Simon Jackson
Legal Advisor to Torah Mitzion


– Jewish Law in the Debates of the Knesset –

At the time the draft Wildlife Protection Bill was debated in the Knesset (1955), several MKs voiced their displeasure at the fact that the bill, although beneficial in what it did prohibit, did not go far enough – in that it failed to prohibit the hunting of animals for sport, entertainment and pleasure.

On the first reading of the bill, MKs Zerach Werhaftig and Eliyahu-Moshe Gonachovsky, both members of HaPoel HaMizrachi, cited sources to illustrate how the hunting of animals as a pastime is antithetical to the Torah’s outlook.

MK Werhaftig stated:

“I object to the permit that this law gives to the hunting of wild animals for entertainment or sport, and my objection stems from the traditional Jewish opposition to hunting…

To illustrate this, I will cite from one of the later responsa, the ruling given by the “Noda BiYehuda,” who, when questioned whether a Jew was permitted to engage in hunting or not, analyzes all the possibilities in his responsum, both in terms of the suffering caused to the animals (tza’ar ba’alei haim), as well as in terms of the law against wanton destruction (bal tashchit), and he arrives at the following conclusion:

It is true that in case of human need, no account need be taken of tza’ar ba’alei haim, because Judaism considers that man is the center of the creation, and he is given free reign over the animal kingdom for his needs, but only for his needs, where required. It is always necessary to measure the proportion between the human need factor and the suffering caused to the animal. In general, if it is necessary in order to preserve the human species, for food, the animal may be killed… But it is forbidden to exceed this permit, for the sake of pleasure… In our tradition we do not find any Jewish hunters, and if any huntsmen are found in the Torah – Nimrod and Eisav – they were not Jewish; for it is not a Jewish quality to be a hunter purely as a pastime or for sport…

And the “Noda BiYehuda” therefore writes that, even if, from the legal viewpoint, it can be argued whether to hunt is permissible or prohibited, this is not a trait of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov; ‘for how can a Jew put to death an animal, for no purpose other than to wile away his time in the pursuit of hunting… Anyone who listens to me will remain in the tranquility of his home, and will not waste his time in such pursuits.’”

This last point of the “Noda BiYehuda” was echoed by MK Ganochovsky as well:

“I think that the Minister of Agriculture needs to attend to the destruction of dangerous animals, but he also needs to fight against the sport, against the pastime of hunting animals. We need to provide the nation with different kinds of pastime…”

Afterwards, on the second and third reading, HaPoel HaMizrachi MK Michael Chazani, submitted a list of reservations to the wording of the law, with the aim of prohibiting the hunting of wild animals entirely, save where dangerous, or where hunting would further scientific goals, or where the animal is spreading contagious diseases. He, too, relied on Jewish tradition, and noted that Jews have never been engaged in hunting, and always regarded such pastimes as the characteristic of the wicked Esav:

“One of the distinguishing characteristics which has historically shaped the spiritual and ethical image of our people… as noted by the Education Minister, is the compassion and sensitivity towards causing suffering to animals. The people of Israel, or the Jews, are a merciful people, and Jews always educated themselves and their children to this ideal – eschewing cruelty to human beings and to animals, and despising hunting as an occupation, and certainly as a sport and a pastime.

It seems to me true to say that Jews have engaged in every profession to which they only had access… including the Army as a profession, as hired soldiers. But Jews have never engaged in hunting, neither when they lived in Israel and certainly not when in the exile. The Jew always regarded hunting as the work of Esav, of Edom, “for game (tzayid) was in his mouth.” If a Jewish child wished to imagine Esav, he would depict him as the epitome of the gentile huntsman, of ruddy complexion, with a feather in his cap and a gun on his shoulders, carrying a chain of rabbits and hares dripping with blood around his waist. The same was true for Esav’s descendants.”

The reservations of MK Chazani were not accepted (by a small majority), and the bill thus became law, without outlawing the pastime of hunting for hunting’s sake.

Some nine years later, in 1963, a private members bill was introduced by MK Shlomo Lorenz of the “Agudat Yisrael” party. This bill aimed to amend the Wildlife Protection Law and to outlaw hunting for the sake of entertainment and sport as being “against the law of the Jewish People, against tradition and the Jewish ethos, injurious to nature conservation, and (by virtue of the noise caused by the shots) a disturbance to rest.”

MK Lorenz pointed out to the Knesset that the Wildlife Protection Law was merely a Hebrew translation of the English Law, but was not “Jewish” or “Hebrew” in content. He focused on the unique traits of the Jewish People: “compassion, reserve and piety” (citing Yevamot 79), and noted that however far Jews strayed from the fold throughout the generations they never lost these three traits – and in particular the first.

Section 4(b) of the Law prohibited a person to hunt by shooting in a manner “likely to cause damage to electricity, telephone and telegraph wires.” All the more so, argued MK Lorenz, that we should prohibit “shots which are likely to injure those hidden wires which constitute the character traits of the Hebrew nation.”

“We must uproot the notion that murder, even the killing of an animal or bird, can be entertaining; that the affliction of others can generate happiness and pleasure… I urge the Knesset to approve the draft legislation, not only for the protection of wildlife, but also, and mainly, for the protection of man to ensure that he does not become wild himself.”

Sadly, MK Lorenz’s proposal to transfer the draft bill to committee for deliberation was not accepted.