Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Animals in Chassidut


There aren't too many frum Jews in Israel possessing pets. Some time ago I learnt that it is halachically forbidden to feed an animal on Shabbat, as this is Muktzeh. Or even the pet itself is Muktzeh. However, once you have a pet, you cannot just let it starve on Shabbat.

What I have noticed is that especially Israeli haredi (ultra - orthodox) kids are terribly afraid of animals. Many of them like to tease cats or even dogs but as soon as a dog fights back, they run. It looks, as if they don't know how to treat and deal with an animal because their society doesn't include pets or other animals. Those kids are even afraid of very friendly dogs who just pass by or maybe want to be touched.

Let us have a look what chassidic literature has to say about animals:

Belief in transmigration of souls (Reincarnations - "Gilgulim" in Hebrew) impelled the Chassidim to be extremely careful in dealing with animals. Rabbi Chaim Vital (the closest student of the Kabbalist, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 - 1572), in his "Sefer HaGilgulim", asserts that the souls of a deceased enter into animals, plants, and stones, as well as other humans. He maintained that "most of the people of our generation were incarnated in beats and cattle" (Sefer HaGilgulim, chapter 66).

The Besht (Baal Shem Tov), according to legend, encountered a frog that contained the soul of a learned Jew, who was compelled to be incarnated in that form because he had been careless about the Mitzvah of washing hands before eating bread (see "Shivtei HaBesht, page 49). His disciple, Rabbi Yaakov Joseph of Polonnoye, was prevented for two weeks from praying properly, because he had declared a correctly slaughtered goose to be treifah (unfit for consumption) when that goose had the soul of a Jew (see "Meirat Einayim, page 279). We are also told of the incarnation of a person into a horse in order to repay an old debt to a creditor. The Besht told this story in his commentary on Parashat Mishpatim.

The Besht, according to chassidic legend, was familiar with the language of the birds and beasts. He taught his disciple, Rabbi Aryeh Leib, to understand this language. As human beings are divided into categories of Jews and Gentiles, so animals, too, are divided into kosher and treifah (none - kosher) categories. The former draw their vital power from the "shell of radiance" (nogah), but the latter are held fast by "the other side" (Sitra Achra) - so the Alter Lubavitcher Rebbe in his "Tanya", chapter 7.

This distinction between "kosher" and "treifah" is generalized into a perpetual contest between the forces of G - d and Satan (among others, the Yetzer HaRah). In the course of the partaking of food, especially the flesh of living things, the Zaddik (Righteous) selects the Holy Sparks (Netzizot), which are captured by the shells and thereby reinforce the powers of holiness.

When G - d created the world, a certain amount of holy sparks fell down to earth and Jews have the task to elevate them into the upper worlds in order to cause a Tikun Olam (rectification of the world). The concept of the Netzizot - Holy Sparks was introduced by Rabbi Yitzchak Luria. It basically means that when G - d created the world, He created it imperfect and we have to turn the world into its perfection. How do we do this ? By doing Mitzvot, for instance.

Rabbi Elimelech of Lejansk, 1717 - 1786, wrote: Before washing hands in preparation for eating, one should pray, that no sin or strange thought prevent the unifications … that the taste one feels in the mouth when chewing the food is the holy essence and the holy sparks …

Rabbi Wolf of Zbarazh would not permit his driver to beat the horses. Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov, when he noticed that some cattle breeders had left their animals standing in the marketplace unattended, took a bucket of water and gave it to the calves to drink. "G - d commanded us, "he admonished the owners, to be merciful to His creatures".

"From the cat, we learn modesty," a chassidic Rabbi said. "From the ant, honesty; from the tiger, courage, from the lion, bravery; and from the eagle, diligence".



"The Encyclopedia of Hasidism" 
by Tzvi M. Rabinowicz


  1. Thanks for the article. I am an animal lover, and although I have been told the muktzeh bit it has always difficult for me. It is possible to put out enough food and water for dogs,but they do want to be walked and have some attention. I had always hoped that Hashem will not punish me for showing a bit of love and kindness to my 4-legged friends--but maybe I am doing a tikun.

  2. Animal being muktza is only one opinion, for many, it is not.

  3. I have two cats, rescued from the street. One was a relatively healthy 5-month old cat (now 1.5 years old), he was thrown outside by a family where he was living earlier. We adopted him after he was outside our house for a days.

    The second we adopted 6 weeks ago, a (then) very sick, nearly dead 2 month old kitten in horrible condition. Now she is a lot healthier, weighs 3 times as much I think, and a very happy little cat.

    I also do not consider them to be muktzeh. According to one Modern Orthodox rav, one could differentiate cats and dogs of old times from the current ones, because in old times, cats and dogs worked for humans - as rodcent control and watch dogs. Nowadays we do not need them to work for us, so they are not considered 'keilim' (tools), and therefore do not need to be considered muktzeh.

    I do also put food for them on shabbat when needed, they always get from the cholent, and at seudah shlishit they get cheese and egg. And I also take the big one for a walk every shabbat, often a few times, because on weekdays I do not have enough time for him; I make up on shabbat by taking him outside a lot.

    And the fact that I need to carry him and walk with him on a leash on shabbat is only the chareidim's fault. It is the chareidi kids who throw rocks at cats. Before we adopted him, kids from a yeshiva in the area caught him and put him in an oven. Just when they turned on the oven, an adult came by and scolded at them and threw the cat outside (instead of taking him home!). I know of cats that have had their tails cut off by chareidi kids, I know of a chassidishe boy who put gasoline on a cat's tail and lit it.

    And guess what... these are always the kids from the most fanatic religious families. From Breslov, from Satmar, real Litvaks, hardcore Mizrachim.

    It is one of the things that has really made me distance myself from these circles and become more like Modern Orthodox myself.

  4. B"H

    I have seen those kids and was wondering about their upbringing.

    A friend of mine found a two - week - old kitten on the rooftop of the neighbours. The cat had been laying there for at least 1 - 2 days. In the burning sun.

    My friend took it inside, washed it but the kitten, until today, doesn't know how to eat by herself. Then we found out that her eye is infected. In the meantime it is dried out and the kitten will soon have an operation. The vet said that he will do it as soon as possible but Kitty Cat has to get stronger first.

    The kitten is so happy now and has her own bed. She still has problems being fed but my friend went with her to the vet today and Kitty got new food. Now she likes it and hopefully will put on weight for the eye operation.

    If you know anyone for her:
    My friend is paying for all the procedures but cannot keep the cat. She simply has no time for a pet and we are looking for a loving home for Kitty.:-)

  5. I heard that in the old days Rebbes believed that dogs were the reincarnation of misnagdim; roshei yeshiva and other rabbonim.

    Mordechai of Kuzmir was known to know the language of the wolves. There was an incident in which him and his chassidim were surrounded by wolves on a sleigh ride, and he got out slowly and made friends. It's a whole story.

  6. B"H

    There actually used to be a famous incident a few years ago when the former high - ranking Edah HaCharedit Rabbi Me'ir Brandsdorfer z"l stated that a certain dog is a reincarnation.

    I also heard from a colleague of mine that a few years ago there was a dog running around in the Jerusalem Nachlaot neigbourhood. Every Shabbat he showed up for the Torah reading right outside the Synagogue and sat down to listen. Every single Shabbat the dog came for the Torah reading and people considered him as a reincarnation of a Jew who wants to listen to Torah.