Date registered: Apr 2006
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Location: the pale blue dot
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Animals Are People, Too
let us consider another subject important to the Talmud Sages: Bestiality. It seems to have been quite a problem. The rabbinical rulings on bestiality are complex and the rabbis make many subtle distinctions. (18) The Sages weigh carefully whether the human is male or female, whether the man uses the vagina or the anus of the beast, whether the beast uses the vagina or the anus of the woman, and whether the human is a minor child. The Sages take note that of a man, only the anus is available for passive intercourse ("unnatural").
Perhaps the most interesting difference between our own view of bestiality and the Talmudic view is that the Sages consider the animal should suffer punishment because it "derived pleasure from sin." The notion that an animal can sin is distinctly foreign to Western cultures founded upon Christian ideology.
GEMARA. … Raba said: The Torah ordered that the animal should be destroyed, because it too derived pleasure from sin.
— Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 55a
Soncino 1961 Edition, page 375
Let us now review the Mishnah on bestiality:
MISHNAH. HE WHO COMMITS SODOMY WITH A MALE OR A BEAST, AND A WOMAN THAT COMMITS BESTIALITY ARE STONED. IF THE MAN HAS SINNED, WHEREIN HAS THE ANIMAL OFFENDED? BUT BECAUSE MAN WAS ENTICED TO SIN THEREBY, SCRIPTURE ORDERED THAT IT SHOULD BE STONED. ANOTHER REASON IS THAT THE ANIMAL SHOULD NOT PASS THROUGH THE STREETS, WHILST PEOPLE SAY, THIS IS THE ANIMAL ON ACCOUNT OF WHICH SO AND SO WAS STONED.
— Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 54a
Soncino 1961 Edition, page 367
The reasoning here is plain. The Sages feared leaving alive an animal used in bestiality. Other citizens might begin to look the ox over and get ideas about it, thus: "This is the animal on account of which so and so was stoned." Therefore it was meet that the ox be put away to prevent others from taking liberties with it.
A woman who commits bestiality in the presence of two witnesses, who warn her ahead of time on the gravity of her crime — might be tried for a capital offense. However, if either condition is not met (two witnesses, and a warning from each), she suffers no censure and retains her eligibility to marry a High Priest. We are not told what happens to the animal in this case.
GEMARA. … R. Shimi b. Hiyya stated: A woman who had intercourse with a beast is eligible to marry a priest. (4) Likewise it was taught: A woman who had intercourse with that which is no human being, (5) though she is in consequence subject to the penalty of stoning, (6) is nevertheless permitted to marry a priest. (7)
When R. Dimi came he related: It once happened at Haitalu that while a young woman was sweeping the floor a village dog covered her from the rear, and Rabbi permitted her to marry a priest. Samuel said: Even a High Priest. But was there a High Priest in the days of Rabbi? — Rather, [Samuel meant]: Fit for a High Priest.
— Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yebamoth 59b
Soncino 1961 Edition,