For my write-up today on Joseph Telushkin's A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 2: Love Your Neighbor As Yourself, I will use as my fulcrum what the apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 9:8-11 (in the KJV):
"Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? For
it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of
the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or
saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is
written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that
thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?"
is saying that the law in the Torah about not muzzling the mouth of the
ox who treads out the corn is teaching the principle that workers
deserve to be paid and does not really relate to oxen, whom God does not
"take care for." Paul is arguing in I Corinthians 9 that he as a
minister deserves to be supported by the Corinthian church, but he has
graciously elected not to make use of that right, and so the Corinthian
church should give him a break.
I have heard sermons that have
taken a swipe at Judaism on the basis of I Corinthians 9:8-11. These
preachers' idea is that Christianity sees a deeper spiritual or ethical
meaning in the Torah, whereas Judaism sticks with the literal
interpretation. One preacher I heard speculated that a Pharisee
would probably be meticulous in insuring that his ox was not muzzled
while it was treading out the grain, and yet the Pharisee would turn
right around and defraud his workers. According to this preacher, the
Pharisee was obeying the literal level of the law, while violating the
law's deeper meaning.
I seriously doubt that
Pharisaic or rabbinic Judaism supported defrauding workers, whether or
not it believed that the law in the Torah about not muzzling the ox had deeper meaning. After
all, the surface meaning of Leviticus 19:13 is that the Israelites
should not defraud their neighbors and should pay wages promptly. But
did Judaism ever see deeper meaning in laws that related to the
treatment of animals? Yes. Maimonides said that the law in
Deuteronomy 25:4 about not muzzling the ox applies to other working
animals as well. Maimonides also stated that the law in Deuteronomy
22:6-7 forbidding the taking away of baby birds or eggs in the presence
of the mother bird has implications for how we treat humans: "If
the law provides that such grief not be caused to cattle or birds, how
much more careful must we be not to cause grief to our fellow man" (The
Guide for the Perplexed 3:48).
Maimonides was not
always consistent on the principle, for Telushkin notes that Maimonides
was anti-Gentile, to the point that Maimonides ruled that a Jew is not
obligated to save a Gentile idolater whose life is endangered ("Laws of
Murder" 4:11). But Telushkin asserts that anti-Gentile laws are not
mandatory for Jews today, for we should remember the anti-Judaism among
Gentiles in Maimonides' environment, and how that contrasts with the
tolerance towards Jews in the United States. Telushkin refers to the
thirteenth century French rabbi, Menachem Meiri as one who "issued a
legal ruling intended to alter the status of non-Jews in Jewish law
permanently" (page 279), and to alter it in a more tolerant direction.
I'd now like to turn to the apostle Paul's question: "Doth
God take care for oxen?" Judaism would answer in the affirmative, for
Psalm 145:9 affirms that God's mercy is on all his works.
According to Telushkin, how we treat animals is a good indicator of our
character, especially when animals are weaker than we are and lack the
ability to thank us for our kindness. I much prefer that attitude to
that of Paul.