Ethics

For the week ending 24 December 2011 / 27 Kislev 5772

Hunter and Hunted

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: Some friends have invited me to join them on a safari to Africawhich will include hunting wild animals. Is hunting proper for a nice Jewish boy?

Answer: This question was put to the rabbi of Prague, Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, over two centuries ago. His answer, as it appears in Responsa Noda B’Yehuda, rejects the idea of hunting on cultural, ethical and halachic grounds.

“Who are the hunters mentioned in the Torah?”, he asks rhetorically. Nimrod and Esav, the two individuals identified as hunters, were also the personification of rebellion against Heaven and cruelty towards man. Hardly models for a nice Jewish boy!

He also calls attention to the Jewish custom of wishing someone who wears a new article of clothing that he live to see it wear out and be replaced by another ("tibaleh vetitchadesh"). This blessing is withheld, however, in regard to items made of leather, such as shoes, because it implies the death of an animal to make such renewal possible. If such compassion for animals is expected of us in the blessing we offer, he concludes, how much more so in regard to refraining from slaying them simply for the sake of pleasure.

After stating these reasons based on mussar (ethics) the author issues his ruling that hunting is forbidden because of the risk it presents to the hunter. ("Just as the hunter is out to kill his prey, the animal is out to kill the hunter.") If someone hunts for his livelihood he is permitted to expose himself to this level of risk just as the Torah permitted one to climb high fruit trees, cross oceans and travel deserts for his livelihood despite the fact that each of these carries with it a degree of risk. But if hunting is done simply as a form of sport one is guilty of exposing himself unnecessarily to such a degree of risk, and therefore violates the Torah command to guard against danger to life, a sin that makes his situation even more precarious.

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