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Home » Animal Rights, Toldot

Toldot: Hunting is not a Jewish Sport

Submitted by on November 12, 2017 – 8:17 amNo Comment | 3,415 views

Although hunting is not as common as it used to be, it remains a popular sport around the world. This essay explores why hunting has never been considered a Jewish sport.


A Jew once asked Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, the 18th century chief rabbi of Cracow, whether hunting is permissible. Rabbi Landau replied that even if it were permitted, hunting is certainly not a Jewish sport.

In the Torah we meet two hunters. One was Nimrod, who inspired the Tower of Babel and incited the entire world to rebellion against G-d, the other was Esau, the archetype of wickedness and evil. Nimrod was a master hunter who was never outfoxed and never missed. However, Esau challenged Nimrod to a duel and won. With victory came the spoils. Esau claimed Nimrod’s awesome hunting robe.

It turns out that Nimrod was not quite the hunter / warrior he made himself out to be. He was average at best. His secret weapon was his hunting robe. This was a special robe that Nimrod had stolen from his ancestor, who had inherited it from Adam. This was the garment fashioned by G-d for Adam after he and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit and grew ashamed of their nakedness.

The divinely made robe, designed to guard the human from temptation, was employed by Nimrod to protect him during the hunt. Esau challenged Nimrod to a duel but stipulated that NImrod remove the robe. Nimrod, whose ego was on the line, removed the robe, whereupon Esau overwhelmed Nimrod and inherited the robe.

Esau returned home and found Jacob cooking lentil soup. Esau demanded some soup and Jacob offered to sell it in return for Esau’s birthright. As the firstborn, Esau would have the right to worship in G-d’s temple when it would be built. Esau replied, I know I will die one day, why would I need the birthright? And he sold the birthright to Jacob.

Why did Esau believe he would die? Some of our sages explained that Esau knew hunting is a dangerous sport and that if he kept it up, he would die. It had now come full circle. The robe that was meant to protect Adam from temptation, was used by Esau to jump right into temptation.[1]

The distasteful nature of this narrative impresses two things upon us, concluded Rabbi Landau. A, hunting is for Nimrod and Esau,; inot a sport for a good Jew. B, hunting can be a dangerous sport that requires protection. In other words, it is morally distasteful, if not outright forbidden.

It is forbidden to deliberately place ourselves in the path of danger. Hunting requires that one wander deep into the jungle and contend with wild animals as well as other armed hunters inclined to shoot at anything that moves.[2] This places one in the path of danger, which is forbidden unless it is necessary.

When we have no choice, and must traverse a forest or other form of dangerous travel to get to where we must go for purposes of business or for a Mitzvah, we chant a blessing of gratitude to G-d upon arrival. This blessing indicates that we have placed ourselves in danger and are grateful to have escaped unscathed. It is forbidden to place ourselves in danger needlessly and hunting is a needless sport.

The Sport

in fact, to call it a sport is a terrible abuse of the word. Hunting is not a sport. It is the height of cruelty. What has the animal done to the hunter and why does it deserve to be hunted? Why must the animal be placed in danger, be riddled with anxiety as it tries to escape, or suffer pain as it is wounded, only to remain crippled for the rest of its life?

If the animal is killed, it is an even greater tragedy. What purpose does his death serve? If we were hungry and killed the animal for food, we can excuse the killing. The Torah does permit the use of the world’s resources for human need. Even so, there are cleaner and less painful ways to die than to be shot in the stomach and bleed out.

When the Besht was a young man, he supported himself by serving as a ritual slaughterer of cattle. When he relocated, he was replaced by another ritual slaughterer. The Ukrainian man who assisted the Besht also assisted his successor. When he saw the successor sharpen his slaughtering knife on a stone, he called out, is that how you sharpen your knife? Your predecessor would cry over his knife until the acidic tears would sharpen the blade.

When we slaughter an animal for food, we must be sensitive to the pain we cause. Yet, when it comes to hunting, many hunters cut off the head or the horns and hang them up as trophies of their prowess.

What kind of prowess is it to measure up against a defenseless animal with a superior weapon? It is cowardice not prowess. It is cruelty, not sport. The hunter is bored, so the animal suffers! The Torah prohibits causing any kind of undue pain to animals, yet the hunter makes the animal run for its life and then hunts it down with a high-powered rifle. Shameful!

Torah has a firm ethic against the wanton destruction and the wasting of G-d’s created resources. Rabbi Sholom Ber Schneerson, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe once strolled with his son in the fields while discussing a complex matter of Chassidic thought. His son, who would one day succeed him as Rebbe, absentmindedly plucked a weed and began to tear it to pieces as he strolled and listened.

His father rebuked him for his careless destruction of life. This was just a leaf, not an animal. Even vegetarians who won’t eat meat, have no compunctions about eating vegetables. The Torah exhorts us against wasting anything that G-d created. If it is for food, we are permitted even meat so long as we do so with sensitivity to the animal that sacrificed its life. But if it is not for a particular need, if it is just absentminded, what right do we have to destroy something that pulsates with life?

The Torah does not even give us the right to step on the pavement unless we are thinking worthwhile thoughts of Torah. Otherwise, what gives us the right to step on G-d’s creation? If we step on it in the course of serving G-d, then the pavement joins us in the service of G-d. But if we step on it for our own pleasure, we have no right to tread.[3]

This is the sensitivity that Torah expects us to have toward G-d’s world. Imagine the hunter, who wantonly maims or kills a perfectly good animal, just to entertain himself. And when he shoots it on his first try, his admirers cheer him and encourage him to take a trophy. A trophy that says, here is a bore that kills and maims others, to amuse himself.

This is why hunting is not a Jewish sport.[4]

[1] See Genesis 10:9, 25:27 and 32. See ibn Izra and Kli Yakar ad loc. see also Bereishis Rabbah 63:12-13 and 65:16.

[2] in fact, Cain was killed by his descendant Lemech, who was out hunting and mistook his great grandfather’s motion in the distance for that a wild animal. Rashi genesis 3:23.

[3] Hayom Yom 7 Adar II.

[4] This essay is based on NOdah Biyehudah mahadura Tinyana, YD, 10 and on Sichos Kodesh, 15 Shevat 5732.