“Mankind’s true moral test . . . consists in its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.” ― Milan Kundera
I have never doubted my Jewish soul. Yet more and more I feel it revealing itself to me. For my year of change I embarked on a journey to humane and cruelty free living. It has not been easy; it has been challenging and at times it feels impossible, but I will not give up. More and more I have excised things from my life that come as direct result of the suffering of a helpless living creature. I have researched the food I eat and try my best to purchase strictly humanely raised and certified humane. I have found that the most difficult item has been milk, I have yet to locate milk that is certified anything but “organic” and that means nothing in terms of how the cow is treated. Organic Valley has grass-fed and “pastured” dairy products, but that doesn’t seem to be regulated. I have found great eggs (conveniently sold in the Fresh Market and Winn-Dixie), meat (sold at Whole Foods, just ask the butcher), and chicken (sold at Publix by the Greenwise) that are now staples in my home (FYI, there’s an app for that!).
So I decided to shift to the next cruelty free aspect of my home, an area I have indulged in for decades: cosmetics. I was horrified to find out most of the products I was using come from companies that test on animals. I was horrified. I simply could not continue to be this consumer, so I started researching. First, I learned that a lot of companies basically lie about their animal testing, which is shameful. Second, I learned that most companies are forced into animal testing because their products are sold internationally and other countries have rules about that sort of thing, like China. Thankfully I was able to find great guidelines online from several sources like Peta and Paula’s Choice.
What I also learned along my journey is that my newfound passion is super Jewish. On my quest to learn about cruelty free living I came across the phrase tza’ar ba’alei chayim. According to Wikipedia it “literally means the suffering of living creatures.” It turns out that I have been concerned with tza’ar ba’alei chayim, a little known mitzvah, my entire life.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis explained that while medical research on animals is acceptable if it will save human lives, animals should not be subjected to pain during these experiments or be used in frivolous experimentation, like for cosmetic testing. In terms of consumption, Professor Richard Schwartz notes that although “Judaism forbids tsa’ar ba’alei chayim, inflicting unnecessary pain on animals, today most farm animals – including those raised for kosher consumers — are raised on ‘”factory farms”’ where they live in cramped, confined spaces and are often drugged, mutilated . . . and denied fresh air, sunlight, exercise and any enjoyment of life before they are slaughtered and eaten.” I am, therefore, inclined to believe that consuming an animal that has been made to suffer is not keeping kosher. Rabbi David N. Young is quoted in The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic as explaining:
God commanded Adam and Eve to be vegetarians. That was what God wanted for our dietary practices. God commanded Noah to eat whatever he wanted, as long as it was dead. That is what humans want for our own dietary practices —unrestrained omnivorism. In ultimate wisdom, God offered a compromise: God commanded Moses concerning prohibited and permitted meats and forbade boiling a kid in its mother’s milk. These were developed and evolved by the Rabbis of the Talmud into the dietary laws called kashrut. If we are able to live by this compromise, that is wonderful. If we are able to live closer to what God wants and go vegetarian, even better.
There is another phrase that I feel goes hand-in-hand with tza’ar ba’alei chayim and that is shomrei adamah. According to an article on My Jewish Learning humanity is charged with the task of protection and renewal of the earth, “[w]e are told very early on in our Jewish history of the importance of ruling over our lands responsibly, of tilling and tending to them as shomrei adamah, guardians of the land.” It is a natural extension to think that includes all of the living things on earth and this extension is clear from several passages in the Torah. In 2007 the Union for Reform Judaism adapted from Edith Samuel’s Your Jewish Lexicon an installment of 10 Minutes of Torah that directly addresses these mandates:
The Torah shows exquisite sensitivity to the feelings of animals —sensitivity rare in the ancient world. On the Sabbath, domestic animals as well as human beings must rest (Exodus 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:14). Deuteronomy 25:4 prohibits the muzzling of an ox while it is threshing (it may want to eat). An animal may not be slaughtered on the same day as its young (Leviticus 22:28). Before the days of tractor, farmers were forbidden to plow with an ox and an ass yoked together (the ox, being larger, might cause pain to its smaller partner). Deuteronomy 22 spells out additional injunctions for Jews living an agrarian life: If you see an ox or an ass collapsed on the road under its burden, you must help it get on its feet; if you find a stray sheep or ox, you must return it to its owner or, if the owner is unknown, you must care for it until the owner claims it.
The Rabbis of the Talmud and of later generations went even further: Jews were enjoined never to sit down to eat before their animals had been fed; they were prohibited from buying an animal unless they could afford to feed it; and hunting for sheer sport is brutally cruel and hence forbidden to Jews. Slaughtering animals for food must be done as quickly and as painlessly as possible to avoid unnecessary or prolonged torment for the animal. In Modern Hebrew, tsa’ar ba-alei chayim is refers to the mitzvah of the “prevention of cruelty to animals.”
Further, Judaism101 notes:
In the Bible, those who care for animals are heroes, while those who hunt animals are villains. Jacob, Moses and King David were all shepherds, people who cared for animals (Gen. 30, Ex. 31, I Sam. 17). A traditional story tells that Moses was chosen for his mission because of his skill in caring for animals. “The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said ‘Since you are merciful to the flock of a human being, you shall be the shepherd of My flock, Israel.'” Likewise Rebecca was chosen as a wife for Isaac because of her kindness to animals. When Abraham’s servant asked for water for himself, she volunteered to water his camels as well, and thereby proved herself a worthy wife (Gen. 24).
Tza’ar ba’alei chayim really seems rooted in one of my favorite (and sometimes most difficult) things about Judaism: thoughtfulness. You are encouraged to think beyond yourself even about things that may make you uncomfortable or may create difficulties. Sure, it is easier to live in ignorance and to lead your busy life day to day as best you can, but it is much more meaningful to make time to think about your life and how your actions affect others. Tza’ar ba’alei chayim also goes hand-in-hand with tikkun olam, the call to repair the world through social action, and with another of my favorites, chesed, loving-kindness.
So in furtherance of this mitzvah I have decided to share my favorite cruelty free products and I welcome any and all comments and suggestions you may have on this topic.
While fully recognizing the Jews don’t have a patent on humane living, but simply because the lessons here stem from Jewish teachings and values, I encourage everyone to be a little more Jewish on this issue.