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M8. Being Humane in Our Dominion over God's Creatures.    [Make a Comment]

We are to be humane in exercising our dominion over God's creatures.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scriptures

Genesis 1:26-28
Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, in the likeness of ourselves; and let them rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the animals, and over all the earth, and over every crawling creature that crawls on the earth." So God created humankind in his own image; in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them. God blessed them: God said to them, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the air and every living creature that crawls on the earth."

Exodus 20:9-10 (Maimonides RN320; Meir MN6; Chinuch C32)
You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for ADONAI your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work - not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property.

Exodus 23:5 (Maimonides RP202; Meir MP70; Chinuch C80)
If you see the donkey which belongs to someone who hates you lying down helpless under its load, you are not to pass him by but to go and help him free it.

Exodus 23:10-11 (Maimonides RP134; Meir ML20; Chinuch C84)
For six years, you are to sow your land with seed and gather in its harvest. But the seventh year, you are to let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor among your people can eat; and what they leave, the wild animals in the countryside can eat. Do the same with your vineyard and olive grove.

Exodus 23:12 (Meir MP20; Chinuch C85)
For six days, you are to work. But on the seventh day, you are to rest, so that your ox and donkey can rest, and your slave-girl's son and the foreigner be renewed.

Exodus 23:19 (Maimonides RN186; Meir MN91; Chinuch C92)
You are to bring the best firstfruits of your land into the house of ADONAI your God. You are not to boil a young animal in its mother's milk.

Exodus 34:26 (Maimonides RN187; Meir MN92; Chinuch C113)
You are to bring the best firstfruits of your land into the house of ADONAI your God. You are not to boil a young goat in its mother's milk.

Leviticus 22:28 (Maimonides RN101; Meir MN108; Chinuch C294)
However, no animal is to be slaughtered together with its young on the same day, neither cow nor ewe.

Deuteronomy 22:4 (Maimonides RN270; Meir MN183; Chinuch C540)
If you see your brother's donkey or ox collapsed on the road, you may not behave as if you hadn't seen it; you must help him get them up on their feet again.

Deuteronomy 22:6 (Maimonides RN306; Meir MN189; Chinuch C544)
If, as you are walking along, you happen to see a bird's nest in a tree or on the ground with chicks or eggs, and the mother bird is sitting on the chicks or the eggs, you are not to take the mother with the chicks.

Deuteronomy 22:7 (Maimonides RP148; Meir MP74; Chinuch C545)
You must let the mother go, but you may take the chicks for yourself; so that things will go well with you, and you will prolong your life.

Deuteronomy 22:10 (Maimonides RN218; Meir MN180; Chinuch C550)
You are not to plow with an ox and a donkey together.

Deuteronomy 25:4 (Maimonides RN219; Meir MN188; Chinuch C596)
You are not to muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.

Psalm 145:9
ADONAI is good to all; his compassion rests on all his creatures.

Proverbs 12:10
A righteous man takes care of his animal, but the wicked? Even his compassion is cruel.

Proverbs 27:23
Take care to know the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds.

Matthew 6:26a
Look at the birds flying about! They neither plant nor harvest, nor do they gather food into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

Luke 14:5
To them he said, "Which of you, if a son or an ox falls into a well, will hesitate to haul him out on Shabbat?"


This Mitzvah is derived from the above Scriptures that teach (specifically or impliedly) that we must have humane compassion for the animals of God's creation. Since acting cruelly is the opposite of acting humanely, this Mitzvah could have been expressed as "We are not to cruelly treat God's creatures over which we have dominion." The emphasis on "dominion" (KJV and NKJV) is important in order to clarify that our rule over God's created animals (as expressed in Genesis 1:26-28) is not without limits. We can use animals for our benefit (and may even slay them for appropriate and permitted reasons) but we are not to abuse them since they, as we, have feelings on varying levels of complexity. The most primitive of these feelings are pain, hunger, and procreative urges, but the higher forms of animals have other feelings as well that we call emotions. Although the relevance of each Scripture referenced above is, for the most part, clear on its face, I nevertheless offer the following explanatory comments:

Exodus 20:9-10 and 23:12 compassionately extend Sabbath rest to our livestock.

Exodus 23:5 requires that we help an enemy with his fallen animal, thereby showing compassion for both our enemy and for his animal. Deuteronomy 22:4 is similar and broader in applying, as well, to those who are not our enemies.

Exodus 23:10-11 commands that we not cultivate or harvest our land during the Sabbatical Year, so that those who are poor among us (as well as the wild animals in the countryside) can eat from that which grows of its own accord.

Exodus 23:19 and 34:26 both state that we must not boil a young goat in its mother's milk. Interpreting these Scriptures literally leads to the traditional rabbinic prohibition against mixing dairy foods with meat which, I contend, is not their intended meaning. Boiling (perhaps killing in the process) a baby animal using its mother's milk - milk intended for giving the young animal nourishment and life - is so perverted and inherently cruel a use of mother's milk as to cry out to us: "Do not treat the animals of God's creation inhumanely as do the heathens."

Leviticus 22:28 teaches that slaughtering an animal and her young on the same day is wrong. Why is it wrong? I believe it is because it shows a callous disregard of the parental relationship that is holy even among animals.

Deuteronomy 22:6-7 recognizes the probable maternal pain that a mother bird experiences when she sees her eggs or her young taken for our consumption. Releasing the mother bird first, spares her from witnessing the fate of her offspring, and frees her to bear other young to replace those that are lost.

Deuteronomy 22:10 reminds us that it is inhumane to yoke together, animals that pull with different strengths, because the stronger of them inevitably drag the weaker.

Deuteronomy 25:4 reminds us that it is inhumane to keep an animal from eating in a place where there is a visible and tempting abundance of food.

Although human beings are among God's "creatures", this Mitzvah is not intended to apply to human beings because humans do not have dominion over each other.

Classical Commentators

Notwithstanding the several mitzvot that are presented in support of this Mitzvah, "Being Humane in Our Dominion over God's Creatures" is not among the mitzvot published by Maimonides, Meir, or HaChinuch.


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