Animal Tension

First posted on The Times of Israel at:

Baal Haturim Leviticus: Tazria

Animal Tension

Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them. -Samuel Butler


There is an internal debate within the Torah as to the treatment of animals. There is an explicit command against cruelty to animals, known in Hebrew as “tzaar baalei chaim” – that we must refrain from causing anguish to animals. However, it is also a given in the Torah that we can eat kosher animals, sacrifice them and use their skins.

So where do we draw the line? The Torah in multiple places provides protection and great sensitivity to animals: you can’t muzzle an animal while it’s working, you can’t overburden the load on an animal, you cannot have two different species pulling a load together, and additional protections. But it seems clear that animals can be used for constructive purposes. They can be harnessed as beasts of burden. They can be killed for digestive, sartorial or ritual purposes.

The Baal Haturim on Leviticus 12:6 gives at the same time what is perhaps the finest dilineation of the sensitivity and the uses the Torah assigns to animals.

Amongst the various animal sacrifices that can be brought in the Temple, there are also birds. There are two types of birds that are mentioned: The “Torim” and the “Bnei Yona” (often translated as doves and young pigeons though there is some disagreement as to the exact nomenclature). Most often these bird sacrifices are brought in pairs, and the phrase that is used is “Torim o Bnei Yona”, with the “Torim” always before the “Bnei Yona”. However, in one instance, where only one bird is sacrificed, the order is reversed.

The Baal Haturim explains that the Torah has an extreme sensitivity to the well-being of the animals. The “Torim” are apparently a lifelong monogomous species and if one of them were to be sacrificed the partner would remain mate-less for life. So in the case of a single bird sacrifice it is preferable to bring from the faithless “Bnei Yona” that will not impact on any avian soul-mates.

May we treat animals with their due respect and understand their acceptable uses.

Shabbat Shalom,



To our sons Akiva and Elchanan who’ve been taking care of the precious Jerusalem Biblical Zoo and its special residents.



Leave a Reply