Ah, Fall. The crisp air, the beautiful foliage and, for those who live in rural areas, the hunting season! Yes, this is the time of year when, permit in hand, hunters take to the woods for sport. 

The permissibility of hunting according to Jewish law is not as straight-forward as one might imagine. Actually, there are cogent arguments for and against hunting and trapping in Jewish tradition. 

In Genesis (1:26), God explicitly gives human beings dominion over the entire planet – meaning all animals, vegetables and minerals. Dominion, however, does not mean tyranny or abuse but, rather, responsibility. In fact, this verse is one that is at the heart of Judaism’s sensitive environmental philosophy. 

While humans have dominion over animals, Judaism prohibits tza’ar ba’alei chayim, causing undue suffering to living creatures. For this reason, hunting for pleasure is strictly prohibited. 

And while humankind has Divine permission to be omnivorous, Jewish law deems any animal not properly slaughtered to be “not kosher” (unfit) for Jewish consumption. Animals with life-threatening wounds, such as those resulting from guns, arrows or traps, are not kosher. 

So if animals may not be hunted for either food and pleasure, when might hunting be permitted? One may hunt only for a legitimate need, such as collecting fur and leather for clothes or shoes or to obtain animal products that are used for medicine. Even then, the animal must be killed in a manner that ensures the least possible pain. 

Jewish Treats leaves you with this question: Would hunting to thin out a herd in danger of starvation be prohibited as tza’ar ba’alei chayim or would it be permitted in order to make certain that fewer animals starve to death?

This Treat was last published on November 26, 2012.

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