Shabbos 154-155 Tzaar Baalei Chayim, foie gras and dogs

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.

Shabbos 64 Positive beauty  

 Modesty is an extremely important value in Torah life, both for men and for women, and although “tzenius” has many aspects, a very strong focus has been placed particularly in recent decades, on the modesty of woman’s dress.

This extra emphasis of an existing value can be explained by the changes in general society and super liberalization of dress standards, whereby extremely revealing and suggestive clothing has become the norm.

However, this has reached ridiculous extremes in some religious circles, where the very presence of women, either in person, or even in advertising, has become at best frowned upon, and at worst, been forcibly prevented.

In such circles, women and girls are often encouraged to dress as unattractively as possible, and stay out of the way, while their male counterparts face no such restrictions. 

There is no doubt in my mind that asides for the innate unfairness of treating women simply as if they are dangerous “eye candy” for hungry men and boys, such extreme treatment backfires, and causes the exact opposite of what is desired- men become over sensitized, often resulting in unhealthy, even abusive behavior, and woman become more and more sidelined, sometimes to the point that even  their relationship with their husbands is severely impacted .

On our Daf, we are told about more items which people are not allowed to wear on shabbos in a public domain, lest one take them off.

One example is a wig (sheitel or פאה נכרית) worn by women to look attractive.

The leading Amora, Rav ,tells us that although most things that are forbidden to wear in a public domain, may also not be worn in a shared courtyard which has no eiruv ( see Tosfos who holds that we are indeed discussing a courtyard without an eruv) there are a couple of exceptions.

One exception he mentions is the sheitel, which is allowed in a shared courtyard, while still forbidden in a true public domain for the above reason.

The reason for the leniency is that we do not want a woman to look less attractive to her husband, even in front of other people in a courtyard, so she doesn’t repulse him in general.

This despite the fact that there are other people in a shared courtyard, and certainly in a Karmelit, which according to Tosfos is also permitted .

It can also be noted that if it were not for the concern of a biblical desecration of shabbos laws, “chillul shabbos deorayso” in a true public domain, it would be permitted in the most crowded places too.

While the need for married women to be attractive  for their husbands might not go down so well in today’s liberal world, this is a totally different discussion for another occasion. 

What seems clear from this daf , however .is that there is absolutely no problem with married women looking good in public, in person , and certainly not in advertisements , so long as the basic  laws of modesty are kept, and this applies even more so to unmarried women of marriageable age who are supposed to be attractive to potential partners (see Kiddushin 30b)

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 .

Shabbos 63 Dangerous dogs 

Shabbos 63 Dangerous dogs

On this daf, Rabbi Aba brings the ruling of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, a leading first generation Amora, that one who keeps an “evil” dog in his house keeps kindness away from his house.

Rashi explains that because of the dangerous dog, poor people will be afraid to approach and ask for money.

The Gemara in Bava Batra( 7b) makes a similar point regarding a בית שער  (courtyard gate), saying that having a locked gate to one’s courtyard is also problematic for the same reason .


In Bava Kama( 46a) , the Gemora also states that one who keeps a dangerous dog in one’s house transgresses the prohibition of לא תשים דמים בביתך ( do not place blood in your house ), a prohibition against having perilous items or unguarded patios etc.

There is  much discussion as to what is considered an “evil”  dog, but both here and in the sugya in Bava Kama, a strong emphasis is placed on the danger scary dogs poise to pregnant women, who might be so terrified by it that they miscarry, chalila.

I was learning this Gemara with my 8 year old son, Noam, last night , and he reminded me about how when Julie was pregnant with him (and no, he didn’t know what was happening when he was in her womb..), the gate of our property fell ont her ,and although she was uninjured Boruch Hashem , she went to the hospital just to be sure that  the fright had not endangered the pregnancy.

It turned out that  he was indeed in distress, to the point that she almost had to have an emergency caesarean, many weeks too early .

I was far away in the Kruger park area at the time with a group of clients, it was night ,and there was no way to get back home , other than a 7 hour drive over treacherous mountain passes in the dark, something we decided was a bad idea, and my ability to be there added to the stress .

Boruch Hashem, he calmed down and all was fine- yet this personal experience made me extra sensitive to this issue , and in the daf today , a tragic story is told which didn’t end so well.

A pregnant woman went to a neighbor, as was the norm at the time for those who couldn’t afford their own oven , to use his oven to bake bread.

He had a dangerous dog, that barked so loudly at her that she miscarried.  Unaware of what happened, but seeing she was afraid, the man tried to calm her down, saying that the dog was harmless and  had its most dangerous teeth removed and claws cut.

Suffice to say, the woman told him she wanted nothing from him and it was already too late.

Chazal have various things to say about dogs, some very positive, some rather negative , and obviously things depend a lot on the type and nature of the dog, how  it is constrained, and other circumstances- when needed for security reasons , that is also a factor.

One thing, however, is clear to me from experience, and that is that in many places, people are simply unaware or totally ambivalent about the level of fear and stress that visitors get from their more aggressive 4 legged friends , and often get extremely defensive about it.

I remember as a child growing up in crime infested Johannesburg the terror I experienced every time I walked passed a house with a Rottweiler as it attacked the gate and made out as if it was about to charge me- on some occasions, large dogs actually jumped over those towering Joburg walls and though most were more bark than bite , I was more terrified of them than of the criminals .


And I was a kid who absolutely loved dogs and had 3 of my own!

A Jewish home is supposed to be an open home, where visitors, particularly the poor , feel welcome and at ease , and anything that causes it to be the opposite, other than valid security concerns, needs to be very carefully considered .