The following is an excerpt from an article in the Sunday New York Times by Pam Belluck titled, "Girls and Boys, Meet Nature. Bring Your Gun" (September 18th, 2005):
Samantha, a freckle-faced, pony-tailed fourth grader, was on a bear hunt. Not the pretend kind memorialized in picture books and summer-camp chants, but a real one for black bears that live in the woods of southwestern Vermont and can weigh 150 pounds or more.
She had won a "dream hunt" given away by a Vermont man whose goal is to get more children to hunt, and she had traveled about 200 miles from her home in Bellingham, Mass., and was missing three days of school to take him up on his offer. "Almost everything you hunt is pretty fun," said Samantha, grinning and perfectly at home with a group of five men, the youngest of whom was nearly three times her age....The dream hunt - all expenses paid, including taxidermy - was the brainchild of Kevin Hoyt, a 35-year-old hunting instructor who quit a job as a structural steel draftsman a few years ago and decided to dedicate himself to getting children across the country interested in hunting.
His efforts reflect what hunting advocates across the country say is an increasingly urgent priority, and what hunting opponents find troubling: recruiting more children to sustain the sport of hunting, which has been losing participants of all ages for two decades.
"Forty years from now our kids will be learning about this as history," said Larry Gauthier, one of Mr. Hoyt's buddies on the bear hunt. "Hunters should be included as an extinct species because we're falling away so fast, we need to be protected."
This year, three pro-hunting groups - the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance and the National Wild Turkey Federation - started Families Afield, a program to lobby states to lower the age at which children can hunt or to loosen the requirements for a child to accompany a parent on a hunt.
We shall begin our commentary on the above news item with the following excerpt from "The Vison of Eden" by Rabbi David Sears:
"Where the wall paintings and bas-reliefs of ancient Assyria and Egypt extol the drama of the hunt, the Torah associates such pursuits exclusively with villains such as Nimrod and Esau. Not only is hunting for sport forbidden; to the Jewish mind, it is almost unthinkable." (Page 62).
Rabbi Sears later cites Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, the noted authority on Torah law, who writes: "Throughout the Torah, we find the sport of hunting imputed only to Nimrod and Esau. This is not the way of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." (Noda B'Yehudah, Yoreh Deah, no. 10)
When I was growing up in New York City during the 1950's and 60's, hunting was a popular American sport, but not among American Jews. Although the majority of American Jews did not receive a traditional Jewish education, they had a vague awareness that Judaism does not allow us to take the life of a living creature for sport.
During the early 80's, I attended a staff conference at a kosher Jewish hotel in the Catskill Mountains of New York State, and the owner was an elderly Orthodox Jewish man. He reminded us that Torah law forbids hunting for sport. Although hunting was a popular sport in his region, he told us with pride that he did not allow hunting on his large hotel estate; thus, the entire estate had become a refuge for wild animals and birds, as they sensed that they were safe there.
Although many Jews have assimilated into modern western culture, the aversion to hunting for sport is still strong among Jews who feel a bond with their spiritual tradition. For example, in Orthodox or traditional Jewish communities, parents do not take their children to wilderness areas in order to hunt; instead, they take them to wilderness areas in order to experience the "niflaos Ha-Boreh" - the wonders of the Creator.
In general, causing pain to animals for the sake of "sport" or "entertainment" is contrary to traditional Jewish teachings and laws. This is why activities such as "bull fights" or "animal fights" were unknown among Jews. As Rabbi David Sears writes:
"When Roman citizens flocked to attend animal fights in the Colosseum, such gruesome entertainments were unheard of among the Jews. According to the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 18b), animal fights epitomize the "dwelling place of scorners" so vehemently decried by the Book of Psalms (1:1). Indeed, the author of Chavas Da'as (a classic work on Jewish law) deems one who attends a bullfight or similar event "an accomplice to murder." (The Vision of Eden, pages 62, 63).
The historian Josephus writes that King Herod, who ruled the Jewish state towards the end of the Second Temple period, upset the Jewish people by bringing in Roman sports which involved animal fights:
“Herod also got together a great quantity of wild beasts, and of lions in very great abundance, and of such other beasts as were either of uncommon strength or of such a sort as were rarely seen. These were trained either to fight one with another, or men who were condemned to death were to fight with them. And truly foreigners were greatly surprised and delighted at the vast expenses of the shows, and at the great danger of the spectacles, but to the Jews it was a palpable breaking up of those customs for which they had so great a veneration.” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews.)
To some extent, we are in a similar situation today, for some of the practices of modern civilization regarding the treatment of animals are not in harmony with the compassionate Jewish teachings and laws for which we had so great a veneration. As we return to our spiritual roots and begin to rediscover these ancient teachings and laws, we will gain a deeper understanding of our holistic spiritual tradition.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. The above teachings should serve as a reminder to those of us who have pets that these creatures are not "toys" made for our entertainment. Having a pet is an ethical and spiritual responsibility; thus, we should be aware of the particular needs of the creatures in our possession. In addition, the Torah also teaches that we are obligated to feed them before we feed ourselves. For further study about caring for animals in our possession, you can review the following two articles which appear in the archive (lower section) on our website:
A. Emulating the Divine Nuturing
B. Caring for Animals
2. Your New Year contributions to support "Hazon - Our Universal Vision" are greatly appreciated. They can be sent to: Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen P.O.B. 16012, Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem. (The checks should be made out to Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen.) Please include your e-mail address, so I can send you a thank you note.