Hunting in Judaism

Eating meat is permitted. But is hunting for sport?

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The Bible refers to hunting for food (in Leviticus 13 for example) and sees no objection to this. The principle, as established by the Rabbis, is that while wanton cruelty to animals is strictly forbidden, it is permitted to kill animals for food or for their skins and the same would apply to hunting animals for this purpose.

Nevertheless, the only two persons mentioned in the Bible as hunters are Nimrod (Genesis 10: 9) and Esau (Genesis 25: 27), neither of whom is held up for admiration in the Jewish tradition. There is no reference at all in the whole of the biblical and Rabbinic literature to hunting for sport. There are, however, two frequently quoted responsa on the question of hunting for sport.

The Italian physician and Rabbinic scholar, Isaac Lampronri (1679-1756) discusses, in his encyclopedia of Jewish law entitled Pahad Yitzhak, whether it is permitted to hunt animals and kill jewish huntingthem when they are caught. Lampronti forbids this on the grounds that it is forbidden to waste anything in God's creation. Rabbi Ezekiel Landau of Prague, in a Responsa (second series, Yoreh Deah, no. 19), argues that, in addition to the reason given by Larnpronri, hunting for sport is forbidden because it involves unnecessary cruelty to animals and the hunter risks life and limb in the pursuit.

Landau points out that the Talmudic discussion on the duty to kill wild animals even on the Sabbath (Shabbat 121b) only applies to wild animals that come among men and endanger human life and not to pursuing the animals in their own haunts. Walter Rathenau's remark has often been quoted in this connection: "When a Jew says he's going hunting to amuse himself, he lies.'

There are Jews, of course, perhaps even some religious Jews, who do enjoy taking part in the hunt, advancing the usual arguments for why this is thought to be desirable. Yet there is no record of Rabbis in any age hunting animals for sport. There is no logical reason for distinguishing between hunting animals and catching fish, apart from the question of risk to human life, yet some Jews who would not hunt animals see no harm in angling as a hobby. Perhaps they hold that the fish caught will be eaten and fishing therefore is not purely for sport, or perhaps they believe that fish feel less pain than animals.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.