Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Is Dogfighting a Jewish issue?

First posted 8/22/07, 12:33 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
By now, anyone who follows the news has heard that Michael Vick, the quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, has worked out a plea bargain on the dogfighting charges that have been brought against him. It has been a "hot topic" (see in the news and on talkradio, especially sports talkradio.
My question is: is this a Jewish or a Torah issue?

Of course the Torah has rules on how we are to treat animals and there is a general principle not to be cruel to animals, tzar ba'alei chayim. While the application of this rule demands halachic analysis, it is clear that a purpose of entertainment does not justify this treatment of animals. So the Torah perspective is pretty clear; yet this does not really answer the question.
There may be a straightforward Torah view on an issue but that does not necessarily mean the issue is a Torah issue. The question is whether the case of Michael Vick should concern us. Is this story something that we should be interested in? Is what happens to Michael Vick something that should concern us? On the one hand, the story does not really have a Jewish side to it but perhaps it does say something about the society in which we live.
Isn't this something in which we should be interested? What I have been thinking about in the past few days is the the role of sports -- specifically violent sports that permit body contact intended to hurt and even harm -- in our society. I have heard someone compare a football game to the gladiator battles in ancient Rome. Of course they are not the same thing, but in a strange way they also are.
Is this sublimation of aggression a good thing in that people no longer would tolerate actual gladiator battles to the death (and even in modern sports there is little toleration of any intent to injure) or do these sports foster this drive in giving an acceptable outlet to it? That to me is an important Torah question.

Just one last point that I also began to wonder about. Is tzar ba'alei chayim applicable as a Noachide law for non-Jews? I have heard people extend the law of ever min hachai, eating the limb of a live animal, to define it as a prohibition of cruelty to animals but I am not sure if that is a real Noachide halachic concept.
While it clearly has a voice of moral directive, and I find Vick's behaviour unacceptable on Torah moral grounds (and Noachide moral grounds) I have been wondering if Vick actually violated a Noachide law.
Clearly for a Jew, this behaviour is Torah legally unacceptable but I have been wondering whether a similar statement could be said about a non-Jew?

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