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Study and Theory/
Tu BiShvat

The Attitude of Judaism to Animals and Vegetation


Genesis 1:28:

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land and subdue it and rule over the fish in the sea and the birds of the skies and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

Commentary of Nachmanidies to the Bible, Genesis 1:26,28:

Rabbi Moses son of Nachman, Spain, 1194-1270. A halachic authority, commentator, kabbalist and doctor.

That they should compellingly rule over the fish and the fowls and animals and anything that creeps... and he said: And in all of the land – that they should have dominion over the land itself, to uproot and to break, to dig and to carve copper and iron. And the word 'subdue' – means the ruling of the master over his slave. And conquer it – he gave them power and authority to do as they wish with animals and vermin and reptiles, and to build and to uproot that which is planted, and to dig out copper from its mountains and so on. And this includes whatever is alluded to by the term: 'and in all of the land'. 


Bereishit Raba, 19:6

"And rule over the fish of the sea" – Rabbi Yehudah, the son of Simon says: All those created later, may rule over those created before them.

Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin, 38:1

Our rabbis have learned: Man was created on the day before Shabbat. And for what reason? So that he could directly enter to the meal prepared for him.

This is likened to an earthly king, who built a palace [castles] and he enhanced them and prepared a meal and then welcomed guests to the meal.

And on the other hand –


Genesis 2:15

And G-d, the Lord, took man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to preserve it.


Kohelet Raba,7

"Behold the works of the Lord, since who can correct his distortion?" (Ecclesiastes 7:13) – when the Holy One, blessed by He created the first man, he took him through all the trees of the Garden of Eden and told him: "Look at my creations, how pleasant and perfect they are, and everything I have created, I have created for you. Make sure not to ruin nor to destroy my world, since if you impair anything, there is no one who can repair it.


Rabbi Kook, The Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace, Afikim baNegev, 2:

Rabbi Abraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, 1865-1935, immigrated to Israel with the 2nd Aliyah. He was the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel.

It is doubtless to every educated man and thinker, that the ruling mentioned in the Torah – "And rule over the fish of the sea and the birds in the heaven and over all animals that move on the earth" – does not refer to the regime of a tyrannical master, who subjugates his slaves only to fulfil his personal wishes and his obduracy. G-d forfend that such an ugly law of servility be stamped eternally in the world of G-d, who is good to all, and who is compassionate over all of his creations, as it says: "The world is built in kindness".


The Attitude to Vegetation

The Sabbatical Year

Leviticus 25, 1-5:

The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the Lord.  For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. And in the seventh year the land is to have a year of Sabbath rest, a sabbath to G-d. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.


Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, 3:39:

Rabbi Moses the son of Maimon (1138-1204) was denominated, "The Great Eagle", he served as a doctor, was one of the greatest Halachic authorities of all times and one of the important philosophers of the Middle Ages.

And to increase the crops of the land and it should become fortified as it rests (= with no seeding).


Cutting Fruit Bearing Trees

Deuteronomy 20, 19:

When you lay siege to a city for a long time, battling it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?

Rashi: Is man a tree of the field to be included in the siege you put on the city, and suffer the agony of hunger and thirst as the city's inhabitants do; Why should you destroy it?


Bereishit Raba, 10:7

Rabbi Simon says: There is not a single grass that does not have a divine force in heaven that tells him, "grow".


Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer, 34:

A book of homiletic interpretations and legends of the creation and history also containing customs and laws. Attributed to the sage, Rabbi Eliezer, son of Hyrcanus.

There are six – whose voice are carried from one end of the world to the other, and their voice is unheard, and these are: When a fruit bearing tree is cut, its voice is carried from one end of the world to the other and its voice is unheard.


The attitude to Living Beings

1. Do not eat the soul with the flesh. (Deuteronomy 12:23)

2. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it. (Exodus 23:5)

If you see your fellow Israelite’s donkey or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it. Help the owner get it to its feet. (Deuteronomy 22:4) 

3. Do not plough with an ox and donkey together. (Deuteronomy 22:10)

4. Do not mate different kinds of animals, do not plant your field with two kinds of seeds (Leviticus 19:19)

5. Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain. (Deuteronomy 25, 4)

6. Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest. (Exodus 23, 12)

7.  I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. (Deuteronomy 11:15)

A person may not eat before he feeds his animal. (Talmud Bavli, Brachot 40:1)

8. Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk. (Exodus 23:19; 34:26, Deuteronomy 14:21)

9. Do not slaughter a cow or a sheep and its young on the same day. (Leviticus 22:28)

10. If you come across a bird’s nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young. You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life. (Deuteronomy 22:6-7)

11.  You must not offer to the Lord an animal whose testicles are bruised, crushed, torn or cut. You must not do this in your own land. (Leviticus 22:24)

12. Any Israelite or any foreigner residing among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth. (Leviticus 17:13) – To cover the blood after slaughtering.

13. And you shall not eat any flesh of beasts torn in the field, throw it to the dog. (Exodus 22:30)


Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed 3:48:

Likewise, he forbade to slaughter it and its son on the same day, to prevent and to avoid slaughtering them both as the mother looks on, since this inflicts very great pain for the animal, since the mother's love and compassion to her offspring is not attributed to the intellect, rather, upon activating the power of imagination, which exists in most animals, as it is present in man. And this is a specific law pertaining to an ox and a lamb, since both of them are permissible for us to eat... And in these species the mother recognizes her offspring. And this is the reason for sending off a mother bird before taking the eggs or the chicks, since usually eggs she hatches, and the chicks, who need their mother are not fit for consumption, and if the mother is sent off alone, she is not troubled by looking on as her offspring are taken away... And if the Torah is sensitive to these afflictions of animals and birds, how much more so – towards man.



Genesis 1, 29:

The Lord said: Behold I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.

Rashi: He did not allow Adam and his wife to kill any living being and to eat meat, but all of them shall eat every grass, and later he allowed the children of Noah to eat meat.

Rabbi Kook, the Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace.

How ridiculous is it,  while he is unholy, he shall stretch out his hands and turn a remote type of charity,  to do righteousness with animals, as if he had already completed his dealings with people who were created in the image of the Lord, as if had already done what was necessary, he had already removed the evil government and falsehood, the hatred and jealousy of nations, the animosity of races and familial rifts, which have effectuated many casualties and rivers of spilled blood, as if all of these had already been eliminated from the world to the extent that that human devotee had no more to do than to focus on ethics concerning animals...

Yet the  G-dly wisdom envisioned that man's ethical status has deteriorated, and not until he raises this status, by awakening and acquiring realization of true morality, until he reaches that blissful and enlightened state, he is not fit for the moral status required to recognize the judgement of animals.


Hosea, 13:2

Those who offer human sacrifices, kiss calf-idols

Rashi on Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin, 63: Indicating that those who offered human sacrifices, then kissed calf-idols.


Outlook for the Future

Isaiah, 11:6-8

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will graze with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.  The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.


Hosea 2:20

I will make a covenant for them on that day, with the wild animals, with the birds of the heaven and with the things that crawl on the ground. And bow and sword and warfare, I will destroy from the land, and I will give them rest in safety.

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