Rabbi Moshe Spetter
Former Rosh Kollel in Washington (2000-2003)


In memory of my father and teacher Dov ben Moshe, hareini kaparat mishkavo

How does Judaism address the issue of raising animals? Noach saved all the animals – both the tehorim (“pure” – i.e. kosher) and non-tehorim – from the floodwaters. Did he do so in order to ensure humanity’s continued existence? Or, did HaKadosh Baruch Hu command Noach to save the animals because animals have their own intrinsic value?

In this article, we will discuss whether or not one may feed animals on Shabbat as well as related principles of animal treatment.

The Gemara (BT Brachot 40a) states:

“For Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav, ‘It is forbidden for a person to eat before he gives food to his animal, as it is said: “And I will provide grass in the field for your cattle,” and then “and you will eat and be satisfied.” (Devarim 11:15)’”

In other words, animal consumption is mentioned before human consumption. The Gemara concludes lihalachah that if someone recited the bracha (blessing) of HaMotzi and then wanted to feed his cattle before taking a bite of bread, he does not need to recite the bracha a second time. This halacha is based on the idea that feeding the animals is what enables a person to eat. (See Shulchan Aruch – Orach Chayim 167.) Thus, the Torah and Chazal ruled that a person must feed his animals before beginning his own meal.

In the Mishnah (Masechet Shabbat 24:3), we learn:

“And one may not place water before bees or before doves in a dovecote, but one may place [water] in front of geese and chickens and Herodian pigeons [i.e. domesticated pigeons. They were known as Herodian pigeons, because King Herod raised pigeons.]”

The Gemara (BT Shabbat 155b) explains how bees and doves differ from geese and chickens. For the latter, mezonotam alecha (literally, their food is dependent on you), and therefore, they may be fed on Shabbat. However, with respect to the former, mezonotam alecha does not apply, and hence, one may not feed them on Shabbat.

Mezonotam alecha can be understood in several ways:

According to the Levush (Rav Mordechai Yoffe, 1530-1612), one may only provide food for his own animals – in other words, those specific animals which he is responsible to feed.

In contrast, the Magen Avraham (Rav Avraham Gombiner, 17th century) opines that one may feed any animal which people normally feed. His view is based on the Gemara (BT Shabbat 155b) which states that HaKadosh Baruch Hu has mercy:

“On a dog because its food is meager.”

This Gemara implies that there is a mitzvah to feed a dog – and any other hungry animal – on Shabbat.

Finally, the Ran (Rabbenu Nissim M’Girona, 14th century, Spain) holds that the prohibition against feeding animals for which mezonotam alecha does not apply only refers to ubiquitous and prevalent foods. However, a food that is not widely available can even be given to animals for which mezonotam alecha does not apply.

What is the essence of the prohibition against feeding animals on Shabbat?

The Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 21) explains that the prohibition is due to the concern that someone may come to crush legumes or grind flour – in other words, to prevent potential chilul Shabbat when preparing the food.

Meanwhile, Rashi suggests that the prohibition is a way of preventing extra tirchah (bother and effort) on Shabbat.

Both the Aruch HaShulchan and the Mishnah Brurah (324) rule that one may feed those animals which are accustomed to being fed – even if the person himself is not the animals’ owner. However, when food is readily available, one may not put oneself out by feeding animals which are capable of helping themselves. The Aruch HaShulchan states:

“Any animal which I know is hungry – there is a mitzvah to feed it even on Shabbat, because it says, ‘And His mercies are on all His works.’ (Tehillim 145:9)”

Thus, one who raises animals is responsible for their nourishment – both on Shabbat and during the week. Furthermore, we are all obligated to show concern for animals, just as HaKadosh Baruch Hu has mercy “on all His works.” This obligation broadens the scope of the mitzvah to include each and every hungry animal.