Gambling, hunting, fur coats in Jewish law

What does halakha have to say about gambling, fur coats and going hunting?

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple,

 Raymond Apple
Raymond Apple


Q. Is there any religious problem with Jews gambling?

A. An occasional lottery ticket or card game is no problem, but the professional or compulsive gambler is severely frowned on in Jewish law.

The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 3:3) disqualifies the dice-player – “m’sachek b’kuvya” – from being a witness in a Jewish court of law if “ein lo ummanut ella hu” – he has no other occupation.

Such a person, it is said, makes no constructive contribution to society; he places his family’s stability in jeopardy and risks becoming a charge on the community; and if he habitually takes a gamble, he will take a gamble with the truth too and cannot be trusted.

In his “Jewish Life in the Middle Ages”, Israel Abrahams describes the problems caused by gambling in the medieval period, and there is also an object lesson in the case of Leon de Modena, the 17th-century rabbi with a passion for card-playing and gambling who repeatedly tried to give up his addiction which left him penniless.


Q. Is it true that hunting is against Jewish law?

A. Absolutely. We have a duty to emulate God who is tenderly concerned for animals as well as people (Psalm 145:9).

The historian William Lecky wrote, “Tenderness to animals is one of the most beautiful features of the Old Testament writers”. It is a constant theme in Judaism both in the Bible and in all our later literature.

Hunting down human beings for sport is ethically unthinkable. So is hunting animals. There are only two hunters recorded in the Bible – Nimrod and Esau, and neither has ever been a Jewish role model.

Albert Einstein used to relate a conversation with Walter Rathenau, who was then head of the German Reichstag. “Rathenau declared,” reported Einstein, “that when a Jew says he is going hunting for pleasure, he is telling lies!”

Only two types of hunting are permitted – hunting for food (Lev. 17:13 refers to “hunting any beast or fowl that may be eaten”) and hunting down fierce animals that are a threat to human safety – but neither is done for sport.

Possibly there is a question in relation to fishing, but people generally go fishing for food, not for the thrill of the chase or because they get pleasure from seeing the fish suffer.


Q. What does Jewish law say about wearing fur coats?

A. The late Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Chayyim David Halevi, deals with this issue in his volume of responsa (“Mayim Chayyim”, vol. 2, 1995).

He reports that a member of the Israeli public approached him after observing a demonstration against fur coats outside a hall in Tel Aviv where a cantorial concert was taking place. Since some of the mostly orthodox concert audience were wearing fur coats, he presumed that they were implying that whatever God created, including the animals, was given to man to use, and therefore it must be acceptable to kill animals in order to make fur coats.

The questioner asked, however, why people could not wear woollen garments instead if they wanted to dress well and warmly.

Rabbi Halevi points out in his response that though both man and the animals were created by God, man is the pinnacle of creation and has Divine sanction to use animals for human benefit.

Thus the eating of meat, which obviously entails slaughtering animals, is permitted by the Torah, but hunting animals for the purpose of enjoyment or entertainment is not permissible.

Some, but by no means all rabbis allow animals to be killed for the sake of their furs, but even then it must be done swiftly and without causing suffering to the animal.

It is forbidden to kill animals painfully “in order to beautify and warm oneself with their skins”.

It is clearly better to use wool, since wool shearing does not require the death of the animal.