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Sunday, 20 April 2014

Do Animals have Souls?


Beitzah 21

Today’s Life Yomi is dedicated in honour of the birthday of Rabbanit Batya Friedman, by her husband, Yours Truly, by her brother, Rabbi Yochanan Ivry and by her best friend, Miriam Feigelstock!  

In the movie, NOAH, Crowe’s character believes that his Divine task is to eliminate the evil human species from the face of the earth, while saving the sin-free animals. 

Were the animals as innocent as the movie suggests?

In order to be able to eat on Yom Tov, we are allowed to cook food for ourselves.  How about our pets, can we cook for them?

In contrasting the laws of Yom Tov with those of Shabbos, the Torah states: “Only that which may be eaten for any soul, that alone may be made for you.”  From here we learn that we are allowed to prepare food on Yom Tov.  Rabbi Yossi the Galilean derives from the extra phrase “for you” that one may only cook food for human consumption. 

Rabbi Akiva demurs pointing to the fact that it says “any soul,” which suggests not only human souls.  How does he know that animals also have souls?  Elsewhere, the Torah states: “One who smites the soul of an animal must pay [compensation].” 

Even though they disagree about whether or not one may cook food for one’s pets on Yom Tov, both rabbis agree that animals have souls.  What is the purpose of my cat’s soul?

Souls enter this physical world in order to fulfil the will of the Almighty.  But they are provided with a vehicle called body that is not interested in the pursuit of spirituality.  The body is not bad; it just wants different things to the soul.  We are mammals and our bodies are animalistic by their nature.  The body seeks bodily comforts such as eating, drinking, sleeping and the pleasures of this world.

The soul and the body compete for dominion over your psyche and you are granted free choice over whether body or soul wins.  Every time you are faced with a choice between the pursuit of spirituality versus the pursuit of materialism and physical pleasure, you have encountered the struggle between body and soul and it is up to you to make the right decision.

Our Sages tell us that prior to the Great Flood, just like humankind had turned on G-d, the animal kingdom had similarly become corrupted.  Animals are meant to breed with their own kind.  The pre-Flood animals, however, had chosen mates from beyond their species, violating G-d’s will.  And therefore they too were guilty and deserving of annihilation.  Only the animals that were indeed sin-free were granted entry onto the ark.

How do animals make the choice of whom to mate?  Since they have souls, they too have a certain level of free choice.  While it may seem that most of their behaviour is ‘animalistic,’ the Torah tells us that there are certain choices in life that they are free to make.  That’s why G-d gave them souls.

Treat all animals with dignity and respect!  Care for “All Creatures Great and Small!”  They all have souls – ultimately all of the Almighty’s creations are deeply spiritual beings!   


Life Yomi dedications don’t cost a penny!  To dedicate a day of learning in honour of a birthday, anniversary or yortzeit, all you need to do is commit to sending the Life Yomi of the day (or another Life Yomi teaching of your choice) to 18 (chai) people!  You needn’t provide us with the names of recipients; all we need is the honouree’s name and occasion.  For more details, please email rabbi@familyshul.org