In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Jews and Animals

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • General Overviews
  • Philo
  • Medieval Judaism
  • Israel Studies
  • Ethics, Religion, and Theology
  • Eating Animals, Vegetarianism, and Veganism
  • Comparison between Industrial Animal Slaughter and the Holocaust
  • Animals in Jewish Visual Culture
  • Comparative Work on Animals in Abrahamic Religions
  • Websites

Jewish Studies Jews and Animals
by
Beth Berkowitz
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0229

Introduction

Jews and animals. The two would seem a fraught pair, just as the pairing of any human group with animals suggests an assault on the dignity of that group. The academic field of critical animal studies challenges the set of associations that makes such pairings fraught, however: human = rational and reflective, versus animal = irrational and instinctive. Critical animal studies historicizes the human/animal binary, reconstructing the process and politics by which the human has been separated from and made superior to the animal. As part of this, critical animal studies looks at how certain human identities—racial, ethnic, religious, gender—are “animalized,” that is to say, they are migrated over to the animal side. When critical animal studies meets Jewish studies, hereafter “Jewish animal studies,” scholars ask how Jews have either been animalized or have animalized others. Scholars ask also how Jews have resisted animalization of or by Jews along with the binary itself, as Jews ask what it means to be human or animal and test the boundary between the two. Like all humans, Jews throughout their history have lived with animals and used them for labor, transport, food, and companionship, among other functions, and so Jewish animal studies looks also at the role of actual animals within the Jewish experience. Animals have always fired the human imagination; Jewish animal studies looks at the roles played by animals within Jewish literary, visual, and material culture. Jewish animal studies looks for the animal also in Jewish reflection on God and in Jewish forms of devotion and piety, in which the animal is often contrasted with the human but sometimes is thought to join the human in collective inter-species worship of God. Finally, Jewish animal studies considers the real-life consequences of the human/animal binary for both animals and humans. Jewish ethics, philosophy, and law asks about Jewish obligation toward other species in light of biblical and rabbinic traditions and the experience of oppression that Jews and animals have in common. Those who engage in Jewish animal studies soon realize that “Jews and animals” is a false dichotomy. Jews are animals. Whether Jews themselves recognize this, and to what effect, is one of the many questions that Jewish animal studies addresses.

Reference Works

Many works offer reviews of scholarship for Jewish studies or for animal studies, but few do for the intersection between. Balberg 2019 and Rosenstock 2019 are review essays of books in Jewish animal studies, while Berkowitz 2019; Cooper 2019; Sherman 2020; and Hirsch-Matsioulas, et al. 2022 offer narrative discussions of scholarship, Sherman focusing on Hebrew Bible, Berkowitz on ancient Judaism, Cooper on modern Jewish literature, and Hirsch-Matsioulas and colleagues on contemporary Israel. See also Judaism and Animals in the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies article Judaism and the Environment.

  • Balberg, Mira. “לכך נוצרת : על יהודים ובעלי חיים.” Theory and Criticism 51 (2019): 225–235.

    (‘For This You Were Created’: On Jews and Animals). A review essay of Wasserman’s Jews, Gentiles, and Other Animals (see Mishnah and Talmud) and Shyovitz’s Remembrance of His Wonders, Balberg’s discussion also speaks more broadly to the study of animals within Jewish culture.

  • Berkowitz, Beth. “Animal Studies and Ancient Judaism.” Currents in Biblical Research 18.1 (2019): 80–111.

    DOI: 10.1177/1476993X19870386

    Review of scholarship from 2009 to 2019 on animals in ancient Judaism, from ancient Israel to Late Antiquity, spanning the Hebrew Bible, apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, library of Qumran, rabbinic literature, and material culture. Topics addressed are animal sacrifice and consumption; literary depictions of animals; studies of individual animal species; archaeology and art featuring animals; animal ethics, theology, and law; and critical theoretical approaches to species difference.

  • Cooper, Andrea Dara. “Writing Humananimals: Critical Animal Studies and Jewish Studies.” Religion Compass 13.2 (2019): 1–11.

    Weaves together general works in critical animal studies by the likes of Peter Singer, Carol Adams, Jacques Derrida, and Donna Haraway with recent research on animals and animality in Jewish studies. Cooper focuses on literary approaches but with a concern for the way that actual animals “can animate concerns with figural animalities, and vice versa” (p. 1).

  • Hirsch-Matsioulas, Orit, Anat Ben-Yonatan, Limor Chen, Yaara Sadetzki, and Dafna Shir-Vertesh. “Human-Animal Studies in Israel: A Field in the Making.” Society & Animals (July 2022): Online.

    DOI: 10.1163/15685306-bja10095

    Describes the emergence and evolution of human-animal studies in Israel. Covers work in Israel on animal agriculture, the dairy industry, kosher slaughter, animal rights laws, veganism, companion animals, therapy animals, wildlife, and notions of animal personhood, with attention to the politics of defining the state’s borders and populations. Special focus on the only Israeli journal of human-animal relations, Animals and Society.

  • Rosenstock, Bruce. “The Jew and the Animal Question.” Shofar 37.1 (2019): 121–147.

    DOI: 10.1353/sho.2019.0006

    A review essay of Geller’s Bestiarium Judaicum: Unnatural Histories of the Jews (Geller 2018 [cited under Modern Jewish Literature]), Wasserman’s Jews, Gentiles, and Other Animals (Wasserman 2017 [cited under Mishnah and Talmud]), Shyovitz’s Remembrance of His Wonders, and Maya Barzilai’s Golem, considering how the books treat human animality in Jewish texts from Antiquity to contemporary times. Puts the books into conversation with Giorgio Agamben’s theory of the anthropological machine.

  • Sherman, Phillip. “The Hebrew Bible and the ‘Animal Turn.’” Currents in Biblical Research 19.1 (2020): 36–63.

    DOI: 10.1177/1476993X20923271

    Discussion of contemporary scholarship on animals in the Hebrew Bible. Covers animals in biblical narrative, law and ritual, prophets, poetry, psalms, and wisdom literature, as well as animal life in ancient Israel as it is reconstructed from zooarchaeology. Also addresses scholarship on specific species (the dog, horse, and donkey).

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