Tuesday, June 12, 2007

feeding a pet before eating one's dinner

The gemara (Brachos 40) writes that one should feed one’s animals before sitting down to a meal based on the order of animals before people in the pasuk v’nasati eisva hasadeh l’vhemtecha v’achalta v’savata. The Rambam quotes this din in Hil Avadin (9:8), where he writes that Chachamim haRishonim would feed their slaves and animals before partaking of their own meal, and he cites a completely different pasuk than the gemara as a prooftext. It would seem from the Rambam that this din is a midas chassidus, but not a binding obligation. At the opposite extreme, the Magen Avraham (siman 271) holds that the din is a chiyuv d’oraysa. My son has a pet betta fish and asked if he has to feed the fish before eating. I seem to recall that fish are different than other animals, but can’t find a source that says so. A possible distinction is that unlike a farm animal waiting for dinner, the fish is not any more hungry at human dinner time than later. Maybe the issue depends on whether the chiyuv is rooted in tza’ar ba’alei chaim, which would depend on the animal’s appetite, or a derech eretz hanhaga to train oneself to place others needs first, in which case even if the pet can eat later it should be fed first.


  1. Shu"T Ya'abetz (1:17) (cited in Sefer Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim baHalacha uva-Agaddah by R' Yitzchak Nachman Eshkoli b'sheim Shu"T Mishneh Halachos (6:216)) says that one is obligated to feed his aquarium fish because of TzB"Ch. The Mishneh Halachos also gives an additional support based on the Yad Ephraim (OCh 167), who cites the Midrash (regarding Alexander and the king of a certain nation) that states that sometimes a person himself does not deserve to be provided sustenance by HaShem but is only fed in the merit of the animals as a reason for the mitzvah of feeding one's animals first. The Mishneh Halachos corrects the misconception of his questioner than TzB"Ch does not apply at all to fish, but why do you think that fish don't get hungry?

  2. A possible disctinction is that some scientists believe that fish do not suffer pain as do mammals or birds. They are programmed to avoid threat or injury, but they don't feel pain. One might support this argument from the fact that some connect the din of shechita to the concept of avoiding tzaar baalei chaim, and of course there is no din of shechita on fish. You can pull them out of the water and let them flop around till they suffocate (asifosom zuhi shechitosom), and there is no mitzvah to whack them over the head to put them out of their misery. If you can cut them up alive, it seems that there would be no mandate to ensure they get fed before you do.

    I once read about a Japanese restaurant that very quickly guts the fish, slices the flesh while still attached to the bones, and brings the whole fish to the table, at which point you toss saki into the fish'es face and it twitches and opens its mouth a few times. This seems like baal tishaktzu to me, but I don't think it would be tzaar baalei chaim.

  3. As to Chaim's point, if the reasoning behind feeding an animal before oneself is the tza'ar of the animal, would not the halacha apply the same din to drinking? In fact, it does not.