God blesses man after creating him, and gives him the power to rule over all the animals:
“God blessed them, and God said to them: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land and conquer it, and rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens, and over the creatures that swarm upon the earth” (Bereishit 1:28).
What is it that allows man to rule over animals? Are there any limitations on our treatment of animals?
Rabbi Yehezkel Landa (1713-1793), the Rabbi of Prague, known by the name of his work “Noda Bi-Yehuda”, was asked whether it is permissible to hunt animals as a hobby. Clearly, if an animal is shot – even a species of animal that is kosher to start off with – the corpse is considered a “nevela” (if it died immediately) or a “tereifa” (if it was injured), such that it is not fit for Jewish consumption.
The question was worded as follows: “A person whom God blesses with an expansive estate, and he has villages and forests, and in the forests live all kinds of forest animals – is it permissible for him personally to go about and shoot with a gun, to hunt, or is it forbidden for a Jew to do this?”
In his answer, the Noda Bi-Yehuda brings two possible reasons for prohibiting such hunting, and rejects both:
Causing suffering to animals: killing animals is not considered “causing suffering”. The prohibition involves causing suffering to an animal while it is alive.
a. The prohibition against needless destruction applies only to property that belongs to someone. In this case, we are talking about wild animals. [Possibly today, with much greater public awareness of environmental and animal-related issues, wild animals should be considered public property. It is certainly forbidden today to hunt species of animals that are protected by law.]
b. The prohibition against needless destruction applies only when there is no benefit to man as a result of the destruction. In this case, the hunter may use the skins, and so the act does not fall into the category of needless destruction.
Although he maintains that neither of the above considerations makes for a prohibition, the Noda Bi-Yehuda adds: “However, I am most surprised at the very question. For the only hunters we find in the Torah are Nimrod and Esav; this is not the way of the children of Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov. But if someone has a need for this and makes his living from it, then there is no issue of cruelty involved: after all, animals and birds are slaughtered, and fish caught, for man’s benefit, and what is the difference between his slaughter of kosher animals for their flesh to be eaten, and killing of non-kosher animals to make a living? But if his main intention is not to make a living, then it is cruelty.”
Thus, man is permitted to kill animals for the sake of making a living, but he may not be cruel and kill animals purely for entertainment. Hunting for pleasure is a form of cruelty, and destroys a person’s inner qualities and traits.
Further on, the Noda Bi-Yehuda writes that it is forbidden to hunt because going into the forest for the purposes of hunting involves mortal danger. The Torah permits a person to endanger himself to some extent in the interests of sustaining himself and making a living, “but someone whose main intention is not to sustain himself, and it is out of his heart’s desires that he goes to a place where wild animals gather, and he places himself in danger – such a person transgresses the commandment, “You shall carefully guard your lives” (Noda Bi-Yehuda Tanina, Yoreh De’a siman 10).
From the above we learn that hunting to make a living is permissible, but hunting for pleasure is not. The Torah permits us to make use of animals – even to kill them – for our needs, but not to be cruel towards them for no reason. Also, we learn that a person is permitted to endanger himself to some extent for the sake of making a living, but he may not endanger himself in the name of entertainment and pleasure.