In a previous sugya (Shabbos 128), we discussed the ruling of Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav that one is allowed to throw cushions down the steep edge of a stream on shabbos in order that an animal stuck inside can climb out, even though it is ruining the cushions, thus transgressing the rabbinical prohibition against making a כלי (useful item) unfit for its normal use.
The Gemara explained that this is because he holds that preventing cruelty to animals is a biblical requirement which overrides this rabbinical prohibition.
On Daf 154, The Gemara discusses ways of offloading muktza items from a donkey on shabbos, and amongst various opinions, brings the rather extreme story of Rabban Gamliel, whose donkey was loaded with honey containers.
Seeing as the permitted method mentioned in the Mishna of loosening the ropes and allowing the honey jars to fall on their own would have resulted in them breaking, he chose to wait until after shabbos.
By the time shabbos was over, the donkey had died from the strain of the load.
The Gemara asks why he did not simply put cushions one on top of another to absorb the blow so they did not break, and answers that this would have involved the above- mentioned rabbinical prohibition of ruining the cushions.
It then asks why he didn’t do so on the basis of preventing cruelty to animals, seeing as it was clear the animal was suffering, and answered that Rabban Gamliel was of the view that preventing cruelty to animals is only a rabbinical requirement and does not push off even rabbinical laws of shabbos.
We see that the idea that preventing cruelty to animals is a biblical requirement, something we took for granted in a previous sugya, is really subject to debate amongst the Tannaim, and none other than Rabban Gamliel himself, disagrees.
Although Rav, as the first of the Amoraim, was sometimes treated like a Tannaic sage and able to argue with other Tannaim (see for example Kesubos 8a,) it would be tidier to find a Tana that clearly holds that preventing cruelty to animals is indeed a biblical requirement.
Such a Tana has already been found on Daf 117a, where the Gemara attributes this view to Rabbi Yehoshua, at least as a strong probability.
The main discussion, however, can be found at the end of “Elu Metzius” (Bava Metzia 32b) regarding the obligation to help offloading the donkey of one’s neighbor.
There, Rava rules authoritatively that both Tannaim who discuss the matter, Rabbi Shimon AND the Chachamim, agree that צער בעלי חיים (preventing cruelty to animals) is indeed a biblical requirement.
Despite the above, when it comes to trapping and slaughtering animals for food, the Torah has clearly given permission to do so, and this overrides the requirement of preventing cruelty to animals.
The generally accepted opinion amongst later authorities, is that this applies to other genuine human needs as well – after all using animal’s for their hides was a regular and accepted practise to the point that tanning is even one of the forbidden melachot on shabbos.
Nevertheless, certain particularly cruel actions, such as plucking feathers from living birds for use as quills, though not forbidden, have been condemned as being unnecessarily cruel, and strongly discouraged (See Rema E.H 5/14)
It is also important to that this dispensation might well be limited to essential human needs, and not recreational pleasures. One later authority who specifically limits this allowance to “essential needs” is the Aruch haShulchan (E.H. 5).
Hunting, even fishing, for sport, are not essential human needs, and do not match the precedent set by the Torah by default.
As such, they also might be forbidden due to the biblically requirement to prevent suffering from animals, and even later authorities such as the Noda Bayehuda (Volume II Y.D. 1) who argue that they do not fit into the biblical law, condemn “hunting with rifles” as cruel behaviour not fitting for the Jewish people.
One of the more controversial questions in contemporary kashrus relates to the force-feeding applied to geese in order to enlarge their livers for the production of foie-grass, a French delicacy prepared from such livers.
Another relates to the force-feeding of young calves with surplus liquids and insufficient solid foods in order to fatten them quickly for slaughter and give the flesh the white look that is typical of “white-veal,” also a delicacy.
Are such luxurious items really in the category of essential human needs that justify such excess cruelty, assuming the truth of claims that they indeed suffer excessively from this (a debate I do not have enough information to address right now?)
The Mishna on our daf (Shabbos 154) refers to various force-feeding methods applied to camels, calves, and fowl, and other than issues relating to shabbos law does not seem to consider them a violation of tzaar baalei Chaim.
It requires further study to assess precisely what methods are being referred to, and what the need for them was, but if the calves were indeed being force-fed for early slaughter, there could possibly be some precedent here for considering qualitatively tastier delicacies such as veal being enough of a need to allow this excess cruelty.
In practice, Rav Moshe Feinstein (E.H. 4/92) banned production and consumption of white veal in his day, based on his view that the white color of the veal are not considered legitimate needs to cause such cruelty, and neither is the profit of the people who produce it- a careful study of this teshuva is required in order to see precisely where he draws the line.
In contrast, goose-liver has been a very popular product amongst Jews for centuries and the main issues raised with it at various times appear to have been kashrus based and not due to concern for the animal’s welfare.
This could be because unlike white-veal, the foie gras is not just aesthetically more pleasing, but also has its own superior flavor and texture which is considered more of a need than simple aesthetic factors, or it could be because the level of cruelty was not viewed by halachik authorities as being on the same level.
Or possibly, it is because this was the main source of kosher fat available for Jews in Europe for most of history, and it was thus considered a truly essential product.
Either way, unless there is truth in the claims of those who say that recent improvements in legislation have lowered the distress level into the normal acceptable limits, or that the geese do not really suffering from this feeding, it seems pretty clear that in today’s time where we have many sources of fat and such a huge variety of both basic and luxury food-products, the tzaar baalei chayim factor should be considered- it should certainly be included in the general condemnation of excessively cruel behavior even for legitimate needs, which we have brought examples of.
Could the same argument perhaps be made against eating meat in today’s times and wearing clothes from animals slaughtered for that purpose, given that there are so many alternative sources of protein and general nutrition, as well as clothing? Probably not, but that is for a different discussion.
One more related idea I would like to discuss from our daf is the question of how we relate to dogs.
There is much condemnation (Shabbos 63a) of people who raise and keep “bad dogs” due to the fear they cast on poor people coming to ask for charity, and (see sugya in Bava Kama 83a ) due to the harm and fear they cause to pregnant women, and people who raise dogs are even compared to those who raise pigs.
Yet on our daf, we are told that unlike pigs, whose welfare we are not responsible for (due to the prohibition of raising pigs, as per Rashi, and because they have plenty to eat) we are responsible for the welfare of dogs and may thus feed them on shabbos.
This responsibility seems from our daf to extend to stray dogs too, who are considered to suffer the epitome of poverty (לית דעניא ככלבא) and should be fed by us, albeit in the fields and not in town, in order not to encourage them to keep coming back and bothering people.
There is much to discuss about the seemingly different views in Chazal that relate to raising and keeping dogs, as well as the practical halacha, but we will leave that for another occasion, Hashem willing.
These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.