Question: Is it permitted to watch a bullfight?
Answer: There is no doubt that bullfighting is against the spirit of the Torah and basic Jewish values. The obligation to prevent the suffering of animals, known as tzar ba’alei hayyim, has its roots in the book of Exodus. It is derived from the commandment to unload our fellow’s animal if it was buckling under the weight of its load [Ex. 23:4]. The Talmud in tractate Shabbat [128b] discusses the case of an animal that fell into a pit on Shabbat. It rules that one is allowed to transgress a rabbinic prohibition and fill the pit with pillows and cushions to enable the animal to crawl out. The reason given is that rabbinic prohibitions are overridden by the scriptural obligation to prevent an animal’s suffering.
It is interesting to note that the steps one takes to prevent an animal’s suffering are apparently greater than what is done in the case of other commandments. For example, circumcising a child on the eighth day is also a scriptural commandment. However, one is not allowed to transgress a rabbinic prohibition in order to fulfil this obligation. Thus, a Brit is delayed if it would involve carrying a knife through a public area on Shabbat, even though carrying is only a rabbinic prohibition. Given this concern for animal welfare, a bullfight, where the bull is intentionally ill-treated to make it go wild, would be strictly forbidden.
Furthermore, many poskim rule that it is forbidden to kill an animal except in the context of Shechita. In Jewish law, even putting down a wild animal that constitutes a public danger requires a court order. The Noda B’yehudah [Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, Prague, 18th Century] forbids hunting because of the likelihood of causing animal suffering. [Part 2, YD 10]
Not only is it forbidden to engage in bullfighting, but even watching a bullfight is forbidden. The Psalmist wrote: Happy is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked and has not stood in the path of the sinners. [Ps. 1:1] Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi comments on this verse: The counsel of the wicked – this refers to the theatres and circuses of the nations. The path of the sinners – this refers to Kanigyon. [BT AZ 18b] Rashi explains that Kanigyon is hunting for animals with dogs, where the sole purpose is entertainment and enjoyment. The Talmud also states: One who goes to the stadium, or the Karkom, and saw there the snakes and the charmers – this is the place of the scoffers. In this case Rashi explains that the stadium is a place where they hold bullfights.
There are some activities that are more than forbidden. In the case of bull-fights, the prohibition extends even to being a passive observer. Enjoying the suffering of animals is in itself morally wrong. A person must distance himself from it in every way.
Rabbi Chaim Weiner
Based on Ovadiah Yosef, Yachve Da’at 3:61
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