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The Prohibition Against Sterilizing Animals

June 27, 2017


I wanted to put my answer to you in writing. The question was concerning neutering a female dog, and my answer was that it was unequivocally forbidden. I will first reproduce Maimonides’s codification here, and then point out some notes introduced in the Shulhan Aruch and the commentaries, and then I will present the reasons as to why the decisors reject the Taz’s loophole for allowing neutering, and why I believe Rabbi ***** is mistaken in his analysis and conclusion. I would also like to say at the outset that it is beyond the scope of this response to go into the permissibility of saving an animal’s life through sterilization, as it is even the case that we may save a man’s life if it necessitates castrating him. I am only addressing the question of neutering the dog because the owner wants to prevent it from producing litters.

(Forbidden Relations, Chapter 16)

It is forbidden to destroy a male’s reproductive organs. This applies to humans and also to animals, beasts, and fowl, both from a kosher species and from a non-kosher species, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Diaspora… Whoever castrates [a person or an animal] should be lashed according to Scriptural Law everywhere. Even a person who castrates a person who has been castrated should be lashed… A person who castrates a female – whether a human or other species – is not liable.

Note this last line. This is not permissible. It is just not punished by a humanly court.

It is forbidden to have a man or a member of another species drink a potion that causes him to lose his sexual potency. Lashes are not given, however. A woman is permitted to drink a potion to cause her to lose her sexual potency so that she will not conceive.

So far, this is the only leniency we have encountered, a woman can ingest birth control, but this would still be forbidden to do to animals and of course we could not perform some sort of surgery on a woman. Also note that although I have based my translation on that of Rabbi Touger, there is an error in his published version, which I have corrected here (in bold letters). He had translated “or a male of another species. ”  Maimonides’s ruling appears like this in the original:הַמַּשְׁקֶה עִיקָרִין לָאָדָם, אוֹ לִשְׁאָר מִינִים, כְּדֵי לְסָרְסוֹ–הֲרֵי זֶה אָסוּר, וְאֵין לוֹקִין עָלָיו; וְאִשָּׁה מֻתֶּרֶת לִשְׁתּוֹת עִיקָרִין שֶׁמְּסָרְסִין אוֹתָהּ עַד שֶׁלֹּא תֵלֵד. From this you can clearly see that the first rule applies to human men and all animals, while the second rule applies only to human women, and in his translation, we are left guessing what would be the rule regarding giving oral sterilization agents to female animals. The real halacha is implied in the source Gemara, Sabbath 110-111, whereby a distinction is made between people and animals. God told all the animals to multiply, but although he also told mankind to multiply, the sages deduced that just like man was bidden to “conquer (or subdue) the earth,” and only men conquer because women don’t wage war, it stands to reason that women are also excluded from multiplying, and therefore although we can not destroy their capacity to reproduce, we can not stop women from taking some sort of extreme oral contraception.

If a person bound a man and set a dog or other animal upon him until his sexual organs were maimed or he made him sit in water or snow until his sexual organs lost their potency, he is not given lashes unless he castrates him by hand. It is, however, fitting to subject him to stripes for rebellious conduct. It is forbidden to tell a gentile to castrate one of our animals. If the gentile took the animal and castrated it on his own initiative, it is permitted. If a Jew acts deceitfully in this context, he should be punished and required to sell the animal to another Jew. He may [sell it] to his son who is past majority, but not to his son who is below majority, nor may he give it to him.

These laws are basically quoted verbatim in Even Ha’ezer 5:11-14.

Now, in that final paragraph, the R’ma brings up an interesting point. He implies that there were those who felt that if it were obvious to us that a gentile was buying an animal from a Jew and intended to castrate or neuter that animal, we would not be allowed to sell him that animal. The rationale for this stringency is that is forbidden to figuratively place a stumbling block before the blind, i.e., mislead one into transgressing. What transgression? There is an opinion that even gentiles may not harm the reproductive organs of animals. Now, this is not the halacha, as we saw above, because we may sell animals to gentiles, and what they then do is their own business, and we have also seen that the conclusion of the halacha is that gentiles have no prohibition against castrating/neutering animals. (They are still forbidden from physically harming each other.) However, for those who wish to act stringently and not sell their animals to gentiles lest the gentiles sterilize them, the R’ma adds, “However, if the gentile who purchases [the animals] does not sterilize them himself, but rather gives it (sic) to another gentile to sterilize, all would permit.” That is, even if one were worried that he is misleading a gentile by selling to him an animal the gentile will most certainly sterilize, because there is no prohibition to mislead someone into misleading someone else, he should not worry in this case. This is how the Vilna Gaon explains the reasoning of the R’ma.

Now, Rabbi **** misread the quoted line of the R’ma above to mean that if the Jew were somehow looking for a way to cheat the system, namely by selling the animal to a gentile who would then sterilize it and sell it back to the Jews although that exact case was already forbidden, if the deal involves the gentile “buyer” having some other gentile do the deed, then all is permissible. I have tried to point this out to him, but to no avail, and have since ceased corresponding with him due to this. I am of course horrified that he would use this error to publicly rule on a matter involving a Torah prohibition, but then again, he did not permit this outright. Instead, he made this a condition for using another questionable hetter, loophole. It does not make it any better, because it is entirely mistaken.

Which brings us to the hetter he derived from the Taz. The premise is that sterilization is prohibited because it causes the animal suffering. The jump is then made that if some how the animal would not suffer because it under anesthesia, then perhaps the procedure would be permissible. If we then combine this with the fact that the animal is female and another gentile does it for the phony buyer, then we have a hetter. You can now see why this argument would be rejected. Firstly, because no one truly knows why God prohibited sterilization, and even though the Rishonim suggested reasons, all would agree that we could not decide that because we have figured out the reason, we can also devise circumstances whereby the reasons do not apply and by extension, the prohibitions. This, the sages explain, was Solomon’s major mistake. Secondly, were the sages unaware of anesthesia? How do you think people managed to castrate oxen in the olden days? At least if you slaughter an ox, it will eventually die, but if you wish to cut off its testicles (or neuter a cow) you either have to majorly restrain the beast, or knock it out with a lot poppy juice or alcohol or the like. This is old science. The Ancient Egyptians knew about basic anesthesia before Moses was born, and if such a method of permitting sterilization was valid, the sages or the rishonim would have mentioned it. If you look in the section above from Maimonides and the Shulhan Aruch, you would have expected to find this exception where they mention tying down an animal and causing a passive castration. Thirdly, just because sterilizing female animals can not be punished, it does not mean that it can somehow be used as a factor in permitting something. Just because a sin is not as severe as another, it does not follow that it can in any way become permissible. Fourthly, we have already seen the fallacy of finding a secondary gentile to perform the sterilization.

In sum, it is entirely clear that the prohibition against sterilizing animals has no exceptions despite what some may have recently suggested. The only example we have found is gentiles doing so of their own accord, and the sages even prohibited a Jew to somehow find a way to get gentiles to perform sterilizations on their behalf. I pray that God give Rabbi **** the wisdom to see the the error in his logic.



From → halacha

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