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The Jewish View on Hunting for Sport

The Jewish View on Hunting for Sport

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.


Talmud, Pesachim 94b.


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


Talmud, Eruvin 53a.




Talmud, Bava Batra 16a.


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).


“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.


Talmud, Bava Metzia 85a.


This obligation is also mentioned in Exodus 23:5.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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).


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


Talmud, Avodah Zarah 18b.


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.


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 writer who lives with his family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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Discussion (40)
July 26, 2016
what is the effect of a need for the control of the animal population. For example, if New Jersey said they need to control the bear population and asked people to hunt bears, would that be permissible?
new York
August 1, 2015
Arthur Yanoff, if the wolf were numerous, they would be taking care of the number of deer and other animals. Hunters don't kill the sick, old, and very young like hunters do No, hunters take the animals that are in the prime of their lives. There's a big difference.
Elka Zwick
St. Petersburg, Florida
July 31, 2015
jewish antipathy towards hunting
Your article is very interesting.
With reference to the killing o Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe is that the killer used a crossbow which is an instrument that causes much pain and does not kill the animal quickly. It took a few days after the lion was shot with the crossbow to finally finish him off. I personally hate hunting, but I am certain no self respecting hunter would go after an animal with a crossbow. The dentist that committed this dastardly deed, proves the point that going to college & earning a degree may not do much for brain development for a moron
Paul Skolnik
montreal, Canada
July 29, 2015
If you kill an animal, it is theft, G-d gave the animal it's life, and that life belongs to the animal and not to us. To take something that does not belong to you, and moreover to do it by violence, is theft. Even to kill in self defense would still be theft. Is theft ever not wrong, if it preserves life it may be justified, but it is still wrong. What is hateful to yourself, do not do to to others. Remember the maxim of equal measures. However Ha'Shem is merciful to those who repent.
james davis
July 28, 2015
hunting for sport
I raised sheep some years ago, and bred dogs that protected the flock from predators like coyotes, fox, etc. protecting the flock was my responsibility ,and the dogs proved to be an important asset. because of my background ,the way I was taught as a jew I could not hunt animals for sport. I do not think that hunting is wrong if done humanely. some deer herds need to be thinned out. responsible hunters are often environmentalists as they conserve nature. it is that as a jew I won't hunt for sport. for us even kosher slaughter represents a respect for animals and a compromise. azoy gaitzuch .
arthur yanoff
March 12, 2013
Sanctification of the NAME
Mr Hamburger, absolutely, Israel is one, permanently connected to Eretz Israel, Yerushalayim, the Torah and 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
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
March 11, 2013
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
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
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