Is it appropriate for frum Jews to go hunting?
One of the central themes that runs throughout the Torah is that everything in creation was created for man. Man is the reason for creation, man is the pivot point of creation, and all that exists only exists to serve him, to be used by him. In that sense, one certainly is allowed to make use of animals, whether it be for fur, for food, or for any proper use because they were created for man. In fact, they fulfill their purpose in creation when man uses them properly.
At the same time, we have a specific halacha in the torah called tza’ar ba’alei chayyim. The sefer HaChinuch explains that the torah is not concerned with the pain of the animal, but rather with man’s middos – if I act in a manner that’s cruel, it’s going to affect me, change my middos, and I’m going to imbibe the trait of cruelty within me. Therefore, the Torah warns us not to acts cruelly to an animal. For that reason, if one is hunting for a productive use, for food or for the hides, then certainly it would be proper to hunt and would in fact be using the animal for its intended purpose and elevating that animal.
However, hunting for sport is something different. There is no productive use, one is doing it strictly for the activity, for the enjoyment of hunting, and in that case it would seem to violate a basic concept of tza’ar ba’alei chayyim and that would be forbidden. Bottom line is, if there is a productive use that I am intending to use the animal for, it would be permitted; for sport it would be forbidden.
– Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier is founder of The Shmuz and author of 10 Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make (available at theshmuz.com).
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In one of his most famous teshuvos, the Noda B’yehuda discusses this very issue. In a nutshell, recreational hunting brings out the middah of cruelty and destruction, certainly these are not among the middos that a Torah Jew wishes to cultivate.
Chitzonios m’orer es hapnimios, the actions a person engages in aren’t merely in the moment and gone, rather they have a lasting effect on the ongoing growth and development of the person. The Torah gives us many mitzvos along these lines in order to guide us in the ways of middos tovos and to keep us away from negative tendencies. We are tasked to follow that lead and stay away from activities even if they aren’t technically against any halachos. By doing so a person can achieve the tikkun that he was put in the world to make.
– Rabbi Yehoshua Heber is Rav of Khal Tomchai Torah at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and Dayan at Bdatz Mishptai Yisrael.
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Today, there are myriad types of sport and recreational activities that man engages in. Some are good healthy sports, some such as football have of recent times been determined to entail a bit of danger. People also go skydiving and mountain climbing. The common denominator is that the danger is to the active participant himself. But what of a form of sport that involves an animal, such as the bull-run famous in Spain. And of course, hunting as in the famous fox hunt in England, or shooting fowl for sport in America, or fishing catch-and-release of a maimed fish back into the waters.
Some of these might be antithetical for a Jew, as one is forbidden to place himself in danger. But surely hunting animals for sport should be forbidden due to tza’ar ba’alei chayyim – pain that an animal suffers, as Rava (Bava Metzia 32a-b) rules that tza’ar ba’alei chayyim is a Biblical prohibition (Shemos 23:5) “…azov ta’azov imo – you shall surely help him.”
Now on the other hand, hunting animals for food, or for use of their skins, is surely permissible, as the Torah states clearly in Parashas Noach (Bereishis 9:2-3) “The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, in everything that moves on earth and in all the fish of the seas; in your hand they are given. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; like the green herbage.”
Though later on after the giving of the Torah (Parashas Shemini) we were restricted to eat only of those animals that are specifically permitted. Indeed, we find in Parashas Toldos that Yitzchak Avinu instructs his son Esav to hunt for venison [a kosher animal, as the Avos and the Shevatim kept the laws of the Torah even before it was given] and prepare it delectably for him to eat.
Nevertheless, as we noted above, man has dominion over all living creatures and if one wants to wear leather shoes, hats, have leather sofas, leather seats in his car, or coats made from animal fur skins – all things that require hunting and killing an animal – that is fine. But to abuse them by hunting and shooting them for no other reason than just for sport is abhorrent and should surely be forbidden.
– Rabbi Yaakov Klass is chairman of the Presidium of the Rabbinical Alliance of America; rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn; and Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at [email protected] and [email protected].
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In the 18th century, Rav Yechezkel Landau, chief rabbi of Prague, wrote an influential responsum (Noda B’Yehuda, mahdura tinyana, Yoreh De-ah #10) about the ethics of hunting. He first discussed whether the act of hunting violates the halachic prohibitions of tza’ar ba’alei chayim and bal tash’chit, being wasteful. Initially, Rav Landau argued that the prohibition of tza’ar ba’alei chayim applies only if you needlessly cause pain to a living animal but not if you are killing the animal. Additionally, there is no prohibition of bal tash’chit if there is some purpose to killing the animal, such as if you want the skins from the animal.
However, Rav Landau writes, hunting for sport is improper and anyone who does this follows in the footsteps of Nimrod and Esav, and not Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. If someone needs to engage in hunting to earn a living, then he may do so just like someone may slaughter animals for food to earn a living. However, hunting for sport is an act of cruelty. He also argues that hunting for sport violates the obligation of “v’nishmartem m’od l’nafshoteichem,” or engaging in risky behavior without a legitimate purpose. Hunting to earn a living would qualify as a legitimate purpose, but hunting for sport would not. As such, this responsum indicates that hunting for sport is improper from both a halachic and ethical perspective.
– Rabbi Jonathan Muskat is the rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside, a rebbe at Shulamith High School, and a pastoral health care liaison at Mount Sinai South Nassau.