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28 But, whether it is an ox or a sheep, you shall not slaughter both it and its young in one day.

What is the reason for this prohibition?

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Lev 22:28 is one of the many examples of humane animal treatment enshrined in the Ceremonial law. Note the comments of these commentators:

Ellicott:

(28) Not kill it and her young both in one day.—According to the ancient canons, this prohibition to slaughter the dam and its youngling the same day was not only designed to remind the Israelites of the sacred relations which exist between parent and offspring, but was especially intended to keep up feelings of humanity. Hence the ancient Chaldee version begins this injunction with the words, “My people the children of Israel, as our Father is merciful in heaven, so be ye merciful on earth.”

Benson:

Leviticus 22:28. The cow or ewe, and her young, in one day — This Maimonides considers as a precaution of humanity, lest the dam should be brought to the altar while she is yet mourning the loss of her young, slain perhaps before her eyes. And, indeed, there is a degree of cruelty in the very idea of imbruing the hand in the blood of both parent and offspring at the same time. Therefore Jonathan, in his paraphrase, considers this as a symbolical precept, to teach the Israelites to be merciful, as their Father in heaven is merciful.

Pulpit Commentary:

Verse 28. - A lesson of charity is added. A young animal and its mother are not to be killed (though reference is specially made to sacrifice, the general word, not the sacrificial term, for slaying is used) on the same day, just as the kid is not to be seethed in its mother's milk (Exodus 23:19; Deuteronomy 14:21), nor the mother bird be taken from the nest with the young (Deuteronomy 22:6). Thus we see that the feelings of the human heart arc not to be rudely shocked by an act of apparent cruelty, even when no harm is thereby done to the object of that act. Mercy is to be taught by forbidding anything which may blunt the sentiment of mercy in the human heart. Leviticus 22:28

APPENDIX

The humane treatment of animals is encouraged in many places in the Bible. Here is a sample:

  • Prov 12:10, “A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, but even the compassion of the wicked is cruel.”
  • Hab 2:17, The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, and your destruction of animals will terrify you. For you have shed human blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.
  • Jonah 4:11 – God expresses the desire to save Nineveh because of the people and the animals!
  • Prov 27:23, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds.”
  • Deut 25:4, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.”
  • Luke 14:5, “And He said to them, ‘Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?’”
  • Ex 23:5, “If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him.”
  • Genesis 33:13-14, “Jacob said to him, ‘Sir, you know that the children are frail and that I have to take care of the flocks and cattle that are nursing their young. If they’re driven too hard for even one day, all the flocks will die. Go ahead of me, sir. I will slowly and gently guide the herds that are in front of me at their pace and at the children’s pace’”.
  • Isaiah 11:6-9, “A wolf will reside with a lamb, and a leopard will lie down with a young goat; an ox and a young lion will graze together, as a small child leads them along. A cow and a bear will graze together, their young will lie down together. A lion, like an ox, will eat straw. A baby will play over the hole of a snake; over the nest of a serpent an infant will put his hand. They will no longer injure or destroy on my entire royal mountain.”

Our divinely decreed responsibility for animals is part of the human family’s responsibility for the earth’s environment.

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    Could it be related to the prohibition against boiling a calf in its mother's milk, which was prohibited to the Jews to distinguish them from their neighbors, who did so as a part of their religious rites?
    – nick012000
    Apr 9 at 15:13
  • @nick012000 - agreed - that was another evil practice that was forbidden as a mark of the mumane way the Israelites were to treat animals as well.
    – Dottard
    Apr 9 at 21:03
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    I mean, the act in itself of killing both on the same day is no more "cruel" than killing both period. Some of the commentators are really having to stretch themselves here, for the points that they're trying to make. One says, ... lest the dam should be brought to the altar while she is yet mourning the loss of her young, slain perhaps before her eyes. If you kill both simultaneously, there won't be any mourning. Yes, the Bible is absolutely against cruelty to animals (not counting practical, omnivorous measures and such), but the reason for this law almost has to be something different. Apr 9 at 23:46

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