the king who threw Abraham into a fiery furnace. He is also identified by the Talmud as Amrafel, the king against whom Abraham waged war in order to save his nephew, Lot.
Then we have Esau, who, as the archetype of evil, mocks the important status that G‑d gives to the firstborn, sells it to his brother Jacob and then seeks to kill him. According to the Talmud, he was an adulterer, a heretic and a murderer, too (one of his first victims being our friend, Nimrod).
Interestingly enough, there are two people in the entire Bible who are described as hunters. You guessed it: Nimrod and Esau.
Nimrod is described in Genesis 10:9:
He was a mighty hunter before the L‑rd; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the L‑rd.”
Esau is contrasted to his brother Jacob in Genesis 25:27:
And the youths grew up, and Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Jacob was an innocent man, dwelling in tents.
What does that tell you about the Jewish attitude toward the sport of hunting?
Of course, Jewish law does permit the slaughter of animals for food, clothing or any other purposeful need (read Judaism and Vegetarianism). But this too should not be done with an attitude of cruelty, as is illustrated in the following Talmudic story:
A calf was being taken to the slaughter, when it broke away, hidits head under the robes of Rabbi
Judah the Prince (Yehudah Hanassi, referred to throughout the Talmud simply as “Rabbi”), and cried. “Go,” said Rabbi, “for this you were created.” Thereupon they said [in Heaven], “Since he has no pity, let us bring suffering upon him.” [He subsequently suffered from physical pain for thirteen years.]
And [the suffering] departed likewise. How so? One day, Rabbi’s maidservant was sweeping the house; [seeing] some young weasels lying there, she began to sweep them away. “Let them be,” said Rabbi to her; “It is written (Psalms 145:9), ‘His mercies extend to all His creatures.’” Said they [in Heaven], “Since he is compassionate, let us be compassionate to him.”[At which point his physical pain dissipated.]
Beyond that, Jewish law prohibits causing any unnecessary pain to animals. This is derived from the injunction in Deuteronomy (22:4), “You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen [under its load] on the road, and ignore them.” Here, the Torah requires a Jew to help unload an overburdened pack animal as quickly as possible, even if the animal belongs to a wicked person. Similarly, kosher slaughter is done in a way that causes the animal the least amount of pain.
If one hunts and leaves the game writhing in pain, or maimed for the rest of its life, one clearly transgresses this moral code. One could argue, however, that the above rule does not apply in a case where one kills the animal and swiftly takes it out of its pain.
There is another Jewish value to which this sport would run contrary: the laws of conservation. Everything in this world has a “soul,” a spark of Divine purpose, or that which animates it until it reaches the goal for which it was created. If a human being has a need for this other creation, then the animal and vegetative kingdom are contributing to the human’s mission in this world, which is ultimately the soul of every creation’s existence (see The Development).
If one is hunting to utilize the hides of animals for things that are justifiably beneficial for the human, this purpose is achieved. Similarly, if the animal is being used for medical research, this can be justified. But if one is killing animals for sport, he is cruelly depriving the animal from realizing its ultimate potential.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, referred to the cruelty of hunting in his talk of January 31, 1972. He recounted the story of his predecessor, the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, where he was rebuked by his father when he mindlessly tore a leaf off a tree (see “The Leaf“), illustrating that this idea applies to carelessly ruining the plant kingdom as well.
This aversion to hunting is expressed in another teaching of the Talmud. The book of Psalms opens with the verse, “The praises of a man are that he did not follow the counsel of the wicked, neither did he stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the company of scorners.”
The Talmud states that “‘neither did he stand in the way of sinners’ refers to one who does not attend kenigyon.” Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the foremost commentator of the Talmud (known as Rashi), explains that kenigyon means “hunting animals, using dogs, and their entire intent is for play and fun.”
Accordingly, it is ruled in the Code of Jewish Law that “it is forbidden to hunt with dogs, because this constitutes ‘the company of scorners.’”
Whether because there is an actual prohibition involved, or because it runs contrary to the morals and values taught by the Torah, hunting is not a good sport for a nice Jewish boy or girl. Try basketball.