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March 4, 2014 1:40 pm

‘Jews Don’t Hunt’ – Mostly

avatar by Pauline Dubkin Yearwood /

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Two men hunting. Photo: Wiki Commons.“Jews don’t hunt.”

That’s a comforting statement to one who, like me, opposes hunting, even if it’s not strictly true. I understand that Allyson Schwartz, a Jewish congresswoman running for governor of Pennsylvania, is involved in an effort to end a ban on Sunday hunting, and that there are a few Jews joining the effort. That surprises me.

Conventional wisdom has it that Jews in the United States have never been part of the hunter population because they live primarily in urban areas where a “hunting culture” is lacking. I think it goes far beyond that.

Jews are specifically instructed not to cause pain to any animal in many places in the Torah, from “The righteous person regards the life of his animal” (Proverbs 12:10) to stories of Moses’s and King David’s compassionate treatment of animals, treatment that led to God deeming them suitable for leadership.

Judaism teaches that God is compassionate toward all creatures and that we are to emulate this compassion. Jews are called rachamanim b’nei rechamanim—compassionate children of compassionate ancestors.

Richard Schwartz, former president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America and one of the country’s leading experts on Judaism’s teachings toward animals, writes in his book “Who Stole My Religion?” that “throughout the ages, the rabbis have strongly disapproved of hunting as a sport. A Jew is permitted to capture animals only for purposes of human food or for what is considered an essential human need. But to destroy an animal for ‘sport’ constitutes wanton destruction and is to be condemned.”

Was there a time when humans needed to hunt animals in order to stay alive? Of course. But that’s no longer true. The vast majority of hunters do what they do for sport, not subsistence. And sport hunting goes against Jewish teachings in many ways, especially considering that many animals endure prolonged, painful deaths when they are injured but not killed by hunters.

Doesn’t sound too compassionate, does it? In fact, as reported by PETA and others, recent studies show that 10 percent of foxes shot by hunters are wounded but manage to escape; 11 percent of deer killed by hunters died only after being shot two or more times, and some wounded deer suffered for more than 15 minutes before dying. Another study found that more than three million ducks are wounded but go un-retrieved every year.

Hunting disrupts migration and hibernation patterns and puts ecosystems out of balance. If overpopulation in a location occurs, nature takes care of the problem through natural predation, ensuring that only healthy, strong animals survive. Hunters often kill these strong animals, destroying natural ecosystems.

There are humane alternatives to overpopulation, a rationale hunters often use for why they hunt. Sterilization and resource management techniques accomplish the goal without cruelty.

Of course, animals killed by hunting would not be considered kosher since they are not slaughtered according to kosher laws, which were designed to be more humane than traditional methods of killing animals.

I can’t say I feel sorry for an Orthodox Jew in Pennsylvania who, because he observes Shabbat and because his state has a Sunday hunting ban, has to go all weekend without firing a shot.

That must be a bit of good news for the animals in his vicinity.

Let’s hope that “Jews don’t hunt” continues to be true, on Sunday or any other day.

Pauline Dubkin Yearwood is Managing Editor of the Chicago Jewish News.

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  • David Shimshon Heller

    I agree, however it is true that most Jews don’t hunt because the early Jews that followed the Torah mostly lived in urban areas where shooting a bow and arrow would not be very practical. I believe most ancient Jews were also required to spend many hours reading/studying the Torah they simply did not have the time or inclination to hunt. I know in my family going back at least 400 – 500 years their is no known stories of anyone of them having ever hunted. However many Jews go fishing.

  • Josh First

    As the subject of this strange opinion piece, a response is due.
    1) Ms. Yearwood, can you explain why so many liberal Americans, and especially liberal American Jews, have become meddlesome busybodies? Why do you “oppose hunting”? If you do not want to hunt, fine, then don’t hunt. But when you insert yourself into other people’s lives, and demand that they cease doing something legal and quintessentially human, you create friction. It’s unnecessary and it damages America. Frankly, it also damages the American Jewish community, whose liberal activists create hatred toward every other Jew by average Americans who simply wish to live their lives without undue interference. Advocating for government coercion to achieve some bizarre policy goal is not sustainable; there will be a backlash.

    2) Don’t you think it is strange to quote “the Torah,” but then actually ignore the Torah? Merely asserting things like “Judaism teaches…”, and “Jews are specifically instructed…,” and then citing some secular or non-Torah source reveals a lack of depth and knowledge of the Torah. Many parshyot in the Torah clearly describe what kind of hunting and trapping are permitted to Jews, such as Acharei Mot: Any kosher animal may be hunted and eaten, so long as the blood is drained and covered with dirt. Clear as day, hunting is permitted.

    3) There is no such thing as “Jewish values.” That is a fake modern creation. There is only halacha, Judaism’s law based on the Bible/Torah, which defines the values from the Torah. Abortion on demand, gun control, animal rights, radical environmentalism, big invasive liberty-crushing government etc. are all values held dear by modern, assimilated, largely secular liberal Jews. But not one of these modern policies is rooted in the Torah, which in fact requires the opposite views.

    4) King David was a hunter. My Gemara Sanhedrin Chelek describes how King David hunted deer with a bow and arrow. All nobility hunted at the time, including Jewish nobility, as the Torah permits. King David may have been kind to some of the animals he herded (and ate), but he also hunted and ate other animals. If King David could hunt, we can all hunt.

    5) The story of Jacob and Eisav is one of the most confusing situations in the Torah. Many Jewish commentators note how strange it is that the conniving, lying, thieving, deceptive son Jacob was rewarded, when Isaac clearly loved Eisav more for obvious reasons. Isaac craved and eagerly ate Eisav’s hunted wild game, and openly respected his prowess as a manly outdoorsman. Seizing upon one attribute, a hunting skill valued by our patriarch Isaac, as a cause for hating Eisav makes no sense. This sort of superficiality has no place in serious halachic debate.

    6) Sport hunters do not waste the animals they kill. Every scrap of meat is eaten. The hides and heads are preserved. It appears you are only too eager to believe any bubba meise you hear, if it supports something you want. All of the animals I hunt are eaten, and their hides are utilized. Nothing is wasted. Same for every other hunter I know. Most states require the meat to be eaten.

    7) Quoting a radical extremist group like PETA is silly, don’t you think? None of PETA’s studies are real. They are fake. It’s like saying that 98% of people named Pauline are green. PETA’s goal is the elimination of hunting, trapping, fishing, and eating meat. PETA members do and say whatever they think they must to achieve their goal, including telling crazy lies and running about naked in public. Similarly, quoting the leader of some radical extremist vegetarian group likewise lacks persuasiveness, especially when he quotes a source that expressly allows hunting if the animal is eaten. Logic is eluding your arguments.

    8) Hunting and trapping are necessary wildlife management tools. Humans are just as much a predator as any lion, wolf, bear or lynx. Humans belong in “the ecosystem” just as much as any other living thing. The many deer we kill on our Tree Farms remove pressure on both our cash crops (soybeans and corn) and tree seedlings. Overabundant deer are a huge threat to healthy ecosystems, as are overabundant coyotes. American Indians never tolerated so many meals and warm nights running about on four legs, and neither should we. Hunting is natural.

    9) Don’t you find it odd that you are so opposed to hunting that you are actually pleased that a fellow American is discriminated against on religious grounds? You prefer to see someone’s Constitutional rights artificially, unjustifiably suppressed, over his ability to hunt. And that right there sums up your essay and your “Jewish” values.

    10) Pauline Dubkin Yearwood, Managing Editor of the Chicago Jewish News, don’t you think your essay is indicative of how far the profession of journalism has fallen? The vast majority of today’s “journalists” are extreme Left-wing political activists, who suppress facts that undermine their liberal positions or which damage liberal political figures they support. Like your deeply flawed essay here, most “reporters” are not objective reporters of all the facts and news. Like your own essay here, this bias is killing the media’s credibility.

    — Josh First, Harrisburg PA

    • Jonathan A.

      I couldn’t help but smile as I read this. I think many anti-hunters might be persuaded after actually participating in a hunt and seeing the value and respect most hunters place on the animal’s life. Even if we, as observant Jews, are not eating it, it’s body is elevated by providing sustenance to Man.

  • darren

    way to stereotype buddy!

  • Pia Utsey

    This article is a load of misinformed, sanctimonious (non kosher) horse manure!

  • JeffB

    Factory farming as practiced in the West is a far more cruel way to produce animal flesh for food than hunting animals for food. I am a vegan but feel that people who hunt animals for food are less culpable than people who get their animal flesh in plastic wrapped packages at the supermarket. I’m Jewish but believe in this day and age kosher slaughter of cows while they are awake and aware is unnecessary cruelty.

  • Les

    ” The vast majority of hunters do what they do for sport, not subsistence.”

    You don’t know what you are talking about. The vast majority of hunters in the U.S. either process and consume the game they ear or donate it to homeless shelters.

    Why don’t you go crying about the millions killed by islam and communism and leave the outdoor enthusiasts alone (most of whom support Israel against jihad MORE THAN YOU DO).

  • I’m a 70 year old Jew and like my father I’ve hunted deer and upland birds. We ate what we shot. I suggest you take a trip to a slaughter house and observe how cattle are “humanly” killed. It is not a pretty sight. I always found it amusing how people salivate over a prime piece of meat and feel removed that a animal was killed.

  • Michael Lee Robins

    I used to be a regular consumer of meat,deer,rabbit,and squirrel chicken and fish meat.I shot these animals dead at close range,deer were killed with a slug out of a 12 gauge shotgun at no more then 15 yards in the head ,at the base of the neck,or right between the eyes.rabbits and squirrels were shot in the head with a 22 usually at less then 30 yards all were killed off the deck of my house in the rural area of Missouri.All were killed strictly for eating,there was no fun in it whatsoever.Simply a chore to get groceries out of the woods.I thought meat was a necessary part of my diet so I killed the meat I needed,but low and behold I had a revelation and now do not eat meat whatsoever,I feel healthier and have lost a lot of wt.I substitute walnuts,almonds,peanuts rice and millet for protein.Its been working fine,I do not judge people badly for hunting animals and filling themselves up quick proteins from meat but now that I have quit my G.I. tract and colon are doing a lot better.I have lost 28 pounds in 3 months,and have plenty of energy.I think eating meat is something we do not need even we think its invaluable and necessary…processing meat is never something I looked forward to….just” food for thought”

  • Binyomin

    Living in Lancaster County PA, I know quite a few people who are hunters. Except for farmers who shoot predators to protect their livestock, the vast majority of the hunters are hunting for food purposes. Meat is ridiculously expensive, and hunting makes it a lot easier to feed a family on a tight budget.
    I would like to know what a halachically acceptable method of hunting would be. Catching and properly shechting a deer would go a long way in stretching the budget.

    • Rochel

      I didn’t know any other Orthodox Jews lived in Lancaster County. lol. I just moved to Toronto, but had lived in Lancaster for over 6 years.

  • Mark Steinfeld

    One of the primary reasons our paternal ancestor Jacob was chosen to receive the birthright of his grandfather Abraham & father Isaac, over his brother Esau was precisely because he was not a hunter. He was a nature lover who was kind to animals, unlike his older twin. If this simple distinction did not exist we might’ve been the children of the hateful, bloodthirsty and murderous evil brother.

  • Pauline, you couldn’t be any farther from the truth. I have hunted for over 30 years. I EAT WHAT I SHOOT. I don’t think you know many Jewish men (or women) who hunt. A deer killed by a hunter is killed very quickly. A deer killed by a pack of coyotes dies a very slow death, being eaten while it is still alive. And I hope you know what PETA stands for:
    “People Eat Tasty Animals”.


      • Les

        It’s kosher for a Jew to eat ANYTHING if there is no other kosher alternative.

        And I would be surprised if this bleeding heart, obama-loving fool who wrote this article keeps kosher.

  • BH in Iowa

    Donate your kill to a community food bank. Problem solved.