More than two-thirds of American households own a dog, cat, bird or other companion animal, according to a recent survey by the nonprofit American Pet Products Association. Yet we often hear of pets being abused by their owners. This week's clergy discuss how Scriptures and traditions view mistreatment of animals.
Hindu representative, Long Island Multi-Faith Forum
Do animals have souls? Yes, say the Hindu scriptures. Every living being, from the animals down to the insects and tiny organisms, possesses a soul. The scriptures classify all living beings into three kinds: those born from seeds and sprouts, those born from eggs, and those born from a womb.
The vast majority of Hinduism's leading traditions regard the ethical treatment of animals as fundamental to the core Hindu belief that the divine exists in all living beings, human and nonhuman, that the whole world is one family. Animals and plants are not regarded as mere objects for wanton human use and consumption in the Hindu tradition. Because they are equally embodied with the existence of the divine, they are fully deserving of respect and human compassion.
Observing the Hindu philosophy of karma, worldliness and nonviolence, vegetarianism is a common practice among many followers of Hinduism. The cow is greatly revered and regarded as sacred by Hindus. It has been a tradition in Hinduism not to slaughter cattle that are past their prime. Instead, they are allowed to die naturally. All life is interconnected and serves its unique purpose in the world. Ultimately, there are serious karmic repercussions for taking an innocent life, causing unnecessary suffering or pain to another life form. Hindus consider compassion for animals one of the highest virtues.
Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen
Chabad at Stony Brook
Some of the worst abuse of animals was (and still is) carried out in the name of sport. It was only in the 19th century that laws were passed forbidding cruelty to animals.
The Torah tells us that God gives man the right to kill animals for food. At the same time, he gave strict rules that the animal should be treated with the least amount of pain and as humanely as possible. Indeed, 3,330 years ago the Torah laid down a whole set of laws against causing unnecessary pain to animals.
The Torah says that animals belonging to Jews must not work on Shabbat; they, too, are given one day's rest every week. The Torah requires one to help unload an overburdened pack animal as quickly as possible. An ox and a donkey may not be harnessed together to pull a plow. (One of the reasons for it is that they are of unequal strength, and one of them is likely to have to work harder than the other.) And it’s prohibited to slaughter a mother and its calf on the same day. One of the reasons for this commandment is to prevent slaughtering the calf in the presence of its mother, which would be very cruel.
In the Talmud, the laws against animal cruelty are treated in detail, and our sages often emphasize how considerate and kind human beings must be toward animals, in keeping with the ways of God, of whom it is written, "His mercies extend to all His creatures" (Psalms 145:9).
Anu Jain of Jericho
Executive board member, Jain Center of America in Elmhurst, Queens
The main teaching of Jainism is ahimsa, or nonviolence. Jains believe that all forms of life are sacred, regardless of faith, race or species. Basic Jain teaching tells us not to injure, abuse, enslave, insult, torture or kill any creature or living being.
The principle of ahimsa affects the life of a Jain in a number of ways. Jains are not allowed to work in a slaughterhouse and circus. Because ahimsa is a positive concept for a Jain, we work for kindness toward animals. The principle of ahimsa also affects diet. All Jains are strictly lacto-vegetarian; they do not eat any form of meat, fish and eggs. This is because we believe that meat products involve violence and cruelty to animals. Animals feel the pain because they have a soul and consciousness. They wish to live as much as we do; they too have emotions. They love, feel passion and fear death. Their instinct for life is no less than ours, their right to live is as important as ours.
The Jain religion has 24 great liberators, all associated with animals, confirming that in Jainism the place of animals is central. According to Jain teachings, love is not love if it does not include love of animals. The ultimate belief is founded on the question: What kind of compassion adores and reveres human life, but ignores the slaughter of animals?