When the new era began after the flood, God told No’ach and his family, “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth, and the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth…” (Gen. 9:1-2).
What this passage reiterates is that though the animal kingdom must be treated with respect and compassion, man is a higher species.
The point had already been established at the time of Creation, when man was granted “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth” (Gen. 1:26-28).
This avoids two extremes which are both found in the modern world.
The one is the view of Pius IX who would not allow an SPCA in Rome and said it was “a theological error to believe that man has any duty towards animals”.
The other is the approach of some animal liberationists who insist on animal rights whilst not always defending human rights; they “sacrifice men but kiss calves” (Hosea 13:2).
Judaism neither idolises animals nor abhors them. It teaches that whilst all are part of God’s creation, man is a higher species with soul, conscience and reason and entitled to use the animal and plant kingdoms in his service.
Animals may be used for man’s benefit, but their use must be limited and controlled, for the animal’s benefit.
Animals must not be used or treated roughly. They must be respected and indeed Jewish teaching insists that we feed our animals before we feed ourselves. And if animal experimentation is carried out for the benefit of human medical science, there must be controls and a sense of conscience.
We would tend to agree with Albert Schweitzer, who said, “Those who experiment with operations or the use of drugs upon animals, or inoculate them with diseases, so as to be able to help mankind with the results gained, must never quiet any misgivings they feel with the general reflection that their gruesome proceedings aim at a valuable result.
“They must first have considered in each individual case whether there is a real necessity to force upon any animal this sacrifice for the sake of mankind, and they must take the most careful pains to ensure that the pain inflicted is made as small as possible.”