The Mayor, the Rats, and Halacha


By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

Newspapers across New York City have reported on New York Mayor Eric Adams’ new job search for a leader in the city’s war on rats.  Mayor Adams wants someone who is “somewhat bloodthirsty” and committed to the “wholesale slaughter” of vermin.

The position is known as the “director of rodent mitigation.” The job pays between $120,000 to $170,000 a year.  The position will report directly to the deputy mayor for operations.

“There’s NOTHING I hate more than rats,” Adams said in a twitter statement posted this past Thursday. “If you have the drive, determination, and killer instinct needed to fight New York City’s relentless rat population — then your dream job awaits.”

The question is what does halacha say about all of this?  What about the verse in Tehillim which states, “And His (Hashem’s) mercy extends to all of his creations?”  We are obligated to try to emulate Hashem.  Is it proper to hate G-d’s creatures?  Does not everything have a purpose?

To this end there is a fascinating Yachin uVoaz on Pirkei Avos 4:3 that G-d has a purpose for everything and that even some medicinal cures come from them. Rats have had an extraordinary impact on biomedical research that has not been adequately appreciated. They are the go to and preferred animal model for studies of human disease. They are the unsung heroes to mankind and the standard species of choice for pre-clinical trials of medicines.

When these rodents invade the house, however, the Gemorah in Moed Kotton 6b states that they may be killed.  Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe CM II #47) writes that there is no prohibition in killing creatures that disgust and annoy people, such as rats – that cause fear and disgust in human beings.  Rav Feinstein’s reasoning is that there is no prohibition of tzaar baalei chaim for a need of human beings.

He adds, however, that it is proper not to kill them directly with one’s hands but rather to set a trap and allow them to die by themselves.  The reason is so that a person not develop a cruel character trait within himself as the Ohr HaChaim writes in Dvarim 13:18.

If this is not possible, then it would be permitted to kill them by hand as is clear in Shabbos 12a regarding the statement of Rav Nachman to his children. The She’ilas Yaavetz Vol. I #110 indicates the same.

It is interesting to note that Tosfos (Bava Metziah 40a “v’chi mah”) label mice as r’sha’im – evil doers because they call their friends and invite them to eat and join in a stolen meal – it is therefore permitted to kill them.

The mayor should realize that while we may kill them, he should not be advertising for people that are somewhat bloodthirsty to fill the position.

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