Killing creatures-Is it permitted to cause pain or to kill living creatures?

Is it permitted to cause pain or kill living creatures?[1]

It is Biblically forbidden to actively[2] cause pain to any[3] living creature [for no justifiable reason, as will be explained].[4] [It goes without saying that one may not kill a creature for no justifiable reason.[5]]

If the creature is a nuisance:[6] If the creature is a nuisance[7] to a person then it is permitted even to kill it, even though this will put the creature through pain, [and certainly one may inflict pain onto it, without killing it, in order to remove the nuisance[8]]. Thus one may poison a dog that is a nuisance.[9]

Using the body of the creature for a purpose:[10] It is permitted to kill any creature if one needs to use the creature for medicinal purposes, or for other purposes that serve man.[11] The prohibition of Tzaar Baalei Chaim does not apply in such a case. It is thus permitted to kill an animal for the sake of feeding its meat to dogs.[12] [It is however forbidden to kill or cause pain to an animal even for a purpose, if one can easily fulfill the purpose through other means to the same level of quality.[13]]

May one pluck a feather from a live goose?[14] If one has another feather available, then it is forbidden to do so. If one does not have another feather available, it is permitted to do so, although the custom is not to do so due to it being an act of cruelty.

Midas Chassidus and Kabala:

The Arizal[15] was careful never to kill any living creature, even if it was a mere insect and was a nuisance. This was likewise the custom of the Rebbe Rashab.[16] Some[17] state that one should never directly kill a creature, even if it causes pain, unless it can cause real injury, such as a snake, and one is rather to indirectly cause them to die, such as through poison. It is thus a Midas Chassidus not to directly kill a living creature with one’s hands even if it is a nuisance, and is hence permitted to do so from the letter of the law. [If however the indirect killing will cause the animal more pain, than seemingly it better to kill it directly.[18]] The Gemara[19] states that Rebbe Yehuda Hanaasi experienced suffering due to a certain incident that involved Tzaar Baalei Chaim, even though it was permitted according to Halacha and it was then removed after he showed mercy to animals.[20]


May one kill insects that infest one’s food?[21]


May one kill mice and rodents in one’s house?[22]

Yes. Some[23] write there is no Midas Chassidus involved in being stringent not to do so, although it is best to avoid killing it directly with one’s hands and one is to rather use a trap or poison and the like. However based on the Arizal it is a Midas Chassidus not to kill the creature.

May one kill bothersome insects such as mosquitoes and flies and the like?[24]

Yes. Some[25] write there is no Midas Chassidus involved in being stringent not to do so. However based on the Arizal it is a Midas Chassidus not to actively kill the creature. The Rebbe Rashab would not kill the mosquitos, but would rather brush them away with his hand.[26]

May one kill spiders that are in one’s home?

Yes.[27] Spiders are viewed as Kelipa according to Kabala, and interfere with the Shalom Bayis of a home.[28] Some[29] Gedolei Yisrael were particular to actively kill spiders. It is a Mitzvah to clean one’s house from cobwebs [and spiders[30]] on Erev Shabbos.[31]

May one kill hair lice?

Yes.[32] However based on the Arizal it is a Midas Chassidus not to actively kill the creature.[33]

May one kill a creature that is suffering?

See next.



Maaseh Shehayah:

Rebbe Yehuda Hanaasi:[34]

The great Tana, Rabbeinu Hakadosh was once approached by a sorrow calf whose turn it came to be slaughtered. The somber calf understood its fate and entered its head into Rebbe Yehuda’s cloak and began crying. Rebbe replied to the calf “Go ahead for the slaughter, it is for this reason that you were created”. The Heavenly courts declared “Since you did not have mercy on this calf, you will receive suffering.” This suffering came to end after the following episode: Rebbe’s maid was sweeping the house and found a family of baby rats inside [which she desired to harm]. Rebbe Yehuda told her not to do anything to them, as “Hashem is merciful on all his creatures.” The Heavenly courts this time declared “Since you had mercy on these rodents, we will have mercy on you.”



[1] Admur Hilchos Ovrei Derachim 4; See the article of Rav Chaim Rappaport in Koveitz Ohalaei Torah 993-994

[2] Admur writes “with one’s hands”, Vetzaruch Iyun as to the meaning of these words

[3] This would include all living creatures, even an insect.

Other opinions: Some Poskim rule the prohibition of Tzaar Baalei Chaim only applies to animals that perform productive work. [Sheilas Yaavetz 1/110]

[4] Admur ibid; O.C. 266/25; Rama C.M. 272/9; Baba Metzia 32b

[5] Some Rishonim hold that killing a creature is forbidden due to Baal Tashchis and not due to Tzaar Baalei Chaim. [Tosafus Baba Kama 115b] Other Rishonim however rule that killing creatures is forbidden due to Tzaar Baalei Chaim. [Ran Chulin 5b; Shita Mekubetzes Baba Basra 20a]From Admur ibid it is implied that killing a creature is forbidden due to Tzaar Baalei Chaim, and so rules Admur explicitly in Shemiras Haguf Vehanefesh 8. 

[6] Admur ibid; Taz Y.D. 116/6; Ramban Avoda Zara 13b

The reason: As the Torah permitted to slaughter an animal, hence teaching that when there is benefit for man we do not pay attention to the pain of the animal. [ibid]

[7] Literally “causing him pain”

[8] So is implied from Admur ibid, and Shemiras Haguf Vehanefesh 8

[9] Admur Hilchos Shemiras Haguf Vehanefesh 8

[10] Admur ibid; Rama E.H. 5/14; Issur Viheter 59/36

[11] Vetzrauch Iyun as to the meaning of “purpose that serves man” as it is forbidden to kill animals to feed its meat to dogs, as brought next.

[12] Admur Shechita 1/40

[13] So is implied from Admur ibid regarding plucking fathers from a goose, brought next.

[14] Admur ibid; Rama E.H. 5/14

[15] Shaar Hamitzvos Noach; Shaar Hagilgulim 38; Torah Leshma 397; See also Kav Hayashar 83 “One should not kill any creature for no reason, even if it can cause one pain, so long as it is not chasing after you”

[16] Reshimos 154/473

[17] Ramak in Or Yakar on Zohar 2/106; Igros Moshe C.M. 2/47 “Although I have not found this explicitly in sources it is proper to do so in order not to perform an act of cruelty directly and enter cruelty into one’s nature”

[18] See Koveitz Ohalaei Torah ibid p. 32

[19] Baba Metzia 85a; See Maaseh Shaya below

[20] Many different explanations have been offered in Mefarshim for why Rebbe was punished despite it being allowed. [See Maharsha ibid; Shlah Taanis; Ginas Veradim 2/15; Sheilas Yaavetz 1/110; Pesach Eiynayim ibid; Teshuvas Hageonim 375] Some suggest that he should have delayed the slaughter for at least some time.

[21] Taz Y.D. 116/6

[22] Igros Moshe C.M. 2/47

[23] Igros Moshe ibid

[24] Igros Moshe C.M. 2/47

[25] Igros Moshe ibid

[26] Reshimos 154/473

[27] See Admur 316/23; 262/2

[28] Shlah Emek Habracha Shabbos 130b; Darkei Chaim Veshalom 1080

[29] Darkei Chaim Veshalom 1080

[30] Shlah Emek Habracha Shabbos 130b

[31] 262/2

[32] Admur 316/20; Shabbos 12a

[33] Shaar Hamitzvos Noach Noach; Torah Leshma 397; The Arizal stated that “lice benefit the person and remove the sweat and unhealthy substances from his body and one is hence not to be repulsed by them.” The Ben Ish Chaiy [in Torah Leshma ibid brings a proof from Shabbos 12a that some Amoraim would not kill lice.

[34] Bava Basra 85a

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