Horse-Drawn Carriages: Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim?

A familiar, but seemingly out-of-place sight in certain parts of Manhattan is a horse-drawn carriage among the city’s bustling automotive traffic. However, if New York State Senator Tony Avella and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal had their way, carriage-pulling equines would no longer be seen on the streets of the Big Apple. The two have recently introduced bills that would prohibit the operation of horse-drawn carriages in New York City. (Click here and here for the text of the bills.) Although similar bills have been unsuccessful in the past, there are a number of other cities that have enacted similar restrictions in busy areas for the sake of public safety. See, e.g., Las Vegas Municipal Code § 11.39.030, Toronto Municipal Code § 545-65. While New York’s proposed legislation states that it is aimed at promoting the safety of the horses, passengers, motorists, and pedestrians due to potential traffic accidents, Senator Avella has stated that he is also concerned about possible mistreatment of the horses.

At first blush, it might seem that there is no halachic issue involved in the use of horse-drawn carriages. After all, the Torah contains several references to the use of animals for transporting people or other burdens, implicitly condoning the practice. See, e.g., Bereishis [Genesis] 45:23, 46:5; Bemidbar [Numbers] 7:6-8; Devarim [Deuteronomy] 22:4. However, there is a concept in halacha known as tza’ar ba’alei chayim (literally: the pain of living creatures), which prohibits the infliction of pain upon animals. Would tza’ar ba’alei chayim place any restrictions on the use of animal-powered transportation, such as horse-drawn carriages?

The Gemara discusses tza’ar ba’alei chayim in its analysis of the mitzvah of helping another person unload his donkey that cannot continue to bear its burden. See Shemos [Exodus] 23:5; Bava Metziah 32a-33a. The Gemara notes that not only is the purpose of this mitzvah to save another from monetary loss that might result from the physical damage to the animal, but it is also aimed at alleviating the suffering of the animal. Bava Metziah 32a. This Talmudic discussion seems to indicate that tza’ar ba’alei chayim is of Biblical origin (de’oriasa), not a rabbinic decree (derabbanan). See Kesef Mishna, Hilchos Rotze’ach, ch. 13, § 9. Furthermore, it is clear from this source that not only does tza’ar ba’alei chayim prohibit actively causing pain to an animal, but one must even affirmatively alleviate the pain of an animal caused by another person or by natural circumstances. See Shabbos 128b; Minchas Chinuch § 80.

There are two significant qualifications to the prohibitions/obligations imposed by tza’ar ba’alei chayim. First there is no prohibition against causing an animal a minimal amount of pain or discomfort, only substantial pain. Nimukei Yosef, Bava Metziah 17b. (However, the line between minimal and substantial pain is not so clear––at least to me.) Second, one is allowed to cause even a substantial amount of pain if it is done le’tzorech adam––in furtherance of human needs, such as loading a heavy burden on an animal for transport. R. Shmuel Wosner, Sheivet HaLevi vol. 2, § 7. However, one should refrain from an activity that will cause an animal extreme pain (e.g. starving livestock), because cruelty is not a Jewish trait. Rama, Even Ha’Ezer §5(14) (citing Terumas Hadeshen, vol. 2, § 105); Sheivet HaLevi, vol. 2, § 7; See also, Bava Metzia 85a (describing how R’ Yehuda Ha’Nasi was punished for failing to have mercy on an animal).

Still, one question remains that affects the issue of using animals as transportation in an age of motorized vehicles. There is a disagreement among halachic authorities as to the exact parameters of le’tzorech adam: is it limited to things that are strictly necessary for human needs, or does it extend even to activities that are not necessary, but merely desired for monetary gain or leisurely purposes? Some maintain that one may only inflict substantial pain upon an animal for things that are strictly necessary. Thus, according to this view, although one may use an animal as a wall of a sukkah by tying it down next to the other walls, he may not do so unless he has no other way of making a kosher sukkah. R. Chaim Palagi, Ruach Chaim, Orach Chaim § 630(2); see also Or Zarua, Hilchos Shechita § 386 (last few lines) (discussing plucking a bird’s feathers to facilitate slaughter). Others maintain that one may cause pain to an animal for pecuniary or cosmetic purposes (such as docking or cropping a dog’s ears or tail), as long as it is not extremely painful and cruel. Terumas Hadeshen, vol. 2, § 105; Sheivet HaLevi, vol. 2, § 7. Consequently, assuming that pulling a heavy carriage for several hours a day can cause a horse substantial discomfort, it would seem that there would be a halachic dispute as to whether or not it is considered le’tzorech adam and therefore not prohibited by tza’ar ba’alei chayim. While it does provide a livelihood for the operators and enjoyment for riders, transportation by horse-drawn carriage is not strictly necessary for human needs due to the existence of motor vehicles.



Filed under American Law, Halacha / Jewish Law, News

13 responses to “Horse-Drawn Carriages: Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim?

  1. Esther

    what affect would this have on the concept of hurting an animal in order slaughter it for food – does it mean we should consider being vegetarians more seriously?

  2. Irving M. Kusnitz

    How would Jewish law view the question of horseback riding, for pleasure of the rider and profit to the stable operator, within the City, say in Central Park. One may ride through the park on bycycle, roller skates, or mororized vehicle, and thus not use the animal, possibly causing it discomfort, or pain.

  3. “Consequently, assuming that pulling a heavy carriage for several hours a day can cause a horse substantial discomfort, it would seem that there would be a halachic dispute”

    Herein lies the twin problems with your entire body of reasoning in this entry.
    The carriages that our horses pull are not “heavy” relative to the horse; the average carriage weighs about 800 lbs, and even fully loaded with even 200 lb people, the sum total of weight being pulled would be in the neighborhood of 1,800 lbs. The average carriage horse weighs between 1,200 and 2,000 lbs, and can EASILY pull 3X its own weight on wheels on a paved surface. In addition, the horse is not actually “pulling” the carriage most of the time, as physics dictates that an “object in motion tends to stay in motion”; once the horse leans into the collar and gets it moving initially, if the ground is level, the carriage is pretty much just rolling along.
    A sound carriage horse, well-shod and wearing properly-fitting harness, experiences ZERO discomfort while working. These horses are bred to do exactly what they are doing, they are fit for it both mentally and physically. Indeed, the physical work that they do meets their needs for staying in good physical health, and also supplies them with the mental stimulation they need to thrive.
    To the trained eye, our carriage horses are fit, calm, content, healthy, and thriving in every way.

    Regarding this statement:
    “While it does provide a livelihood for the operators and enjoyment for riders, transportation by horse-drawn carriage is not strictly necessary for human needs due to the existence of motor vehicles.”
    The ancient and historic bond between man and horse is singular and strong; as we like to say, “human history is written in hoofprints.” The urban horse occupies a special place in that chain of history in the 21st century; the carriage horse or police horse or riding horse may be the ONLY horse that some people ever get to view up close and interact with. They are living history. As regards Central Park, every vista was designed and landscaped by Frederick Law Olmstead to be enjoyed from a carriage; people can still today experience the Park as it was intended.

    Eva Hughes
    VP NY Horse & Carriage Association

    • The first statement of mine that you quoted began with “assuming…” I was merely making an assumption for the sake of a legal argument. If you are correct that the horse experiences little to no discomfort while pulling a carriage, then, as stated in the post, it should not be prohibited under Jewish law.

      Furthermore, regarding the second of my statements that you quoted, I don’t deny that urban horses serve a legitimate educational and recreational purpose. I was only making the assertion that according to the halachic authorities who prohibit tza’ar ba’alei chayim unless there is a strict human necessity, it would appear that horse-drawn carriages do not fit into that category.

  4. The argument here seems to be whether or not pulling a carriage causes the horse pain. It does not. It is actually easier for the horse to pull a carriage than it is to be ridden, and the harness and other aspects of the equipment are all designed for the COMFORT of the animal.

    Given that the horses are very well-cared-for, it would seem to me that there are serious ethical / moral problems with proposed laws that would take away not only the livelihood of the carriage driver/owner (and the money that supports their families) but also take away the homes and care of the horses (for, after all, the horses’ easy labor pays for their feed, stabling, farrier and vet care).

    Motorized vehicles are no replacement for living, breathing beings.

    (To read more about the NYC carriage horses, visit

  5. Sarah

    It is interesting and refreshing to see this question investigated from this angle. I think if the author were to spend a day or week with a carriage horse, he would gain a better appreciation of their ability to work and the effort to do so. If I might give an example to illustrate, I have on many occasions, been driving along with a very relaxed and comfortable horse- when a pesky fly arrives on the scene. To be clear, I typically give my horse a light mist of fly spray to minimise this- but a person has to find a balance between what is safe for their skin and effective… and sometimes a fly will test out the situation. When the fly arrives the horse may become noticeably annoyed, swishing his tail around and even hesitating to walk in order to snap or stomp at the pest. The horse may be so irritated by the fly that he can not work well until the fly is gone. I do keep some fly spray on board just in case it need to be re-applied and contrary to the myth that carriage drivers beat their horses with whips, the most common reason we use a whip is to shoo a fly from our horse’s back. The fly does not even need to land on the horse or bite him, his mere presence is enough to disturb the horse from working comfortably. One fly. I am saying that the amount of “pain” a carriage horse has to feel to tip the scale from obedience to distraction is one non-biting fly. This means that the amount of “pain” that a carriage horse endures to work normally is less than one non-biting fly.

  6. CA

    So, what is your opinion on eating chickens that were raised in cruel conditions: standing very close to each other, so that they peck each other (sometimes inflicting serious injuries), being overfed and pumped with hormones such that they grow too fast and their legs cannot support them, etc. From what I understand, most chickens used by mainstream kosher meat suppliers are raised in such conditions.

    In other words, let’s say that these chickens are clearly experiencing pain and discomfort before they are slaughtered. There is an alternative to eating these chickens: one can eat beef (cows are kept in better conditions); one can eat chickens raised in different conditions — the issue is cost and convenience of finding such kosher meat. So, might one say that it is ossur to eat them, even though it is for human needs and it is a mitzva (on Shabbos)?

    • First of all, eating chicken would seem to raise absolutely no concern of tza’ar ba’alei chayim, even if they are kept in cruel conditions, because by definition, the prohibition only involves causing pain to live animals. The only question is whether it is prohibited to raise and keep chickens in the conditions you described. It would probably depend upon several factors, including the extent of any pain the chickens suffer (minimal, substantial, or extreme) and whether the concept of le’tzorech adam extends to purposes that are not strictly necessary for human needs, as discussed in the above post. There are authorities who rule that raising livestock in cruel conditions is improper. See Sheivet HaLevi, vol. 2, § 7 (discussing starving livestock).

      • CA

        But by buying them you’re supporting the business of the person who raises chickens in such conditions (thus, you’re encouraging and enabling them to continue). Therefore, it might fall under either lifnei iver or misayeah lidvar aveiro. (Even if the kosher slaughterer is not raising them, he is buying from the people who do, enabling them…)

        Also, Rav Moishe forbids raising veal in cramped and painful conditions, and forbids feeding animals chemicals in place of food, since this would deprive them of the pleasure of eating (“Igros Moshe” EH 4:92). [I am not sure at the moment where I got this source.]

        Also (and perhaps this is a separate topic entirely), can we say that even though from strictly halachic point of view it may not be ossur, we should not do it for the reasons of yashrus and going beyond halacha?

        (For the record, I am not a vegetarian; I eat chicken, and I do experiments on animals for a living. The above are just thoughts…)

  7. Pingback: Shechita and the Humane Treatment of Animals | Jewish and American Law: The Blog

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