"Gorilla" Warfare

Friday, 3 June, 2016 - 2:12 pm

This week’s newsfeed has provided much to discuss. So much so, that the stuff that was on tap for this week’s message has been delayed to next week.

By now you have all seen the tragic story about the gorilla Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo and the toddler Isaiah who managed to get into the enclosure and fall into the gorilla moat. Within the small window of decision time the zoo determined that the only way to protect the safety of the child was to take the life of the gorilla. Since then the online universe has exploded with analysis and opinions by anyone and everyone with a phone or computer. Some are lauding the zoo for the decision but questioning the safety protocols that allowed a child to get in. Some are lambasting the zoo for the taking the life of the gorilla (a member of an endangered species) and sparing the “brat” who caused all of the trouble. Some are calling for the head of the parents (mother mostly) for not watching their three year old every second of the day. And there are many more layers of expert opinions being shared on social media.

Let me just preface my thoughts with this qualification. There is no question that Judaism/the Torah calls for the protection of animals and nature and a respect for all of G-d’s creation. A perusal of any comprehensive book on Halacha will reveal discussions about the prohibition against cruelty to animals and the obligation to be judicious with the world’s resources.

That being said, there is not even a shadow of a doubt that from the vantage point of Torah/Judaism human life takes precedence over all of those other considerations. For a good read on this story please see this post by one of my colleagues -

While I was gratified to read that so many people shared this (what I thought to be obvious) notion of truth, I was disturbed by how many knee jerk reactions there were against the decision made by the zoo to save the child at the expense of the gorilla’s life. Hundreds of thousands of people have posted, tweeted and opined that the life of the animal (specially an endangered species) should have been considered for precedence.

This is part of a disturbing trend that I have noticed. Some years ago a university professor ran an experiment where he asked a group of college girls this question. “If you were at the beach with your dog, and the tide pulled the dog into the water along with a human stranger, whose life would you save first?” The majority of the girls responded that they would save the dog… I hope that this stems from the hypothetical nature of the scenario. Whereas if the situation was real they would come to their senses.

In the gorilla war too, I hope that if they were not armchair quarterbacking – but rather on the spot, they would make the correct decision. Still it is very troubling that so many can be so misguided on this issue.

(On a side point, hyper-blaming the parents is also completely over the top. I am guessing most of those folks are not current parents of toddlers… People with little children know how quickly a child can be out of sight, leashes and all. A little compassion for the traumatic experience of that mom would be in order…)

Thank G-d we have the Torah that serves, among other things, as our moral compass. The Torah is unequivocal that human life is more precious and valuable than any other resource including other living beings. As we say in our daily prayers, “Blessed is G-d, Who separated us from those who err and gave us the Torah of truth.”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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