What is Our Responsibility to Other Creatures?
A Jewish perspective on animal suffering and conservation.
Presumably, Ramban's position is that animals do not have enough intelligence or self-awareness to suffer, and therefore the Gemara is Berakhot finds it incorrect and foolish to praise God for having mercy on them when in other places the Torah permits their slaughter. Nevertheless, subjectively, humans are prohibited from treating them sadistically in order to cultivate the qualities of mercy and environmentalism.
There seems to be strains of thought within certain conservationist and environmentalist camps that wish to promote the equality of animals by highlighting the cruelty and arrogance of man and his insignificance in the scheme of the universe. While some who put forth these ideas may have noble intentions I believe part of this idea stems from a wish to reduce man to the status of animals instead of merely protecting the rights of animals. The unconscious payoff for such a belief system is the creation of a more permissive environment for humans. After all, if we are basically animals, how can we be blamed for behaving in a morally loose fashion? But we do not share in this belief.
Rather, we believe that a deeper understanding of the Torah's view on animal suffering can lead a person to become more compassionate of other people's feelings, and to assume our moral responsibilities as caretakers of the world. A deeper compassion for animals will help us all to strengthen our character and improve our actions to protect the world.
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