Torah Prohibits Species Extinction
The Torah prohibits the extinction of species and causing undue pain to non-human creatures.
Our ancestors could not have anticipated the loss of biodiversity that the modern world has produced; from their perspective, there was no natural extinction rate of species. God, they believed, had created all species at one time and there could be no new creatures. Only humans could cause extinction and bring about the loss of one of the members of the Creation choir. In the Torah there is a law that says:
“If along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother with her young. Let the mother go, and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life.” (Deuteronomy 22:6-7)
Ramban (Moses ben Nachman, Nachmanides, 1194-1270) in his commentary to the Torah wrote:
“This also is an explanatory commandment of the prohibition you shall not kill it [the mother] and its young both in one day (Leviticus 22:28). The reason for both [commandments] is that we should not have a cruel heart and not be compassionate, or it may be that Scripture does not permit us to destroy a species altogether, although it permits slaughter [for food] within that group. Now the person who kills the mother and the young in one day or takes them when they are free to fly, [it is regarded] as though they have destroyed that species.”
It is evident from the first chapter of Genesis and other Biblical texts (Psalm 104, 148, and Job 38-41) that God takes care of, and pleasure in, the variety of life that makes up Creation. And although we might regard a species as unimportant or bothersome to human beings, God does not regard them so. The rabbis understood that we do not know God’s purpose for every creature and that we should not regard any of them as superfluous. “Our Rabbis said: Even those things that you may regard as completely superfluous to Creation – such as fleas, gnats and flies—even they were included in Creation; and God’s purpose is carried through everything—even through a snake, a scorpion, a gnat, a frog.” (Genesis Rabbah 10:7) In environmental terms, every species has an inherent value beyond its instrumental or useful value to human beings. Related to this idea is the concept of Tzar Baalei Chayyim, the prohibition of hurting animals without good purpose (based on Deut. 22:6, 22:10, 25:4, Numbers 22:32, Exodus 20:8-10, Lev. 22:27-8). These concepts bring to our relationships with the non-human world limits and controls over our power and greed.
Taken from GreenFaith.org's Ten Jewish Teachings on Judaism and the Environment. Cover image is of an endangered species of Israeli Antelope. “It is vital to maintain contiguous open areas and ecological corridors, especially in gazelle habitats. Unnecessary development should be avoided.” (Times of Israel, 2015). Read a list of Israel's endangered species here.