Rabbi Dedicates Sermon to Westminster Dog Show 2011

ap_westminster_1_nt_110216_ssh.jpgThe 135th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show ended Tuesday night in New York City. It culminated in Scottish deerhound Hickory's triumphant Best in Show win at Madison Square Garden.

First The Humor

The other day I saw two dogs walk over to a parking meter. One of them says to the other, "How do you like that? Pay toilets!" —Dave Starr

Life is like a dogsled team. If you ain't the lead dog, the scenery never changes. —Lewis Grizzard

Now The Serious: Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim: Cruelty to Animals

Judaism places great stress on proper treatment of animals. Unnecessary cruelty to animals is strictly forbidden, and in many cases, animals are accorded the same sensitivity as human beings.

The primary principle behind the treatment of animals in Jewish law is preventing tza'ar ba'alei chayim, the suffering of living creatures.

Judaism has always recognized the link between the way a person treats animals and the way a person treats human beings.

A person who is cruel to a defenseless animal will undoubtedly be cruel to defenseless people. Modern psychology confirms this understanding, with many studies finding a relationship between childhood animal cruelty and adult criminal violence.

Sadly, the converse is not always true, and those who love animals do not always value human life: Hitler loved animals; the animal rights group PETA wrote a letter to Arafat telling him, when he blows up a bus full of Israelis, could he please not hurt a donkey to do it.

In the Torah, humanity is given dominion over animals (Gen. 1:26), which gives us the right to use animals for legitimate needs. Animal flesh can be consumed for food; animal skins can be used for clothing. The Torah itself must be written on parchment (animal hides), as must mezuzah scrolls, and tefillin must be made out of leather.

However, dominion does not give us the right to cause indiscriminate pain and destruction.

We are permitted to use animals in this way only when there is a genuine, legitimate need, and we must do so in the manner that causes the animal the least suffering. Kosher slaughtering is designed to be as fast and painless as possible, and if anything occurs that might cause pain (such as a nick in the slaughtering knife or a delay in the cutting), the flesh may not be consumed. Hunting for sport is strictly prohibited, and hunting and trapping for legitimate needs is permissible only when it is done in the least painful way possible.

Under Jewish law, animals have some of the same rights as humans do.

Animals rest on Shabbat, as humans do (Ex. 20:10). We are forbidden to muzzle an ox to prevent it from eating while it is working in the field (Deut. 25:4), just as we must allow human workers to eat from the produce they are harvesting (Deut. 23:25-26). Animals can partake of the produce from fields lying fallow during the sabbatical year (Ex. 23:11).

The dog is famed for his loyalty to his master, in rabbinic literature there is ample evidence testifying to the friendship and faithfulness of the dog toward its master. 

A fascinating story is told in the Talmud in which we learn that a number of shepherds were preparing curdled milk for a meal when suddenly they were called away. In their absence a serpent tasted the milk and in the process injected some poison into the milk. The dog who was standing by realized what had happened and he began barking incessantly. 

When the shepherds returned they ignored the barking of the dog and were about to partake of the milk when the animal quickly fell upon the food, ate it, and promptly dropped dead. The shepherds were so grateful to their dog that they erected a monument over its grave and called it Nafsha d’kalba, the dog’s monument. (Talmud Yerushalmi)

A Final a word from our moralists

The story is told that a pious person once passed by a carcass of a dog. His disciples said to him, “How dreadful does this carcass smell.” The master replied, “How white are its teeth.” The pupils then regretted the disparaging remark they had made concerning the dog. 

If it is reprehensible to make a disparaging remark about a dead dog, how much more so concerning a living human being and if it is proper to praise a dog’s carcass for the whiteness of its teeth, how much more so is it a duty not to speak evil of anyone but to speak good so that it becomes a natural habit.