Rabbi Shalom Brody writes an insightful piece at Ask the Rabbi: Neutering animals.
Rabbi Brody answers the question of sterilizing pets. First, he notes the following (see there for full details):
--- Sterilization is prohibited, most likely because it thwarts "be fruitful and multiply";
--- The Biblical prohibition only applies to sterilizing males; to females the prohibition is Rabbinic. (Therefore, to permit sterilization of females is easier than to permit for males.)
--- The prohibition was likely to produce eunuchs and to improve animals for agricultural work. Therefore, only artificial sterilization by men is penalized (the penalty is a prohibition to marry, and, for kohanim, to officiate); accidental or natural ("Act of G-d") sterilization is not penalized. Furthermore, sterilization for medical treatment is permitted, just as medicine trumps all mitzvot (save murder, incest/adultery, and idolatry).
--- Most/many (not all, but at least many) hold that non-Jews are permitted to perform sterilizations.
Therefore, Rabbi Brody says, authorities have permitted sterilization in the following cases:
--- Medical need, just as prostate surgery which may result in infertility
--- Asking a non-Jew to ask another non-Jew to sterilize, even a Biblically-prohibited male. Asking a non-Jew to perform the operation is Rabbinically prohibited, just as one may not ask a non-Jew to perform any prohibition (by dint of Rabbinic prohibition), even if the gentile himself would be permitted to perform the act on his volition for his own benefit. However, asking a non-Jew to ask a non-Jew is two steps removed (shvut d'shvut) from a Biblical prohibition, and is permitted, even when the Jew is Biblically prohibited himself, such as with sterilizing a male.
--- Even asking one non-Jew (as opposed to asking a non-Jew to ask another non-Jew) may be permitted, even to sterilize a male, given a pressing and legitimate need. Asking a non-Jew is only Rabbinic, and a pressing need waives this Rabbinic prohibition, just as asking a non-Jew to ask a non-Jew is also permitted. Asking a non-Jew to ask another non-Jew would only be required for a NON-pressing NON-legitimate need; asking one non-Jew to do it himself is permitted for a pressing need. Asking a non-Jew to sterilize a female would be even easier to permit, as sterilizing a female is itself only Rabbinic, and asking one non-Jew is already then two steps removed from being Biblically prohibited. And again, asking a non-Jew to ask another non-Jew would also be permitted, as asking one non-Jew is the novelty here is that asking a non-Jew to sterilize a male would be permitted, given a pressing need.
--- Sterilizing female animals, even when done by a Jew, if for a legitimate and pressing need, such as is found with feral animals and pets. Again, sterilizing a female is only Rabbinic, so a Jew himself can do it for a pressing need, without a need to involve a gentile at all.
I realize that the Biblical prohibition stands, regardless of whatever reasons we may attribute it. Nevertheless, I sense some sort of ethical monstrosity in our killing feral cats, rather than sterilizing them. If the reason is that sterilization thwarts "be fruitful and multiply", does not killing feral animals do the same??!! Israel is forced to kill its feral cats rather than sterilize them as other nations do; can we imagine this is really G-d' will??!!
I realize the Biblical law stands, no matter what reasons we attribute it; the "spirit" of the law cannot trump its "letter". However, when the "spirit" is violated, we may ask whether there is perhaps some other way to view the "letter"; perhaps we may reinterpret the "letter" so as to allow us to uphold the "letter" and the "spirit". As it currentlys stands, we uphold the "letter", but grossly violate the "spirit", by killing rather than sterilizing. Is there some way to uphold both?
I thus love Rabbi Shlomo Goren's solution: Rabbi Goren said that a Jew (he does not require a gentile to do our dirty work!) may sterilize the animal by cutting off the blood supply to the reproductive organs. This is a "shinui", an unorthodox method, which is, at most, a Rabbinic violation, and permitted in case of need, such as wil be found with pets and feral animals.
By using Rabbi Goren's method, we may sterilize the animal, rather than killing it, which is surely preferable in G-d's eyes.
By the way, R' Benzion Uziel held that sterilized males are punished by Jewish law (such as being forbidden to marry, and, if kohanim, forbidden to officiate) only when the sterilization was consentual. That is, a male who was sterilized against his will is not punished (by being forbidden to marry and officiate). How many hold like Rabbi Uziel? A problem I see is that most likely, few sterilizations were ever consentual; how many eunichs and castratee were willing to undergo their operations? I thus wonder whether history would support or condemn Rabbi Uziel's suggestive ruling. Nevertheless, Rabbi Uziel held as he did: only willing subjects were punished, while unwilling subjects were spared such.
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