Halachic Perspectives on Pets - Part II by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


Reprinted with permission from the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society Number XXIII



            This article will focus on three issues regarding feeding one's pets: feeding one's animal before eating, feeding a pet food that contains both milk and meat, and feeding an animal Chametz during Pesach.


Feeding Pets Prior to Eating

            The Talmud (Berachot 40a and Gittin 62a) states that one may not eat before he has fed his animals.  The source for this prohibition is the verse, "I will give grass in your fields for your animals, and you shall eat and be satisfied" (Devarim 11:15).  The rule is derived from the order of the verse.  The Torah speaks first of providing for animals and only subsequently of satisfying human needs.

            There exists, however, a controversy as to whether the keeping of the prohibition constitutes meritorious conduct beyond the essential requirements of Torah law (Midat Chassidut) or a prohibition in the full sense of the term.  While emphasizing the importance of doing more than what Torah law requires, Rambam (Hilchot Avadim 9:8) describes two examples of exemplary conduct not required by law: The early sages fed their slaves the same type of food they themselves ate, and the early sages fed their slaves and animals before they fed themselves.  It is clear that Rambam understands this rule as recommended righteous behavior but nevertheless not required by the letter of the law.1

            Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim 167:18), however, cites as Halacha the Talmudic statement that one is forbidden to eat before feeding the animals he owns.  In fact, elsewhere (271:12) he cites an opinion that this is a biblical prohibition.2  Biur Halacha (167:6 s.v. Umikol Makom) demonstrates that Rama and other authorities reject the opinion that this is a biblical prohibition.  Furthermore, Chayei Adam (45:1), Mishna Berura (167:40), and Aruch Hashulchan (167:13) all cite this law as a prohibition.  Accordingly, one should take care to properly observe this law, since most authorities view this as a rabbinic prohibition, not just exemplary behavior.3  It should be noted, though, that many authorities limit this prohibition to eating and permit drinking prior to feeding one's animals.4


Feeding a Pet Food that Contains Milk and Meat

            Although it is forbidden to eat non-Kosher food, one is permitted to derive benefit from most non-Kosher food.  However, the prohibition to avoid a mixture of milk and meat includes not only eating but also deriving any benefit from such a mixture (Chulin 115, Yoreh Deah 87:1).  Halacha considers feeding an animal (according to most authorities even if one does not own the creature) to be a form of pleasure since most people derive satisfaction from feeding an animal.  This pleasure is considered to be a form of benefit forbidden to be derived from a mixture of milk and meat.5  However, the prohibition to derive benefit is limited to biblically-prohibited mixtures of milk and meat.6  The biblical prohibition includes only the meat of Kosher domesticated animals (excluding fowl and wild animals) and the milk of Kosher animals that are cooked together.7  Hence, one should make sure that pet food contains no biblically-prohibited mixtures of milk and meat.8

            There is considerable debate whether it is forbidden to derive benefit from a mixture of milk and meat from Kosher animals that have not been slaughtered in accordance with Halachic standards.  Rambam, in his commentary to the Mishna (Keritut 3:4),9 writes that meat that is prohibited because it is not slaughtered properly cannot be assigned the additional prohibition of a mixture of milk and meat (Ein Issur Chal Al Issur).  This is not merely an academic issue because a Jew is permitted to benefit from (though he is forbidden to eat) improperly slaughtered meat but is forbidden to benefit from a mixture of milk and meat.  If Rambam's opinion is accepted as normative, then one may feed an animal commercial pet food that contains a mixture of milk and meat, since it is most likely10 that the meat ingredients are not Kosher.  However, since many authorities11 do not accept Rambam's view as normative, it is best to avoid relying on this leniency, especially since a biblical violation may be involved.


Feeding a Pet During Pesach

            One is also forbidden to benefit from Chametz during Pesach.  Hence, on Pesach one may not feed an animal food which contains Chametz (much pet food, in fact, does contain Chametz).  One may not even instruct a non-Jew to feed his animals Chametz since by doing so he derives benefit from Chametz inasmuch his animal is thereby being nourished (Shulchan Aruch 448:17).  However, if one's pet must eat Chametz, he is permitted to sell the animal to a non-Jew.  The animal should be given to the non-Jew to keep in his home,12 where he may feed it Chametz.  In doing so one is not deriving benefit from Chametz since after the sale the animal is not his.  A competent rabbi, though, should be consulted to ensure that the sale is Halachically valid.13

            On Pesach, one is forbidden even to own Chametz.  Accordingly, care should be taken to either remove pet food that contains Chametz from one's property or include it with the Chametz that is sold to a non-Jew.  However, Ashkenazic Jews, whose custom it is to avoid eating Kitniyot14 (rice, legumes, and the like) on Pesach are permitted to own and derive benefit from these foods on Pesach.  Hence, one may feed pets Kitniyot during Pesach.

            Next week, God willing and Bli Neder, we will discuss the issue of removing a pet's reproductive organs.


                  1.  The fact that Rabbi Yosef Karo does not record this rule in the Shulchan Aruch would seem to indicate that he agrees with the Rambam's position in this regard. He only writes (Orach Chaim 167:6) that saying "feed the animals" does not constitute an improper interruption (Hefsek) between a blessing recited over food and eating the food.

                  2.  Rabbi Yaakov Emden (Sheilot Yaavetz 17) seems also to maintain that it is biblically forbidden to eat before feeding one's animals.

                  3.  Rabbi Yaakov Emden (ibid.) writes that this law essentially does not apply to dogs and cats because "food is available for them practically everywhere since they can forage for food in garbage and the like and are not dependent on their owners for survival." (Rabbi Emden's ruling is cited by Shaarei Teshuva 167:9 and Chayei Adam 45:1). However, Rabbi Emden's ruling does not seem applicable to some animals which are confined to a house or yard and cannot find food on their own.

                  4.  Mishna Berura (167:40) and Aruch Hashulchan (167:13).

                  5.  Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 448:6; Yoreh Deah 94:6. For summaries of the discussion concerning feeding mixtures of milk and meat to ownerless animals see Yad Avraham, Yoreh Deah 94:3 and Badei Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 87:10.

                  6.  Rama, Yoreh Deah 87:1; Shach, Yoreh Deah 87:2; Taz, Yoreh Deah 87:1.

                  7.  Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 87:1-3.

                  8.  This author was told that much commercial pet food contains horse meat and does not pose a Halachic problem. In addition, much pet food is ground and not cooked and does not pose a halachic problem. However, steamed pet food is considered to be cooked insofar as mixtures of milk and meat are concerned. Even though many authorities rule that steaming is not considered to be cooking in the context of the prohibition of eating food cooked by a non-Jew (see Yabia Omer Yoreh Deah 5:9:2), this is not applicable to the laws of mixtures of milk and meat. These authorities regard the process of steaming foods to be analogous to the process of smoking foods, and smoked foods are not included in the prohibition of eating foods cooked by a non-Jew (Yoreh Deah 113:13). However, most authorities rule that smoking food is considered to be cooking food in the context of the laws of mixtures of milk and meat (see Aruch Hashulchan 87:25 and Badei Hashulchan 87:72), and therefore, regarding these laws, steaming is considered to be cooking. Furthermore, one of the considerations of those who rule that steaming food is analogous to smoking food in the context of food cooked by a non-Jew is that the prohibition involved is rabbinic in nature, in which case one may be lenient in case of doubt. However, since in the context of the laws of mixing of meat and milk a biblical prohibition may be involved, the possibility of ruling leniently in this context is significantly diminished.

                  9.  It is unclear whether Rambam maintains this position in the Mishna Torah; see Hilchot Maachalot Assurot 9:6, and Dagul Merevavah Yoreh Deah 87:3.

                  10.  One may assume that the meat in the pet food is not Kosher since most of the meat in this country is either not from a Kosher animal or has not been slaughtered properly (Kol D'parish Meiruba Parish).

                  11.  Pri Megadim, in his introduction to the laws of mixtures of milk and meat, and Chatam Safer, Responsum 92. Dagul Merevavah, Yoreh Deah 87:3, indicates that one may rely on the Rambam's view in case of great need, and the Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 87:12, accepts this leniency of the Rambam without any reservations or limitations.  For an analysis of this issue see the essay by Rabbi Menachem Genack, "Basar Bechalav Bevasar Neveilah" Mesorah III, pp. 92-96.  No Halachic problem is involved with the purchase of non-Kosher food on behalf of one's pets, see Shach, Yoreh Deah 117:3, Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 117:19, and Kerem Tzvi number 55.

                  12.  Mishna Berura 448:33 and Aruch Hashulchan 448:12-13.  Some authorities question the validity of the sale of the animal if the animal remains in the Jew's home and a gentile comes and feeds it Chametz.  Placing the animal in the gentile's home strengthens the validity of the sale (Aruch Hashulchan 448:13) and avoids the Halachic difficulties that are involved when a non-Jew brings Chametz into one's home during Pesach.

                  13.  Care should be taken to ascertain that the animal was not included in the general sale of Chametz to a non-Jew. If the animal was already sold, then one may not sell the animal to another non-Jew.

                  14.  Shulchan Aruch 453:1. For a discussion of Kitniyot see Rabbi Alfred Cohen, "Kitniyot in Halachic Literature, Past and Present," Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society VI, pp. 65-78.]

Kinyan on the Internet by Meir Gelfenstein

Halachic Perspectives on Pets - Part I by Rabbi Chaim Jachter