Should a frum Jew care if an animal
species is endangered or goes extinct?
A Jew has a paramount responsibility to concern himself with all aspects of brias ha’olam. Hashem created the world and put us within to be caretakers of the world.
To that end, if a species is at risk of becoming extinct on account of man’s disregard for the animal – e.g., hunting for sport – then surely this must be a concern for anyone who cares about that which Hashem Himself cares about.
On the other hand, if an animal is becoming extinct simply on account of the natural order (e.g., men hunting for food or destroying forests to make way for cities), then to say we ought to be concerned and interfere in that process begs the question: To what end?
— Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch
lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue
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Judaism believes that everything that Hashem created has a purpose. Modern science understands that as well. The ecosystem is interconnected and removing one species of animal disrupts the balance.
Adam was commanded to protect, as well as work, the Garden of Eden, which has been understood to mean protecting the environment.
Not only should a religious Jew care if an animal species becomes extinct, he should support efforts to prevent the species becoming endangered, which will lead to it becoming extinct.
It’s important to recognize that we have responsibilities for the welfare of broader society as well as the Jewish people.
— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at YU’s
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
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In Ashrei, we say three times a day, “Tov Hashem lakol v’rachamav al kol ma’asav – Hashem is good to all; His mercy is on all His creatures.” Chazal explain that just like Hashem is merciful, so should we be merciful.
Therefore, a person should feel a sense compassion for the animal kingdom and be concerned about what occurs to it. The problem is when secularism makes a religion out of this concern.
Really, the issue pivots on one question, and that is: Is G-d present, active, and involved in running the world? If Hashem is not present, active, or involved, then man had better do an awful lot to make sure the environment and animal kingdom stay healthy – because their future lies on his shoulders.
If, however, one understands that Hashem is present, active, and involved in running the world, it’s a whole different ballgame. Then the question is: What does Hashem want us to do? What are our priorities and responsibilities?
And the bottom line is that [concern for the animal kingdom] is very, very far down on the totem pole. As an individual, there are much, much bigger things I need to focus on – namely, my own improvement and growth.
I also need to be far more concerned about the way I treat other human beings than the way I treat animals and far more concerned about the good of other people than the good of animals.
— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz
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Although our first priority must be worrying about and tending to the needs of other Jews, it is proper for a Torah Jew to be concerned about all human beings, as per Rabbeinu Yona’s explanation of the mandate in Pirkei Avos to pray for the welfare of the government.
We are also mandated to emulate the attributes of Hashem whose mercy extends to all creatures. The Talmud relates that R’ Yehudah HaNasi was stricken with suffering for not having mercy on a calf and was healed by having mercy on a brood of baby weasels (Bava Metziah 85a).
We are further prohibited from wanton destruction of any creation including, but not exclusively, fruit trees, etc.
Taking all of this into consideration, a frum Jew should be concerned for the welfare of all of Hashem’s creations. However, our resources and time should be channeled actively in predominately aiding Jewish causes.
— Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matisyahu,
popular lecturer and educator
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All human beings, including (even especially) religious Jews, should be concerned about the extinction of animals.
Scientists have indicated that extinction is a natural phenomenon, with a normal rate of one to five species per year. They now estimate that the extinction rate is up to 1,000 times higher, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species heading for extinction by mid-century.
The vast majority of threatened species are at risk due to human activities – destruction of natural habitats, pollution of the seas, unsustainable use of natural resources, etc. Species disappearing at an alarming rate indicates that the earth’s ecosystem is increasingly unbalanced. This is not merely a threat to endangered species; it is a threat to human life!
The Almighty, in His infinite wisdom, created nature to function as a balanced system. All the myriad plants and animals play a role in the overall health of our world. “Mah rabu ma’asecha Hashem… – How great are Your works, Hashem. You created all of them with wisdom. The earth is filled with Your possessions.”
For purely practical reasons, all people should be concerned about the health of the world’s ecosystem. From a religious point of view, we should be concerned not to destroy the natural balance that Hashem created. It is taught in Bereishith Rabba (10:7): “Even things you may regard as superfluous to the creation of the world such as fleas, gnats, and flies – even they are part of creation. The Holy One carries out the Divine purpose through everything – even a snake, scorpion, gnat, or frog.”
Out of respect for Hashem’s creations, and out of concern for the future of our children and grandchildren, we must care about the earth’s ecosystem and the ongoing threat of extinction of so many species.
— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of the
Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals