Animal Souls

August 4, 2011

4 min read


I have a dog that I love dearly. She has brought joy to my life and brought smiles to the faces of many. I've heard many people say that animals don't have souls or that their souls are different from ours. When I look at my dog I feel as though her soul is on a higher level than a lot of people I've met, partially due to her selfless nature. There is no question in my mind that that she knows right from wrong and she will do everything in her power to cheer up someone who needs it. Animals think, express emotion and feel pain and pleasure. Many humans aren't even sensitive enough to know when another person needs emotional support!

How does Judaism view the spirituality of animals – and specifically dogs? Do animals have souls? Is there a special place in Heaven for precious animals? I hope you can shed some light on this issue.

The Aish Rabbi Replies

You are asking a very deep question.

The great kabbalists explain that all living things – human and animal – have souls. However, not all souls are created equal. As described in Genesis 2:7, every human being has both a "nefesh" and a "neshama." The nefesh is defined as an animal soul – the life force, the instinctual, animalistic drives. The neshama, in contrast, is a purely spiritual component, a divine spark which distinguishes man from animal. This is the part of us which yearns for spirituality and closeness to God.

Humans and animals all engage in emotional responses such as love, fear, loyalty, imagination, memory, intelligence, etc. We run from danger, have survival instincts, and are driven to procreate. This all emanates from the lower animal soul.

But there exists in humans another spiritual entity that is very different and much higher. Humans also have a divine, spiritual soul. Only this soul has the ability to forge a relationship with the Divine, transcendent dimension of existence. This is where humans enter the unique realm of making free will moral decisions. Only humans have the ability to choose higher "soul pleasures" – like helping the poor, even at the expense lower "body pleasures" like hoarding more food for ourselves. You'll never see a hungry dog say to his friends, "Let's not fight over this," or "Let's save some for Fido who came late."

As human beings, we are locked in a constant battle over which soul will lead our lives. The measure of true “humanity” is the degree that one controls the animal soul, because otherwise a person is acting like an animal. (Actually, as the Sages explain, he is worse than an animal. Wasting spiritual potential is something that only a human is held accountable for.)

In light of this, the Torah prohibits the consumption of blood (see Leviticus 7:26). The Talmud explains that the "animal soul" resides in the blood of the beast, and since the animal soul is essentially coarse and unrefined, eating blood internalizes that trait. The Torah's message is "Don't take the animal instinct, the animal life force, and increase its prominence within your personality. Minimize that part of you, and maximize the aspect of you which is spiritual."

(For meat to be kosher, the blood must be removed either by a process of soaking the meat in salt and then rinsing it out, or by broiling it in a flame. Ironically, Jews throughout the ages have been accused of the "Blood Libel" – i.e. killing Christian babies in order to use their blood to bake matzah. As absurd as this claim is, it is even more so in light of the Torah prohibition against eating blood!)

All this is not to demean animals in any way. That is how they were created, and of course they serve an important purpose in the world. They are mentioned throughout the Bible and the Talmud for their great qualities. For example, a dog in Hebrew is called Kelev – a contraction of the words Kol Lev –meaning a "full heart." Thus we can learn from a dog the meaning of loyalty.

Interestingly, one verse in the Torah says that if a Jew has a piece a non-kosher meat, he should "throw it to the dogs" (Exodus 22:30). Another verse says that at the Exodus from Egypt, no dog barked (Exodus 11:7). The Midrash explains that dogs are singled out for non-kosher meat as a special reward for not disturbing the Jewish Exodus.

There is another great difference between animals and humans. The divine human soul is completely independent of any physical substance. For a human being, when the body expires, the divine spiritual soul lives on eternally. Whereas since animals lack a divine soul, when the body expires, their animal soul expires, too. So even though they have an important place in this world, there is no heaven for animals.

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