Animal Welfare

By Rabbi Jacqueline Romm Satlow, Director of Jewish Culture Coordinator

There is a curious commandment in the Book of Deuteronomy (22:7). If you find a mother bird sitting on her nest, you can take the eggs, but first you have to shoo away the mother. Why?

Some of our greatest Rabbis tell us it is so that you do not insult her. Judaism shows great respect for the life of other creatures and for the integrity of the natural environment.   On the one hand,  we are welcome to use and profit from the abundance of God’s world, (we are permitted to eat eggs, and chickens).

On the other hand, we are not allowed to use up the resources of the world, or to destroy it. Taking the mother bird with the chicks would destroy the family. It would also hurt her feelings.

Other religious traditions share this value.

The Baha’i tradition talks about showing loving kindness to every living creature. (Writings of Abdu’i-Baha) Buddhist tradition talks about acting for other living beings. (Nirvana Sutra) Hindu tradition asks people to take only what they need from the world. (Isa Upanishad). Christian and Muslim tradition also teach about the importance of sustaining God’s world.

Animals are a part of our lives and preventing unnecessary cruelty to animals, or in Judaism the concept of tzaar baalei chayim, is a core value.

How do we take these ancient concepts and apply them to a vastly different situation today?

Many modern rabbis say that animal welfare requires that animals should have adequate housing, proper food, healthy environments, treatment when sick, freedom to move, and the ability to express natural behaviors.

What is the problem? Many modern factory farms do not do a good job allowing for animal welfare. What can we do?

As consumers, we can support systems where hens can walk, spread their wings, lay eggs in nesting spaces, dust bathe, and perform other natural behaviors by supporting farms that value animal welfare.   Labels like “cage-free,” “free range,” or “USDA Certified Organic” have higher levels of humane treatment. There are also third party organizations who go to farms and verify the treatment of the animals. Two you can count on are “certified humane” or “animal welfare approved”.

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