I’ve always loved animals. Growing up, I had guinea pigs, hamsters, fish and a dog. Today, my husband Danny and I have two dogs, seven chickens and a tortoise.

When I started my conversion to Judaism and learned about the Torah laws relating to animals, I was convinced this was the right religion for me.

I’d never thought about the treatment of the animals I ateWe feed our animals before we feed ourselves before I kept kosher. I learned that through kosher slaughter, chickens and cows were killed in a way that was painless. They didn’t witness another chicken or cow being killed because that would be cruel. I heard about the horrific ways that animals are usually slaughtered in a non-kosher setting, and I was disgusted.

The laws of killing animals are so important in Judaism that we even stress it in the seven Noahide laws for non-Jews, which say we can’t cause unnecessary suffering to animals. Though they don’t have to follow kosher laws, they can’t rip a limb off a living animal, for instance. One of the reasons this law is so important is because it shows the true character of a person. How they treat creatures that are below them in the hierarchy of life and more vulnerable demonstrates their respect for all of G‑d’s creations.

There is also a law in Judaism that we feed our animals before we feed ourselves. This is something else I never even considered to be important before converting. Now, every morning when I get up, I place food in my dogs’ bowls, throw feed into my chickens’ coops and cut up some cucumbers for my tortoise before I have my own morning meal.

When I give tzedakahafter I donate to synagogues and organizations that help people—I set some money aside for an animal shelter. I know that these dogs and cats are even more in need than my animals, and I want to do my small part to ensure that they have good lives as well.

The animal laws in the Torah suggest that living creatures are intelligent, maybe even more than we know they are. They can recognize when something bad is about to happen to them. They feel pain. Humans and animals are not equals, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have compassion for them.

I never realized it as much as I do now, but my animals completely rely on me. Following the Jewish laws of animal treatment has taught me the importance of caring for things that can’t take care of themselves. It’s shown me that even animals deserve a break from being our pets or serving us, as we’re supposed to let them rest on Shabbat.

This kindness I have towards my animals has extended to other living beings as well. I used to not think twice about killing spiders,Living creatures are intelligent but now I feel guilty if I do that. I now try to trap them and take them outside instead of hurting them. Even when it comes to my garden, I take care of it to the best of my ability. After all, plants are at least somewhat conscious, and another example of G‑d’s miraculous power.

The Almighty made everything that lives for a purpose. When it comes to my animals, I do my best to respect and watch over them because I know it’s what G‑d wants.

G‑d gave us the world and everything in it. I know that by upholding my responsibility to care for it, I’m fulfilling my personal mission.