The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

“There is risk in life … just be sensible”? – a Jewish view of the Grand National.

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1.  According to the winning Grand National trainer Paul Nicholls, despite consecutive races in each of which two horses have suffered injuries as a result of which they have been put down, the show should go on.   He said to BBC Sport: “There is always risk in sport. A lot of people have to grow up, and realise that it is life. … We’ve got to be realistic about this. The horses have the best of everything they could have. They probably have better health care than we have. … If people are going to continue to participate in sport, there is going to be both a human and animal risk.”

2.  There are two obvious fallacies here on which Judaism has a strong and clear message, based on three principles.

3.  Principle one: there is a Biblical requirement to take reasonable care of my own life and health.

4.  Principle two: there is a Biblical requirement to take as much care of other people’s life as of my own.

5.  Principle three: animals are entitled to the same consideration, being God’s creatures; and, in particular, it is forbidden to cause them unnecessary suffering.

6.  Sport is not forbidden in Jewish law even if it entails risk: as Nicholls rightly says, there is risk in life, and the Biblical command to take care is to take reasonable care in the context of pursuing a full life, of which exercise and sport are part.  But I can assess for myself how much risk is appropriate and reasonable, and make an informed choice whether or not to participate.  Horses cannot.  So Fallacy number one: “people have to realise that it is life” – it is acceptable for me to decide for myself what is a reasonable risk, but it is not acceptable for me to decide for an animal that it should be exposed to serious risk of injury and pain, for the gratification of my own or other humans’ wish for excitement.

7.  “The horses have the best of everything they could have.”  Fallacy number two: chessed – kindness – does not create ownership or obligation.  If I look after horses nicely, that is my choice not theirs; even if they were capable of feeling gratitude, I do not have the right to assume gratitude and to transfer it into a willingness to repay an assumed obligation by suffering pain and injury to gratify me.

8.  Sport is sometimes described as being something of a religion to some people; there is certainly one clear point of analogy here, the need to guard against the temptation to excuse something that is clearly wrong on the grounds of a broader purpose.


Written by Daniel Greenberg

April 15, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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