Anna Olswanger’s letter (“Circuses are not Jewish,” July 5) deserves a response. Understand that I am in no way a scholar of Jewish thought, but I do know history. Is it her contention that the Torah says that teaching animals tasks is forbidden? Does she contend that the domestication of animals and the subsequent use of those animals to perform hard labor, such as plowing fields, pulling wagons, herding sheep, etc., is somehow antithetical to Jewish thought? Like most animals, circus animals are trained to undertake complex behaviors that are not part of their “natural” behavior by the use of food and repetition as well as some discipline. Do oxen naturally pair up to be yoked and plow fields? Do horses naturally take up the harness and pull cargo? Should Jews not housebreak their pets using a newspaper for discipline? These are not acts of cruelty, they are tools used to shape behavior to permit integration of the animals into human society. Judaism certainly permits the ultimate cruelty to animals, slaughter. The Torah offers explicit instructions on how to kill animals for food. Humane, maybe, but at the end of the day the animals are dead and eaten.
Ultimately, Ms. Olswanger acknowledges that she has no personal proof of the inhumane treatment of circus animals but has found articles on the Internet that talk about it. Well, if it’s on the Internet it must be true, right? Given the extensive discussions of the use and slaughter of animals in the Torah, saying that circuses are anti-Jewish is a real stretch.