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The Jewish View on Hunting for Sport

The Jewish View on Hunting for Sport

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Photo: Onathan Kendrick
Photo: Onathan Kendrick

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,”1 referring to the fact that it was he who led his generation to build the Tower of Babel as a revolt against G‑d.2 Nimrod is also the king who threw Abraham into a fiery furnace.3 He is also identified by the Talmud as Amrafel, the king against whom Abraham waged war in order to save his nephew, Lot.4

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).5

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?6

Of course, Jewish law does permit the slaughter of animals for food, clothing or any other purposeful need (read Judaism and Vegetarianism).7 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.]8

Beyond that, Jewish law prohibits causing any unnecessary pain to animals. This is derived from the injunction in Deuteronomy (22:4),9 “You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen [under its load] on the road, and ignore them.”10 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.11 Similarly, kosher slaughter is done in a way that causes the animal the least amount of pain.12

If one hunts and leaves the game writhing in pain, or maimed for the rest of its life, one clearly transgresses this moral code.13 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.14

There is another Jewish value to which this sport would run contrary: the laws of conservation.15 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, 1972.16 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.”17 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.”18

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.’”19

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.

FOOTNOTES
1.

Talmud, Pesachim 94b.

2.

Talmud, Chullin 89a: “I bestowed greatness upon Nimrod, and he said: Come, let us build us a city” (Genesis 11:4).

3.

Talmud, Eruvin 53a.

4.

Ibid.

5.

Talmud, Bava Batra 16a.

6.

This reasoning was given by the Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (1713–1793), Chief Rabbi of Prague, in his volume on Talmud and Jewish law, the Noda B’Yehudah (Mahadura Tinyana, Yoreh De’ah 10).

7.

“If any man, whether of the family of Israel or a proselyte who joins them, traps a quarry of wild animal or bird that may be eaten, and spills its blood, he must cover [the blood] with earth“ (Leviticus 17:13). The law here refers to catching an animal in order to kill it through kosher ritual slaughter.

8.

Talmud, Bava Metzia 85a.

9.

This obligation is also mentioned in Exodus 23:5.

10.

There is a Talmudic debate (Bava Metzia 32b) if the broader prohibition of not causing pain to animals is actually a Biblical prohibition, or a Rabbinic prohibition based on this. The majority of authorities on Jewish law are of the former opinion.

11.

See Talmud Bava Metzia ibid., and Maimonides in his Code of Jewish Law, the Mishneh Torah, Laws Regarding the Murderer and the Preservation of Life, ch. 13.

12.

See Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 451. See also ibid. 186, where he points to the Torah’s expression “he has spilled blood” used regarding the purposeless killing of animals, which is reminiscent of the expression used for killing humans (see Judaism and Vegetarianism).

13.

See Rashi to Talmud, Avodah Zarah 11a, where he says that it is forbidden to cause a kosher animal to become treifah, fatally injured. See, however, Tosafot ad loc. Responsa Shemesh Tzedakah (late seventeenth century) cites this as another issue posed by hunting.

14.

This is deduced from the dialogue recorded in the Talmud, Chullin 7b, where Rabbi Judah the Prince sought to eliminate the danger of being kicked by a wild mule. When he suggested maiming them—“I shall hamstring them”—the reply he received was, “You would be causing suffering to the animals.” When he suggested just killing them, the reply was, “There is the prohibition against wanton destruction.” It is implied that killing them would not be considered causing suffering to animals. See, however, R. Bezalel Ashkenazi, in his volume Shitah Mekubetzet on the Talmud, Bava Batra 20a, in the name of Rabbi Joseph ben Meir ibn Migash, where he says that there is a prohibition of causing pain even if the animal died immediately, which is waived only in the face of actual benefit to a human.

15.

The source of this law, known as bal tashchit, is Deuteronomy 20:19, where the Torah prohibits the cutting down of a fruit tree in the course of war. Jewish law interprets this as a prohibition against all wanton destruction. One who breaks vessels, tears clothes, demolishes a building, stops up a spring or disposes of food unnecessarily, transgresses the prohibition of bal tashchit. (See Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 6:10).

16.

Corresponding to the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat.

17.

Talmud, Avodah Zarah 18b.

18.

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 13:3) takes this a step further and says that one who does not participate in the kenigyon in this world will merit to see the “Celebration of the Leviathan” in the World to Come.

19.

See Rabbi Moshe Isserles (the Rema) and commentaries to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 316:2; Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid. 316:3.

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
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Discussion (35)
March 12, 2013
Sanctification of the NAME
Mr Hamburger, absolutely, Israel is one, permanently connected to Eretz Israel, Yerushalayim, the Torah and Hashem.....to take care of one another on all levels, not just the physical. I'm not a person to give up on life, but, if I was forced to transgress certain mitzvot, we are commanded to die for the sanctification of His name, such as idolatry, murder, and adultery as explained in the talmud and kabbalah, cannot be transgressed. Eating rats is another............perish the thought. We can and will survive no matter what comes, because Hashem is with us.....Adoshem li v'lo ira.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
GUANAJUATO, MEXICO
March 11, 2013
How to maintain connection to Hashem
Eliezer asked a very good question. Jews must band together to survive under difficult circumstances, and support each other. It was not a dog eat dog situation in the concentration camps, and groups that worked as a unit did better than individuals. We are a people, not solo units; and by finding like minded fellow Jews we have and will always survive. Hashem will bring together those who cleave to Him. Finally, when the going gets rough, and we feel surrounded by darkness, we must NEVER want to die, and never give up. We are alive because we have a purpose, and to stop trying is the worst sin of all.
Dr. Harry Hamburger
Miami
March 11, 2013
SURVIVAL
I can do all those things that Mr Hamburger spoke of. Not a problem. If I have a good mind and a strong will, I can survive most anything. The question is: how can a survive, but maintain my connection to Hashem? I would rather die than become less than human and sever my relationship to Hashem.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
GUANAJUATO, MEXICO
March 11, 2013
Reality is difficult to accept
Human beings for the majority of our existence in ancient and biblical times were hunters and gatherers. Other than the short period of time when manna fell from Heaven, if the nomadic Israelities wanted to eat, they hunted, raised animals for slaughter, and gathered. Human beings require animal fat in their diet to survive the winter, and there were NO Indians who lived strictly on plant and veggies from Whole Foods. Hunting should not be called a sport, but rather practice. There will come a time when you have to know how to catch a rat for food, prepare, cook, and eat it. To save a life, one may eat non Kosher food. You will not know how to get it without practice in hunting and trapping. Do you know how to purify water, build a shelter, make soap, first aid, and shoot a gun in self defense? Say a prayer, revere nature and G-d, and then learn what you have to do to live!
Dr. Harry Hamburger
Miami
March 10, 2013
Response to the Dark Knight
If the hunting is not just for sport, but for the use of the animal then it would seem that you're in the clear. I don't want to offend your friend, G-d forbid, but just make sure you're not "in the company of scoffers who hunt with dogs".

Just my two cents.
The Gentle Shepherd
mychabad.org
March 10, 2013
Dark Night
Let me see if I got it right: You want to begin to hunt animals, kill them, and then give the dead animal to a non-Jew? What is your primary motivation to "hunt and kill" animals? To show your superiority over them? To show yourself how "great a killer/hunter" you are? Look at that closely, as the Jewish way is to render an animal dead FOR FOOD, in a very sensitive way that causes the least pain for the animal. The latest scientific studies show a close correlation between eating red meats, like venison, beef, lamb and pork with succumbing to heart disease and other health problems the more you eat those types of meat. A Jew would never just hunt for the "thrill" of it, or for any cruel or insensitive motivation. Mankind must come to realize that all life: plants, fish, animals, insects and humanity....are ALL sacred to Hashem, and that we must learn to respect ALL living things, and even have restraint when destroying living things that threaten us.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
GUANAJUATO, MEXICO
March 10, 2013
II would like to know one thing...
and that is: why are there so few articles, about saving the earth, about pollution, about the dangers of oil spills, about the mitzvot that have to do with caring for animals, the vegetation, this beautiful planet. I read a lot, on line, and when I find such an article, it's beautiful, but Chabad has so few, about the sacred when it comes to our need to care for this planet. Many around the world, are petitioning for all sorts of changes, to protect our oceans, our land, and I see, strangely, very little of this on Chabad. And I deeply believe it's something that is necessary and should be a deeply spiritual and even, religious, endeavor.
ruth housman
marshfield hils, ma
March 8, 2013
I plan on starting to hunt
I plan on hunting, but with someone else (a non-Jew). The plan is to hunt myself, and have the non-Jew claim the animal (this, no waste and the animal fulfills its purpose). I currently shoot at the range (archery and firearms) and thought about hunting for a while. Is this manner of hunting concurrent with Halacha.

Anyone with knowledge on this please let me know

Thank you!
TheDarkNight
New York
April 18, 2012
we see the world through a different lens
this is my response to Dr. Harry H. We all diffract the light differently and I only listen to words that are about this thing I call love. When I feel most misunderstood I go to Rumi, for his poetry of truth. It is here I am at home, as a knowledge of the beauty of unity, of what us Divine, of love for what is Divine permeates this ecstatic vision. Here there is room for me, as I understand him in his deepest spirituality of being.

Thank you but I am deeply at One with G-d and do not need or look for your judging my thoughts and being as instructive. I must be doing something right as I see G-d's visible hand in all that I do, wherever I go and Yes, I could be a flower child and love that designation. I loved The Grateful Dead and came of age with the Beatles who sang Love is all there is.
ruth housman
marshfield, ma
April 16, 2012
Hunting
I am casually reading this as a Gentile, and I live in Atlanta.

Most Jewish people I know live in the city, have pre-packaged food, Kosher canned food, and things they can buy at the nearest bodega. Some have told me they tend to the urban sphere, though I imagine this would be different in a nation like Israel.

I myself shoot, but don't hunt. But I have many friends who do hunt. And they are the kindest and most selfless folks I know, who would give the shirt off their backs to help you. The American Indians hunted, and did not have the violent predisposition their agrarian invaders did.

I agree with the prohibition on hunting for sport, and I can even understand wanting to drain as much blood as possible. Yet I don't get that whole "those bloodthirsty people" mentality. I don't really think that's fair. Most kids that have training in hunting, firearms, cleaning, and forestry tend to be better adjusted.
AmericanBlue
Atlanta, Georgia
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