"An Ox or a Sheep - You Shall Not Slaughter It and Its Young on the Same Day"

  • Rabbanit Sharon Rimon
Please pray for a refua sheleima for טובה מאטל בת חנה אטל

This week's parasha opens with the subject of protecting sanctity and the sanctified things – i.e., sacrificial food. Chapter 21 discusses the sanctity of the kohanim: the prohibition of defiling themselves through contact with a corpse, the categories of women whom they may not marry, the prohibition against a kohen with any physical blemish performing sacrifices. Chapter 22 goes on to discuss the sanctity of the kodshim – sacrificial foods etc. - and their consumption by a kohen in a state of ritual purity. 

From verse 17 onwards the chapter addresses the sanctity of the sacrifices. First we find the prohibition against offering a sacrifice that has any blemish (verses 17-25), and thereafter we find three miscellaneous laws pertaining to sacrifices:

a.          An animal may be brought as a sacrifice only from the age of eight days (verse 27);

b.          Prohibition against slaughtering an animal and its young on the same day (verse 28), and

c.          Consumption of the meat of a thanksgiving sacrifice by no later than the next morning (verses 29-30). 

The unit comprising these three laws is problematic.  What are they doing in the middle of a parasha that discusses the maintenance of sanctity? 

We may explain that the first two laws aptly follow what preceded them by defining the animal that is fit for offering as a sacrifice: it must have no blemish, and it must be at least eight days old [1]. 

Another condition for acceptability as a sacrifice is that "you shall not slaughter it and its young on the same day." 

The third law, addressing the consumption of the meat of a thanksgiving sacrifice, appears to be connected to the laws of eating sanctified foods which appear at the beginning of the chapter. The meat of a thanksgiving sacrifice is defined as kodshim kalim – i.e., embodying a lesser level of sanctity, and it is eaten by the owner of the sacrifice. For this reason it is not treated together with the laws of eating kodshim, which pertain to the kohanim. Nevertheless, this is still sacrificial meat, and therefore special conditions apply to its consumption; it is therefore appropriate that they be set out in the parasha that discusses the maintenance and guarding of sanctity. 

In this shiur we shall focus on the law, "You shall not slaughter it and its young on the same day." 

Profane Meat or Sanctified Meat? 

From the context of the parasha it would seem clear that this law is talking about animals brought as sacrifices. But in the actual wording of the verse there is no indication that this is necessarily the case. We are not told, "You shall not OFFER it and its young on the same day," but rather, "You shall not SLAUGHTER…." Were this verse to appear anywhere other than in the context of sacrifices, we would understand it as referring to any slaughter. 

Indeed, the Sages rule that this prohibition applies both to animals brought as sacrifices and to regular slaughter for meat: 

[The law of] "It and its young" applies both in the land and outside of it, whether in front of the Temple or not in front of it, whether for sacrificial or profane purposes. ... The Rabbis taught: From where do we deduce that [the law of] "It and its young" applies to sanctified meat? As it is written, "When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born…," and thereafter it is written, "An ox or a sheep – you shall not slaughter it and its young on the same day." Thus we deduce that "It and its son" applies to sacrifices. Is it possible that this law applies to sacrificial slaughter, but not to regular slaughter? "An ox" – the [previous] matter was concluded.  Is it possible that it applies to profane slaughter, but not to sacrificial slaughter? [Surely not, and we learn this from the wording,] "And an ox" – vav ("and") continues the previous matter." (Chullin, 78a) 

Let us follow the logic by which our Sages deduced from the verses that the law of "It and its son" applies to both profane and sacrificial slaughter. It clearly applies to the latter because it follows immediately on from a law dealing with sacrifices, and is connected to that law by means of the conjunctive vav: "… and from the eighth day onwards it shall be acceptable AS A SACRIFICE by fire to God. AND AN OX or a sheep – you shall not slaughter it and its young on the same day." 

The law also applies to profane slaughter, and not only to animals brought as sacrifices, because this law has its own introduction: "And an ox or sheep." Hence it is not merely a continuation of the previous verse; it may stand alone, and – as noted above – if we read the verse independently of its context, there is no reason to assume that it is referring specifically to sacrifices. The prohibition of slaughtering an animal and its young on the same day appears to apply to any slaughter. 

"It and Its Son" – Regarding Sacrifices 

If the prohibition of "It and its son" applies to any slaughter, why does it appear here, in the midst of the laws of sacrifices? 

There are two possible ways of explaining this: Either

a.           the essence of the law pertains to sacrifices, but it is extended to include all categories of slaughter; or

b.           the essence of the law applies to all slaughter, and it appears here for reasons that require further clarification. 

The first option seems quite logical. After all, the prohibition is located in the midst of a section of laws pertaining to sacrifices, and it does not appear again elsewhere. Hence it makes sense to posit that the essence of the law pertains specifically to sacrifices. 

If we adopt this understanding, we must explain why it is especially important in the context of a sacrifice that an animal and its young are not slaughtered on the same day. We must then further question why the same prohibition also applies to profane slaughter. 

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains the prohibition as a law that pertains essentially to sacrifices: 

All of these requirements add up to a single concept: the relationship of the mother animal to her young. We dare permit ourselves to suggest that this concept addresses that aspect of the animal that represents the beginnings of an affinity to the nature of man. Selfishness, egocentricity, and self-interest – these are the powerful forces that motivate animal life. Selflessness for the sake of the existence of someone else and devoted concern for his welfare – these are reflected in the mother animal's compassion at the time of birth and care for her young. They represent the beginnings of elevation to the selflessness that characterizes human love… This spark of a human trait should not be blurred; rather, it should be highlighted and taken into consideration. Attention should be paid to it in that animal that represents, in the sacrifice, man's moral vision.

That spark of a human trait is what renders the animal suited to represent this. And the need for and consideration of this trait are what characterize the concept of sacrifice in Judaism: its sole purpose is man's moral advancement… Consideration of the human aspects of the animal represents the foundation of the law of "It and its young." 

To Rav Hirsch's view, when a sacrifice is offered, the animal represents the person. Therefore it is specifically at the time of sacrifice that it is necessary to emphasize the characteristics of the animal that are similar to the characteristics of man. Animals resemble man in the sphere of maternal devotion, and therefore this trait must be emphasized especially at the time of sacrifice. The prohibition of slaughtering an animal and its young takes into consideration the maternal instincts of the animal, thereby highlighting the similarity between the animal that is sacrificed and man. 

This being so, why does the same prohibition apply also to profane slaughter? Rav Hirsch goes on to explain: 

But this law applies to profane slaughter, too – i.e., during the preparation of a regular meat meal. This teaches us that a Jew's table resembles the altar, in terms of its moral essence and purpose. And since only slaughter is prohibited -but not piercing or any other form of killing - it is proven that the prohibition is not based on mercy, taking pity on the animal's feelings, etc. Rather, the reason is as follows: in turning the life of an animal into food for ourselves, we should remember the idea of humanity at that moment when we set aside an animal to be assimilated into our own essence. 

According to Rav Hirsch, the prohibition of "It and its young" has special significance with regard to the sacrifices, and therefore it appears amongst the laws of sacrifices. But it also has significance for profane slaughter for food, in recalling the traits of the animal (love and devotion) that resemble human traits, and therefore the prohibition applies there, too. 

License for Profane Slaughter 

We may perhaps offer another explanation for the location of this law amongst the laws of sacrifices: 

Any person from the house of Israel who slaughters an ox or a sheep or a goat in the camp, or one who slaughters outside of the camp, and who does not bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to offer a sacrifices to the Lord before the Lord's Sanctuary – blood[shed] shall be attributed to that person; he has spilled blood, and that person shall be cut off from amongst his people. (Vayikra 17)

 According to the above verses, Bnei Yisrael are forbidden to slaughter and eat meat without offering a sacrifice. Such an act is considered equivalent to bloodshed. A person who wants to eat meat must bring a peace offering, and following the sacrifice he receives part of the meat for his own consumption. 

According to these verses, there is no such thing as profane slaughter; any slaughter involves a sacrifice. But, as we know, profane slaughter is indeed permitted. At what point did the Torah permit this? 

When the Lord your God expands your borders, as He has spoken to you, and you say: "I shall eat meat" – for you will desire to eat meat – then you may eat meat to your heart's desire. If the place which the Lord your God chooses to place His Name there is far from you, you shall slaughter of your oxen and of your sheep that the Lord has given you, as He has commanded you, and you shall eat within your gates, to your heart's content. (Devarim 12) 

According to these verses, profane slaughter is permitted when "the Lord your God expands your borders," and when "the place which the Lord chooses… is far from you." In other words, when the nation is dispersed over a large area and they are at a great distance from the Sanctuary, then it becomes permissible for them to eat meat without bringing it as a sacrifice. When does this become applicable? Upon entry into the land. Commenting on Devarim 12:20, Rash writes: "But in the desert they were forbidden profane meat – unless it was first sanctified and brought as a peace offering." 

In other words, at first – in the desert – Bnei Yisrael were forbidden to eat profane meat. Only when they entered the land did this become permissible. Why was there this difference between the desert and the land? We may explain this in terms of a technical difference: in the desert it was possible to offer a sacrifice every time one wanted to eat meat, because the camp was of reasonable size and the Mishkan was relatively close by. Once settled in the land, the nation could not reasonably be required to offer a sacrifice in the Mishkan every time they wanted to eat meat, since the distance was great. Therefore profane slaughter became permitted as soon as they entered the land. 

But perhaps, behind this technical explanation, there lies a more fundamental view of eating meat. In fact, it is not proper to eat meat without offering a sacrifice. Slaughtering an animal is considered as spilling blood, as we read in Vayikra 17:4 – "Blood[shed] shall be attributed to that person; he has spilled blood." 

Offering a sacrifice, on the other hand, is a worthy act. Hence, the only worthy way to eat meat is by bringing it as a peace offering. 

The entry into the land represents a transition to a natural, normal existence. In the context of a regular existence, a person is not required to visit the Temple every time he wants to eat meat. He may eat directly from nature – even animals – but the Torah emphasizes that this represents a spiritual blemish: "For your heart SHALL DESIRE (lit. "lust") to eat meat; you may eat meat TO YOUR HEART'S DESIRE… You shall eat it within your gates to your heart's DESIRE." This emphasis on the lust for meat conveys the impression that eating profane meat is an unworthy lust. How can meat that is consumed out of lust become permissible? The special laws of ritual slaughter, and the law of "You shall not slaughter it and its young on the same day" are meant to effect this transition. 

This being so, in the desert profane slaughter was prohibited; there was only sacrificial slaughter. In other words, in the desert all the laws of slaughter were, in effect, laws of sacrifices. Once inside the land, profane slaughter was allowed, and then the laws of slaughter were applied to this sphere as well.

 Let us now come back to our question: Why does the law of "It and its young" not appear in the context of profane slaughter, but rather only in relation to sacrifices? According to what we have said above, the law appears within the context of sacrifices because in the desert there was no other category of slaughter. After the entry into the land, the Gemara deduces that the same law applies to any slaughter. In other words, its essence is not related specifically to sacrifices; in any instance of slaughter it is prohibited to kill an animal and its young on the same day. 

Reason for the Prohibition 

What is the rationale for the prohibition of slaughtering an animal and its young on the same day? 

At first glance it would appear obvious that the reason is compassion. This, indeed, is the position of the Rambam: 

We are also forbidden to slaughter an animal and its young on the same day – a fence and distancing (from prohibition), lest the young be slaughtered before the mother, for this causes great suffering to the animal. There is no difference between human suffering in this [situation] and the suffering of other animals, for a mother's love and compassion for her young is not the product of logic, but rather a function of the power of resemblance which exists in most animals just as it does in man…." (Guide for the Perplexed, section III, 48) 

According to the Rambam, the prohibition of "It and its young" is meant to prevent a situation in which the young is slaughtered before its mother's eyes, in order not to cause the mother animal anguish. In other words, the prohibition arises from God's compassion for His creatures. 

The same idea appears in the Midrash: 

Why is a baby circumcised on the eighth day? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, has pity on him, and waits for him until he has some strength. And just as God has mercy upon man, so He has mercy upon animals. From where do we learn this? As it is written, "From the eighth day onwards it shall be acceptable as a sacrifice." Furthermore, the Holy One declares, "You shall not slaughter it and its young on the same day." And just as the Holy One shows compassion to animals, so His mercy extends to the birds. From where do we learn this? As it is written, "If you happen upon a bird's nest…." (Devarim, parasha 6) 

According to this Midrash, the prohibition of "It and its young" arises from God's mercy towards all of His creations. The Midrash also makes mention of the law immediately preceding this one: the law of offering an animal as a sacrifice only from its eighth day of life onwards. These two adjacent laws in our parasha address the relationship between a mother and her young, and both are motivated by compassion [2]. The third law mentioned in the Midrash as resulting from God's mercy for His creatures is the commandment to chase a mother bird from the nest before removing its young or eggs. 

Many midrashim bring together the commandment to remove the mother bird and the prohibition of "It and its young," as two laws symbolizing Divine mercy. For example, Midrash Tanchuma: 

"An ox or a sheep – you shall not slaughter it and its young on the same day" – Where the text says, "The righteous one knows the heart of his animal" – this refers to the Holy One, blessed be He, Who said, "You shall not take the mother [bird] along with the young"; "…but the mercy of the wicked is cruel" – this refers to Sancheriv, concerning whom it is written, "The mother was dashed in pieces upon the children." An alternative interpretation: "The righteous one knows…" – this refers to the Holy One, blessed be He, Who said: "An ox or a sheep – you shall not slaughter it and its young," "But the mercy of the wicked is cruelty" – this refers to Haman, concerning whom it is written, "To kill and destroy….." (Emor 18) 

It would seem that there is some similarity between the law of sending away the mother bird and the prohibition of "It and its young." In both cases the Torah is speaking about a mother animal and its young, where the prohibition concerns taking them, and in both cases the law appears to reflect compassion. 

The Ramban, commenting on the commandment of sending away the mother bird, disagrees with the Rambam. To his view, the two commandments are not based on God's compassion towards animals. 

"If a bird's nest happen to be before you on the way' – this commandment, too, may be explained in the same way as that of "You shall not slaughter it and its young on the same day." The reason for both of them is that we should not have a cruel and unpitying heart…

… That God does not take pity on a bird's nest, and His mercies do not extend to that animal and its young – for His mercies do not extend to animal life forms, so as to prevent us from doing with them as we wish. For if this were the case, He would have prohibited slaughter. Rather, the reason for the prohibition is to teach us the trait of mercy, that we should not be cruel. For cruelty spreads throughout one's personality – as we know from the butchers who slaughter great oxen and donkeys, that they are bloodthirsty people who shed human blood with great cruelty… and behold, these commandments concerning animals and birds do not represent [Divine] mercy for [the animals], but rather are decrees for us, guiding us and teaching us positive traits…. (Devarim 22:6) 

The Ramban does not accept the idea that God commands us to send away the mother bird, and prohibits the slaughter of an animal and its young on the same day, out of compassion for the animal. To the Ramban's view, the purpose of both of these commandments is to educate man. 

Admittedly, the Ramban agrees that the commandment does involve the concept of compassion – but not on God's part directly (i.e., that God has mercy upon the animals and therefore prohibits us from causing them anguish), but rather as being aimed at teaching man to be compassionate and not cruel. 

The Rashbam offers a similar explanation for the commandment to send away the mother bird: 

I have already explained, on [the commandment] "You shall not cook a kid in its mother's milk," and also on [the commandment] "It and its young," that it seems cruel and lustful to take and slaughter and cook and consume an animal together with its young." (Devarim 22:6) 

Thus, the Rashbam adds to the discussion the prohibition against cooking a kid in its mother's milk. He claims that all three prohibitions - all involving taking an animal together with its young - educate a person not to be lustful and cruel [3]. 

One of the Ramban's proofs against the Rambam is that if God were indeed to use the commandments to express His compassion for animals, He would have forbidden us from slaughtering them! 

We may expand the Ramban's question as follows: 

What kind of compassion are we displaying by sending the mother bird away from the nest while she is busy sitting on her eggs [4]? What kind of compassion are we displaying if we leave an animal alive while slaughtering its young? Or – the inverse – if we leave the young animal alive without its mother? Such questions arouse significant doubt as to the element of compassion embodied in these commandments [5]. Nevertheless, several commentators and midrashim relate to the commandment to send away the bird, and to the prohibition of "It and its young," as expressions of mercy or as being aimed at teaching us mercy. Even if not all of the details really support this view, the feeling at the time of performing the commandment is one of compassion. 

Limitations of Slaughter 

The Ramban, continuing on from his commentary quoted above, suggests another reason for these laws: 

the text would not permit the annihilation or obliteration of the species – even though slaughter of that species is permitted. For one who kills animals and their young on the same day, or takes them before they are free to fly – such acts would lead to the species disappearing. 

What the Ramban is telling us here is that although God permits man to eat meat, this must be within reasonable boundaries: animals may not be slaughtered in a manner that leads to their extinction. 

The killing of an animal and its young on the same day and taking a mother bird together with her young or her eggs, symbolize the obliteration of that family. If one member of the family is left alive, it allows for continued existence. 

By observing these commandments a person is reminded that although animals are permitted to him as food, he must limit and control himself in this area. Animals are not inanimate property; they are God's creations and God desires their continued existence. 

Therefore, man is forbidden to annihilate animals. To symbolize this concept, he is forbidden to slaughter an animal and its young on the same day. He must place limits on the license to slaughter, in order to allow animals to continue to exist, and in order to learn humility. He must know that the whole world is not his and he cannot act do whatever he wants to do. He may not destroy. 

"When the Holy One, blessed be He, created Adam, He took him and showed him all the trees in the Garden of Eden, and said to him: See My works; how fine and beautiful they are. All that I have created, I created for you. Take care not to spoil and destroy My world…." (Kohelet Rabba, parasha 7) 

It seems that the lesson that the Torah is teaching us concerns not only the annihilation of animals, but also an emphasis on the fact that they are living creatures. Therefore their slaughter is considered as bloodshed (Vayikra 17), and is highly problematic. 

When man was first created, he was permitted to eat only plants: "Behold, I have given you all the herbs… and all the trees… they shall be for you for food" (Bereishit 1:29). Animals were not given to Adam for food. In this primal, ideal state of the world, man is vegetarian. He controls and rules over the animal kingdom: "Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and all the animals that swarm upon the earth" (Bereishit 1:28), but he has no license to kill them and eat them. 

From the story of Kayin and Hevel we learn that the slaughter of animals for sacrificial purposes was permissible even at that early time: "Hevel, too, brought from the firstborn of his flock and from their fat parts. And God accepted Hevel and his offering…" (Bereishit 4:4). Noach, too, upon leaving the ark, offers a sacrifice (Bereishit 8:20). 

Thus, there is clearly a fundamental difference between slaughter for food and slaughter for sacrificial purposes. The latter is – by definition - permissible, and even praiseworthy. Therefore this possibility existed from the beginning of Creation. Sacrifice means giving to God, as it were; what it signifies is our acknowledgement of God's rule over us. Hence it involves no issue of man ruling over nature. Sacrificial slaughter is not considered bloodshed because man is not killing for himself, but rather for a higher purpose.

 Slaughter for eating, on the other hand, is problematic, and therefore was not originally permitted. Man was granted license to eat meat only after the Flood: "Every moving thing that lives shall be for you for food; like the green herbs I have given you all of it" (Bereishit 9:3) [6]. However, this license was granted within limits. Some of the limits apply to all of mankind (taking a limb from a living animal), but most are aimed specifically at Am Yisrael. Owing to their unique spiritual status, Am Yisrael is more limited in the killing and eating of animals. 

At the beginning of the nation's history, in the desert, it was forbidden to eat profane meat. There, anyone who wanted meat had to first bring it as a sacrifice – such that the slaughter was for sacrificial purposes and was thus rendered a positive act. In this sense, the situation in the desert was somewhat similar to the situation in the Garden of Eden. Following the entry into the land, the nation was permitted to eat profane meat – but still within certain limits aimed at reminding man of the limitations of his supremacy and the proper attitude towards animal life. 

The prohibition of slaughtering an animal with its young on the same day is significant in any slaughter – and perhaps especially in the context of profane slaughter. If so, why does it appear in our parasha as part of the laws of sacrifices? 

In the desert, all laws of slaughter were, in effect, laws of sacrifice, because no profane slaughter was allowed. Therefore, the law of "It and its young" was one of the laws of sacrifices. 

Still, we are left with the question of why the law is mentioned specifically here, rather than being included along with the other laws of slaughter that were taught to Moshe at Sinai and conveyed in Devarim 12? 

We raised the possibility that the law of "It and its young" appears here, immediately after the law that an animal may be offered as a sacrifice only from its eighth day of life onwards, because both laws place limitations on slaughter out of consideration for the relationship between an animal and its young – i.e., out of compassion. 


We addressed two reasons for the laws of sending away the mother bird and "It and its young." The first and more commonly accepted reason is based on compassion. According to most of the commentators, these laws draw our attention to the fact that animals are living creatures; they themselves show compassion towards their young, and we are meant to feel merciful towards them because they are living creatures.

 The second reason concerns limitations on slaughter. The slaughter of an animal and its young symbolizes the obliteration of a family. Man must recognize that living things are not under his absolute control and subject to his every whim. He has no right to annihilate them. 

These two reasons are interconnected. Because animals are living creatures, they should ideally not be eaten at all. In light of changes that took place in man and in the world, man received license to eat meat – but this is clearly not the ideal situation. Therefore, although he is permitted to eat meat, man must always remember that animals are living creatures and he must therefore feel merciful towards them. For this reason his slaughter of them must be limited; he may not obliterate them. 


[1] The rationale of this law, according to some commentators, is that until the eighth day the animal is not yet perfectly formed, or that during its first seven days it has a greater chance of dying, and therefore it is not suitable to be brought as a sacrifice - just as an animal that is blemished in some way may not be brought. Based on these explanations, the connection between this law and the preceding subject – the prohibition of offering a blemished animal – is clear. A different reason that is provided for this law is to teach mercy: following the birth the mother and her young share a closeness with one another, and they must not be separated.

[2] We may perhaps explain the location of the prohibition of "It and its young" accordingly. Following the law of sacrificing an animal from its eighth day, the Torah mentions another law of sacrifice that is based on the principle of compassion for a mother and her young.

According to this view there is no inherent connection between this prohibition and the laws of sacrifices; it appears here only because of its association with the preceding law.

[3] See Ibn Ezra on Shemot 23:19.

[4] According to some opinions, one is obligated to send away the bird even if he does not want the eggs.

[5] Concerning the sending away of the mother bird, the Mishna (Berakhot 5,3) teaches:

One who says, "Your mercy extends even to a bird's nest," or, "Your Name will be mentioned for good," or, "Modim Modim (we thank You, we thank You)," we silence him."

This Mishna raises several issues regarding the reasons for the commandments in general, and the one concerning the mother bird in particular, but we shall not elaborate here.

[6] The license to eat meat appears to have come about in light of physical and spiritual changes that took place in the world; see the commentaries on Bereishit 9. 


Translated by Kaeren Fish