Wednesday, November 04, 2009

An Ancient Prohibition On the Dangers of Animals in Entertainment (Part One?)

My usual warning about my posts: I tend to blog about things I come across in Judaism that fascinate me. I am sure that I have preachy tendencies in my writing. If you're not interested in the preachiness, then feel free to read those tidbits that do remain.

Two weekends ago, at a study session coordinated by the Jewish Theological Seminary and led by Jon Adam Ross, I was introduced to one text which I was shocked to have never encountered before in my studies of Judaism (and I am thankful to have finally been introduced to it).

In the 3rd century CE, Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nasi, discouraging Jews from participating in a culture of Roman theater which the Rabbis associated with violence (as exhibited in gladiator matches) or idolatry (such as the dramas of Greek gods) recorded a law in the Mishnah (in Avodah Zarah 1:7) that begins with the following:

אין מוכרין להם דובין ואריות וכל דבר שיש בו נזק לרבים.
It is forbidden to sell them bears, lions or anything that has the potential to injure the public.

These words, read in their traditional context, don't sound necessarily like the words of animal rights activists. But, this statement--when read in the context of what we know about the inherent abuses and dangers in using animals in entertainment--is certainly compassionate towards animals.

The passage is concerned with the well-being of these animals. Our passage lists bears and lions specifically, but the passage doesn't identify those potential customers to whom we can't sell these animals! (Of course, we presume that the Rabbinic ban is on selling animals to entertainers, to businesspeople with stadiums and to any people who make it their business to put animals on stages.) Not only are Jews so discouraged in the Mishnah from participating in a culture that utilizes animals in violent means, but Jews are forbidden from making money from and from reaping the benefits of a culture that endorses this literally inhumane practice.

When it comes to that dangerous subject of animals in entertainment, this brief dictum is unwavering in the graveness of the sin: not only are Jews forbidden from supporting animals in entertainment, Jews are forbidden from being supported by animals in entertainment.

Although I usually like to have more to say on a subject, I am writing this blog post now because I did not want to forget this source. I hope to study this topic more in the near future and to have then a few more insights into the subject.

Also, for just a few mild introductory thoughts about the use of animals in entertainment, feel free to examine this site or this page.