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Jaguar Attack and Halacha

Thursday, 19 July, 2018 - 2:01 pm

Living in New Orleans in the mid-70s, I remember the Audubon Zoo as a frightful nightmare. The animals were housed in old-fashioned cages and a visit to the zoo was hardly fun. All that changed toward the end of the 70s when major changes were implemented and the zoo evolved over time into one of the premier zoos worldwide. With those improvements we loved visiting the zoo, as do my children until this day. My mother’s Audubon Institute membership card is responsible for many exciting days for her grandchildren from around the country.

I am not going to get into the morality of zoos and whether animals should be housed in captivity or not; as I do not know enough about the subject to offer intelligent commentary.

This week’s incident with Valerio, the Jaguar that escaped and went on a mauling rampage resulting in the death of nine animals, got me thinking about a related Halachic connection. Six of the animals were killed right away and the other three died within days as a result of their injuries.

One of the conditions that can render an animal non-Kosher (unfit for consumption) is called Trefah. This means that the animal suffers from a condition that threatens it health and life. There are many different causes and types of circumstances that can designate an animal as Trefah. One of them is called Derusah – mauling by a wild animal. Halacha discusses the criteria of Derusah depending on the species of the aggressor. A lion and similar sized cat has the capacity to maul even a large animal such as a bull thereby threatening its Kosher status. One of the areas of discussion is whether the animal can survive after the mauling for an extended period of time. There are different Halachic methods used to make the determination.

Initially after the jaguar incident, some of the animals that had been mauled were projected to survive. Within two days all three of them died, including the fox that was in stable condition. This really drove home to me the Halacha on full display about the impact that mauling has on the long term viability of the animals that survive. Just another example of seeing the world through the lenses of Torah.

On a different note… This Shabbat is Tisha B’av and so the fast is delayed to Sunday. Usually the meal that we eat before the fast is eaten in a mournful state; bread and eggs dipped in ashes, while sitting on a low stool all by oneself. However because on Shabbat no public display of mourning is allowed, the meal before the fast can include even meat and wine. When Tisha B’av falls out this way, we get a taste of Redemption when the fast will be abolished and transformed into a celebration. May we indeed experience that transformation this year so Tisha B’av will be celebrated as the Festival of Redemption!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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