In the Jewish View, Animals Don’t Have Rights, but People Have Duties—Even to Animals

Sept. 13 2019

In this week’s Torah reading of Ki Teitsei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19), there are multiple commandments regulating the proper treatment of animals, including the prohibition against muzzling an ox while it is treading grain and the injunction to shoo away a mother bird before taking its young. The great medieval thinker Moses Maimonides gives three distinct rationales for the latter commandment, two of which can be found in the same work. Placing these varying explanations in the context of other halakhic restrictions on the treatment of animals, Jonathan Sacks seeks to reconcile them:

Maimonides . . . seems to embrace three sharply conflicting views: (1) the law of the mother bird is a divine decree with no reason; (2) this law is intended to spare the mother bird emotional pain [of seeing her offspring taken away]; and (3) this law is intended to have an effect on us [humans], not the animal, by training us not to be cruel.

In fact all three are true, because they answer different questions.

The first view explains why we have the laws we have. The Torah forbids certain acts that are cruel to animals but not to others. Why these and not those? Because that is the law. There will always be laws that seem arbitrary. But we observe the law because it is the law, even though, under certain circumstances, we may reason that we know better, or that it does not apply. The second view explains the immediate logic of the law. It exists to prevent needless suffering to animals, because they, too, feel physical pain and sometimes emotional distress as well.

The third view sets the law in a larger perspective. Cruelty to animals is wrong, not because animals have rights but because we have duties. The duty not to be cruel is intended to promote virtue, and the primary context of virtue is the relationship between human beings. But virtues are indivisible. Those who are cruel to animals often become cruel to people. Hence we have a duty not to cause needless pain to animals, because of its effect on us.

Judaism [thus] reminds us of what we sometimes forget: that the moral life is too complex to summarize in a single concept like “rights.” Alongside rights, there are duties, and there can be duties without corresponding rights. Animals do not have rights, but we have duties toward them.

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Read more at Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

More about: Animal rights, Deuteronomy, Judaism, Moses Maimonides

With Talk of Annexation, Benny Gantz Sends a Message to the U.S.

Jan. 24 2020

On Tuesday, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, who is campaigning for a third time to oust Benjamin Netanyahu from the Israeli premiership, announced that if elected he will seek to annex the Jordan Valley. He added the important caveat that he wants to do so “in coordination with the international community”—a promise that, as many have pointed out, is nearly impossible to fulfill. While it is easy to speculate about the political calculations behind this pledge, Jonathan Tobin suggests that it is also intended as a message to American liberals:

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More about: Benny Gantz, Democrats, Israeli Election 2020, Jordan Valley, U.S. Politics