Shabbat 107 – Vermin and Worse
Vermin should not be caught or wounded on Shabbat, but insects may be caught or wounded as long as one does not need them for something. And a parallel is drawn to any animal in one’s own domain: catching is permitted, but wounding is a violation. There is something positive here about an approach to Shabbat that avoids wounding or killing animals, though this pause is scant consolation to the bird awaiting a Sunday morning execution! The Talmud debates whether these eight types of vermin have “skins” separate from their flesh (since wounding flesh would clearly be prohibited), and thus whether wounding would be permanent or would heal – the details are less important than the discussion, in this case.
To be sure, there are more extreme approaches – Rabbi Eliezer would say that whoever kills a lice on Shabbat is like one who kills a camel on Shabbat! He would also blame someone who caught a flea on Shabbat, while everyone else would exempt them. Again we see concessions to reality as part of rabbinic jurisprudence – not swatting a flea on Shabbat seems rather extreme for human beings to contemplate. Religion can take ideas to far extremes, but fortunately some human common sense occasionally intervenes.
Rabbi Adam Chalom