Is There a Difference Between a Cow and a Cat?

It says in the Bible that a good man cares for his “beast.” Does this just mean animals that are “useful” such as cows that give meat and milk and other “useful” animals, or does it mean all pets, such as dogs and cats.

P.S. We like your show [Ancient Jewish Wisdom] very much. We watch it every day when possible. There is so much knowledge and practical advice.

Marty J.

Dear Marty,

Thank you for your kind words about our daily television show, Ancient Jewish Wisdom. You would probably also enjoy our Scrolling through Scripture – Genesis series, in which we unpack much meaningful information about animals and our relationship to them. That material is based on the Hebrew language and ancient Jewish wisdom that flow from the accounts of Creation in Genesis.

Instead of repeating what we teach there, we thought that in this answer we might look to Proverbs 12:10, “The righteous man knows the needs of his animals, and the compassion of evil men is cruel.” That seems an odd juxtaposition, doesn’t it? What does the second half of the verse have to do with the first half? And, you might ask, what does it have to do with your question?

You see, Marty, God expects mankind to feel a responsibility to animals. Man cares for animals and animals serve man. That is a crucial distinction to maintain – man and animals are entirely different categories of creation, not two examples within a category. The word used in this verse from Proverbs – beheimah – means domesticated animals. A righteous person does not abuse his animals. He makes every effort to understand their needs and take care of them. At the same time, they are there to make man’s life better.

Dogs or cats that provide companionship do serve a useful purpose. The onus is on their owners to care for them. We are, for example, told to feed our animals before we feed ourselves. We can understand that food is coming even if we are hungry, but our animals cannot. On the other hand, Biblical guidance would frown on calling oneself a “dog papa” or dressing your cat and yourself in matching clothing. Each group needs to stay in its own sphere.

How can compassion be cruel? We easily see how this is possible when it comes to people. In reference to animals, an owner who ‘generously’ overfeeds a pet is harming the pet. Not disciplining and training an animal can lead to a dog, let’s say, attacking a child and being put down. Treating an animal as if it was human may sound compassionate, but it isn’t.

Enjoy your pets,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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