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The Vatican, the Wild Boars, and Halacha

The Vatican, the Wild Boars, and Halacha 1

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

Did the Vatican violate the Sheva Mitzvos Bnei Noach?

One of the goals and values of the Torah lifestyle is to become closer and closer to Hashem.  This includes trying to emulate Him as much as we can.  The Talmud tells us that just as He is Merciful, so too must we be merciful.  Just as He demonstrates LovingKindness so too must we demonstrate this trait.

And we also say in the Ashrei – three times a day, “Verachamav al kol maasav – and His Mercy extends to all His creations.”

Which is why many people are very disturbed as to what happened after a female boar and her six offspring wandered into Mario Mardeni Park – a playground near the Vatican last week.  Last Friday, the Vatican police shot them with tranquilizer guns and then gave them lethal injections – killing all seven.  The act on the part of the Vatican earned the wrath of many animal rights groups and activists.

“It was decided to hastily kill [the animals] who had found shelter in the Aurelio play area, instead of saving their lives given the alternative solutions that had been offered,” a statement from the International Organization for Animal Protection said.

Our questions, however, deal with the halachic issues.  Specifically, there are three questions that pertain to this incident:

  1. Is the prohibition of Tzaar Baalei Chaim applicable to wild boars and pigs?
  2. Is killing an animal even in a humane manner a violation of Tzaar Baalei Chaim?
  3. Are gentiles commanded in the prohibition?

The Yaavetz in a work entitled Migdal Oz (p. 328, Eshkol edition) and earlier in his She’ilas Yaavetz (#17) cites a question as to whether cats and dogs are subsumed under the prohibition.  He tends to be strict in regard to the question.

Others question how it could even be a matter of doubt.  Rav Menashe Klein z”l in his Mishne Halachos Vol. VI #216 writes that the Gemorah in Chagiga 14a writes that it is forbidden.  We also see it is forbidden from Shabbos 77b as cited in the Shvus Yaakov Vol. III #71 and in the Sefer Chassidim (Siman 44).

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l in his Igros Moshe (CM Vol. II #47) indicates that the only reason one would be permitted to kill mice is because they are considered mazikim – because they are dangerous [in carrying disease, ostensibly].  The implication is that one would not be permitted to kill mice either.

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There is not much of a halachic difference between dogs, cats, and mice versus pigs.  Tzaar Baalei Chaim would thus apply to pigs as well.  However, there would be an exception if the animal is deemed dangerous.

When an animal must be put to death is there an obligation to minimize the pain involved?  The Ri Migash in Bava Basra 20a cited by Rabbi Yitzchok Nachman Eshkoli in Sefer Tzaar Baalei Chaim (p.104) writes that there is no benefit in doing so.  The Maharsham cited by Rabbi Eshkoli in Daas Torah (YD 28:16) states, however, that there is a midas chassidus, a worthy act, in doing so.  It would seem likely that it would be a worthy act to capture them and release them rather than kill them.  That is for the mother wild pig – the six piglets may have a different status.


It is permitted to kill a dangerous animal and there seems to be no question that a wild boar is considered to be dangerous.  The six piglets, however, would not be considered dangerous and it would be forbidden to kill it on account of the prohibition of Tzaar Balei Chaim according to the Poskim cited above.


The Sefer HaChinuch points out that these seven laws are not, in fact, laws, but categories of laws.  The Seven Laws are found in the Tosefta to tractate Avodah Zarah (9:4) and are cited in the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 56a).  They are:

  1. The obligation to believe in G-d
  2. The prohibition of Murder
  3. The prohibition of theft
  4. The prohibition against adultery and other forms of similar immorality
  5. The prohibition in cursing G-d
  6. The prohibition involved in eating flesh from a live animal
  7. The obligation to establish a just court of law to enforce the laws.

If they are obligated in it – which of the 7 Mitzvos of Noach would it fit into?

In Rav Binyomin Cohen’s excellent new Sefer, “Chelkas Binyomin” on Pru uRvu – he cites the Otzer HaPoskim which cites the Sefer Toldos Yaakov who is unsure as to whether they are commanded in it.  Rabbi Cohen suggests (page 336) that it may be subsumed under prohibition #6 – Aiver Min haChai – eating a limb of a live animal.

There is yet another possibility.  The Minchas Chinuch in Mitzvah #80 states that the Mitzvos of Prikah and Te’ina are subsumed under #7 –  dinim.  It would be logical to also extend this to include Tzaar Baalei Chaim.

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The Pri Magadim in his Mishbetzes HaZahav (468:2) writes that a gentile is not commanded in this Mitzvah, however.

The Orach Chaim on Bereishis 29:7 writes that Yaakov Avinu chastised the shepherds on account of their Mitzvah of Tzaar Baalei Chaim – which would indicate that the Orach Chaim did not think that the halacha was like the Pri Magadim.  Also, there is a Ramban in parshas Bereishis that states that Adam was initially forbidden in eating meat because of Tzaar Baalei Chaim.  This halacha was adjusted later to allow it for eating purposes according to the Ramban.


There is another possibility that this author would like to suggest.  Believing in G-d (Mitzvah #1) perforce indicates that one should try and be like Him too.  The verse tells us, “V’rachamav al kol Maasav – And His mercies extend to all His Creations.”  It could also be subsumed under the first one as well.


Of course, if the prohibition is only Rabbinic in origin then the Vatican has nothing to worry about.  Most Rishonim, however, are of the opinion that Tzaar Baalei Chaim is, in fact, a biblical prohibition, as is the implication of the Talmud (Shabbos 128b). The Rambam, however, is understood by most commentators as holding that it is of Rabbinic origin. [See Vilna Gaon CM 272:11, notwithstanding the view of the Keseph Mishna who reads the Rambam as holding that the prohibition is biblical as well].


The Vatican does not seem to be in the habit of asking halachic shailos – but according to the Pri Magadim – they seem to be able to do what they want with the pigs – while according to the Orach Chaim – they would not have been permitted to kill them.  And even though they would have been justified to kill the mother pig because it can be very dangerous – if there was an alternative – they have caused the piglets additional tzaar by killing their mother.

The Vatican, the Wild Boars, and Halacha 2

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