My favorite religious teaching: Feeding your animals in Jewish practice

Even “militant” atheists like me can acknowledge when religion gets something morally right. Despite our view that religion is dangerous and detrimental to the progress of our species and our planet, sometimes religion does something that makes my heart warm. This is a rare feat for religion to accomplish. I think we need to continuously remind ourselves that within the clutter of terror, bigotry, and ignorance espoused by religion, there are sometimes little pieces of moral greatness. (This is not to say that these are strictly the domain of religion).

When I was 18 I moved in with my Jewish Israeli girlfriend. (Another post on that in the future, I’m sure). While living in sin we adopted a cat. And when it came supper time she taught me an old Jewish tradition gleaned from the Talmud:

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: It is forbidden to eat before feeding one’s animal, as it says, “I will give grass in thy fields for thy cattle, and then, thou shalt eat and be satisfied” (Deuteronomy 11).

This teaching, based on Deuteronomy, gets to the heart of the welfare of our companion animals (even though the bible is chock full of animal cruelty and sacrifice). It’s difficult to imagine, sometimes, that a religion known for its horrendous kosher laws can also provide us with a perfect form of animal welfare moralism that still stands to this day. 

It is indeed a mitzvah to make sure the animals in your care are taken care of, even if this means you go hungry for the night. I remember once during a rough semester as an undergrad living on ramen for an entire month just so I could afford to keep buying my cat his favorite (and expensive) wet cat food.

But Jewish teaching goes further. Judaism recognizes that animals feel physical and emotional pain. (I’ve met some Christians, like my grandfather, who claim animals are incapable of feeling pain, based on the teachings in Genesis). When it comes to feeding your animals, some Jewish leaders say you must give a portion of your meal to an animal who smells your food because it will ensure the animal does not feel hunger, although other Jewish sources suggest it is forbidden to feed animals food prepared for humans. Either way, sometimes it’s good to ignore kosher law and feed your dog what he wants.

These teachings about basic animal welfare are universal. While not the domain of Judaism or any religion alone, it’s nice to sometimes see religion going out of its way to show compassion towards animals whose survival and happiness depend on us. Keep this Jewish teaching in mind every time you come home from work famished and see your dog waiting for you by the door. Feed your animals first. Only then can you eat.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political scientist.
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25 Responses to My favorite religious teaching: Feeding your animals in Jewish practice

  1. History has proven the exceptional benefit that religion has upon the human race and the catastrophic effect of atheism attenuated by religion.

    On the other hand, the atheist cites the erroneous beliefs of a demented relative as proof that Christianity advocates animal cruelty.

    Dementia and propaganda are not rational responses to the facts of history and the true doctrines of Christianity.

    • Rayan Zehn says:

      I never said “Christianity advocates animal cruelty” or anything like it. I merely said my grandfather believed Genesis says animals don’t feel pain. He used to say, “God gave us animals as tools. When we needed food he said we can eat the animals. He wouldn’t tell us to eat animals if they could feel pain.” I didn’t mean to imply that was in the bible. It’s just his interpretation.

      Furthermore, this post is mainly about the Talmud and an awesome Jewish teaching, not the bible (except for Deuteronomy and a brief mention of animal cruelty and sacrifice, which is not debatable; it’s in there).

      • Zehn,

        Show the verse in Genesis that advocates cruelty to animals.

        You put on this great act that you question everything.

        Yet you don’t really.

        All you do is deny everything which is the atheist way.

      • Rayan Zehn says:

        Show me where I said Genesis advocates cruelty to animals.

      • Zehn,

        Here is you once again arguing with yourself and losing by claiming:

        “(I’ve met some Christians, like my grandfather, who claim animals are incapable of feeling pain, based on the teachings in Genesis).”

        You claim the goodness of the Talmud based on your ex-girlfriend, but claim the immorality of Christianity and the Bible based on your grandfather.

        Then here is you trying to play innocent when someone calls you on your habitual lying:

        “Show me where I said Genesis advocates cruelty to animals.”

        Of course, you are totally innocent and didn’t claim any such thing, you just used your supposedly (that is probably a lie, too) Jewish ex-girlfriend and your grandfather to shill for you.

        Atheist argumentation is truly despicable.

      • Rayan Zehn says:

        This is so fucking retarded! Seriously, SOM. You are a fucking idiot if you believe me saying “according to …” is the same as saying that statement is fact. The only fact is the according to bit.

        The news is full of stories about murder and rape. Does that mean the news anchors advocate murder and rape?

        Learn about the subjunctive mood. It’s basic language (Konjunktiv II in german is even better). That’s the way we speak. “According to SOM atheists believe everything happened all by itself.” That’s a factual statement. I’m not saying I believe everything happened all by itself or that I believe atheists believe that. It means you believe that. Fucking Christ man! You can’t really be that stupid, can you?

        I can handle a lot of stupidity. But basic baffling blunders about the simplest matters of communication and language are unforgivable.

        And yes, I’ve resorted to calling you names. That’s what I do when you act like a fucking retard.

        To end. I never said Genesis supports animal cruelty. Not even my grandfather did. He just claimed animals can’t feel pain because he believed god wouldn’t curse livestock with pain. Nowhere in there did I state a belief or make a claim other than to repeat what my grandfather said.

        Don’t be that stupid again.

      • Zehn,

        Clearly you used a Jew and a retard as shills for your own thoughts.

        In so doing you think you give yourself plausible deniability.

      • Rayan Zehn says:

        I sincerely hope one day you learn about basic logic and language. Until then, you will continue to make these errors in thinking, and that makes me very sad.

        Also, it appears telling that when I say something nice about a religion other than Christianity you get just as defensive as when I criticize Christianity. If I had said something nice about Christianity, you’d be very thrilled, I’m sure.

      • Zehn,

        I learned logic from the best: Aristotle, Plato and Saint Thomas Aquinas.

        Since they are the accepted authorities on logic and systematic thinking and you’ve never studied them in your life, guess who really has the problem with logic?

        Yes. That would be you.

        With regard to proper reasoning, this post is a complete disaster.

        With regard to atheist propaganda, it is only fair.

      • Rayan Zehn says:

        Before telling me what I have and have not studied, you should probably read through some of my posts. I think I’ve been clear enough about my education level and profession. Logic is a massive part of my job. I’ve even posted some of my published literature (including my real name) for public review.

      • Zehn,

        You can claim anything you want, but your posts demonstrate your utter rejection of reason and systematic thinking.

        You are leftist propagandist, and not a good one.

      • Rayan Zehn says:

        Ok. If you say so, although I’m hardly a leftist.

      • Zehn,

        If you voted for Barack Obama you are a leftist.

        If you support ObamaCare you are a leftist.

        If you believe in global warming you are a leftist.

        If you believe in alternative energy you are a leftist.

        Have I left anything out?

        You are a leftist even if you deny who and what you are.

      • Rayan Zehn says:

        To answer your question: I’ve never publicly stated any “belief” (I don’t have beliefs; I accept what the evidence suggests and ignore what it doesn’t) or support on this blog. I may be a political scientist, but that doesn’t mean I’m a politician. If you must know, during the last four election cycles, I voted for myself three times and my cat once. I call it anti-voting. It’s kind of juvenile, I know, but it’s a fun silent protest against politicians who don’t represent me.

      • Rayan Zehn says:

        Also, saying something in Judaism is good because it’s compassionate towards animals is not a “complete disaster” in reasoning. Your statement makes no sense whatsoever.

      • Zehn,

        The Jews and the Christians have the same beliefs regarding the stewardship of animals.

      • Rayan Zehn says:

        Although the Christians do not recognize the Talmud, it is acceptable to claim Christians follow the same teaching in Deuteronomy from which the Jews based this teaching. If you had claimed this at the beginning, it would’ve avoided this whole thing.

        I just really wish Jesus had said something about animals as awesome as what the Talmud and the Torah say. I understand the apologist position; Jesus was concerned with human suffering and salvation. But, from my perspective, it would’ve been an incredible teaching if Jesus had taken a few minutes out of his day to heal a suffering animal and say something like, “Treat your fellow man and woman better than I’ve treated this animal.” That would’ve been… wow. If that was in the bible, this post would’ve been about Jesus doing something great for animals.

      • Zehn,

        The book of Genesis, which the Jews and Christians shares, makes it crystal clear that man must be a good steward with regard to the Earth and its creatures.

  2. Pingback: My favorite religious teaching: Feeding your animals in Jewish practice | Christians Anonymous

  3. sumegoinvicte says:

    Great article.

    It’s also worth remembering that terror, bigotry, and ignorance are not strictly the domain of religion either.

    Here in the UK those acts are more often undertaken by non-religious people. The majority of people here are not practicing any religion and you only need to read the Daily Mail to see horrific bigotry and ignorance. If your not in the UK, it’s one of the biggest most popular newspapers here, known by any sensible human being as the Daily Bigot.

    If it wasn’t religion, people would find other things to justify their acts of terror, bigotry and ignorance. Religion is just convenient.

    • Rayan Zehn says:

      Yes you are correct. I run other blogs/vlogs as well, where I pay equal attention to other terror (etc)- inducing problems. In my opinion, which is all you’re paying me for (gotta be humble), we shouldn’t quit a campaign against something evil just because other evils exist.

      • sumegoinvicte says:

        Very true, an excellent point.

        Its always worth remembering that things are rarely black and white. For many religion does a lot of good. Granted it would be a lot better if it did no evil but then that could be said about most things.

  4. Ah yes, we too spend extra on cat food. We have to be picky about what we buy because one of our cats is allergic to chicken. To keep her healthy we buy special, expensive, cat food for both cats. It would be as cruel for us to buy her food that makes her sick as it would be to neglect feeding her.
    Of couse, both are cats eat before us too. Heck, they wake us up early to feed them. We sleep for another few hours while they eat :P.
    Great post btw.

    • Rayan Zehn says:

      My cat is a grazer. He eats dry food for about 30 seconds to a minute every half hour or so. But I’ll be damned (literally) if I don’t give him his favorite wet food everyday by 8am and 4pm (I suffer the same feline alarm clock you do). Daylight savings start and end really messes with me. When I go out of town for more than a day, I have to pay someone usually $20 a day to stop by and feed him twice. This is precisely why people say aliens would assume cats rule the earth and humans are their slaves.

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