Mayim Bialik Weighs In On Cecil the Lion And Human Life

Editor’s Note: Yesterday Allison Josephs (aka Jew in the City) posted this Dennis Prager article along with the caption “Thoughts?” on Facebook. In his article, Prager wrote about the death of Cecil and spoke out against hunting, poaching, and cruelty to animals – all VERY against Judaism. But then he noted something upsetting: some people seem to believe that human and animal lives are equivalent (citing a study where children were asked “Would you save your pet or a stranger?” 1/3 said pet, 1/3 said stranger, 1/3 said “not sure”.) Allison’s post was met with the following comments:

“Your post is one of the reasons I am no longer Orthodox. Thanks for proving my assumptions were correct and Orthodoxy has some major fundemental problems. And just for a point, it is not just a LION! It was a living creature.”


“I don’t know, but I would never try to provide evidence in a debate that human life is superior to any other life because we are all animals after all. Biologically, we are an animal, although it irritates humans to know that…


 “I pray that I am never placed in that decision having to chose parent or dog. I don’t deal in the stupid what ifs of life. And your question is as silly as asking a parent, which child would they grab in a fire? How can you ask such questions?”

I’ve been following the debate on the Jew in the City Facebook page and wanted to chime in for a few reasons. One, I am an animal loving vegan who lives a life according to the value I place on the lives of animals, and two, I am a person who has been educated about Orthodoxy by Jew in the City herself so I understand her perspective. I also think there have been some misunderstandings here.

Of course it is tragic that Cecil was killed, in the same way that it is tragic when any innocent animal is killed. As a matter of fact, it’s why I became a vegan and why I continue to advocate for all people eating fewer animals and not using animal products for clothing and fashion accessories. I choose to live my life according to the set of beliefs that animals are not to be used for our pleasure or consumption. There are plenty of Jewish vegans – Orthodox and otherwise – who agree.

I think some of the subtlety of this discussion is being lost among emotions. I acknowledge Dennis Prager’s perspective that we have entered a time in our culture where there are those who quite literally equate animal life with human life. As in, exactly equal. No exceptions. He and Jew in the City argue that that is theoretically problematic. In theory it is!

What do I mean “in theory”? Well, if you ask me about my very own beloved cat, Esau, I have a strong and binding emotional attachment to Esau (pictured above) in a way that I don’t for a stranger and never would. I have loved that cat and raised him and cared for him when he has been sick, and I sleep next to him and he is a part of my life in ways I could never imagine anyone understanding.

However, people like Dennis Prager are keen on pointing out trends in thinking, and it is true that there are a lot of people who would choose to save their pet over a stranger if a building was burning down. I don’t begrudge people that decision and if a building was burning down, I absolutely would take pause if I had to make the decision to choose a stranger over Esau. But I would choose to save a human. It doesn’t make me a bad vegan, and it doesn’t make you a good one if you don’t agree.

Jews, non-Jews, and any kind of talk show personalities are not bad people for bringing this topic up. If we all chose pets over strangers, this world would eventually be a very different and startling place to live in, and that’s a fact. Let’s make sure to separate fact from feeling, and keep the discussion humane. It’s what any animal lover or human lover would do!

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  • Avatar photo Carl Lieberman says on August 5, 2015

    Choosing to save someone or something is totally different than NEEDLESSLY killing an animal. That is a fact, no matter what teachings or religion you believe or follow. If you NEED to kill an animal to save a human, no one would be angered. Saddened, but not as angry. Any killing for joy or “sport” should make EVERYONE angry. Have a nice day.

  • Avatar photo Jennifer Bender says on August 6, 2015

    I have been following you for quite some time now. I admire your view on life, your heritage, raising children, and animals. I myself, was vegetarian for 27 years-part of which I tried vegan. Back then they just didn’t have the availability here of vegan products. I spent the past 3 months trying to eat meat in accordance with my doctor’s diet for me. It didn’t last. I am back to vegetarian and SO VERY happy! I love animals way too much and meat makes me feel sluggish and lethargic. I would like to share my opinion on the “burning building” issue. I would save an animal, even a stranger of an animal, over a human. My reasoning is that-I feel animals are worth more than humans. We as humans have done so much to destroy their world, their habitat, their lives. We owe them. I love them. My cats are like my children. However if it were an animal and a child in that fire, I would do my best to save both. The innocence of a child that may grow to understand compassion is still worth saving.

  • Avatar photo Stuart Goodchild says on August 6, 2015

    I am a former hunter. Not a trophy hunter but a hunter just the same. I find it repulsive now and would never take it up again. I appreciate the need for game conservation but hunting is not for me. The killing of Cecil was senseless as the hunter in question never meant to eat him or use his remains for survival. It was a trophy killing, plain and simple. The methods used were deplorable and he broke the law. Plain and simple, he went to another country, broke their laws and should rightfully stand trial there. We would expect the same of anyone who came to the United States and broke a law. As for animal versus human life? I would save my dog first every time, that’s just how it is.

  • Avatar photo Catholic Mom says on August 6, 2015

    The “who would you save in a fire” question is almost always absurd (“your mom vs. your kids?” “your husband vs. your dad?” “the older kid vs. the baby?’) and says almost nothing about our values. In a fire you save whoever you can! The real question is — how do you treat people and animals in your everyday life? And not just the ones you know that have a name. I believe that this is a “teaching moment” in which people have to think not just about how they feel about some guy shooting a lion for the pleasure of decapitating and skinning it and posing with its corpse, but about their relationship to all of God’s creatures — including the ones they eat. That said — I don’t criticize people for any display of compassion however limited. A hundred years ago, nobody would have cared a thing about Cecil. I’m not now going to criticize them for caring too much. Let us only hope that hearts will continue to expand to encompass the entire human race and to all living things journeying with us on this planet.

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on August 6, 2015

      Thanks for your comment, Catholic Mom but I must disagree.This is not a “father vs. mother” or “son vs. daughter” scenario – this is “human vs. animal.” I can’t even believe there is a debate going on. Of COURSE we should be kind to all creatures every day, but this extra kindness to animals is having a terrifying effect on how people are valuing human life..

  • Avatar photo Catholic Mom says on August 7, 2015

    The problem is, we don’t have a great track record for valuing life throughout history. The weak and the marginalized are always at risk. I’ve been reading the comments section of the NY Times related to the Planned Parenthood videos in the last few days and they are fulminating with outrage — against the people who made the videotapes. Another article this week cites the case of a British woman in her 70’s — in good health, with plenty of money, and a loving family, who flew to Switzerland for assisted suicide (which she obtained) because she figured things would all start to go downhill from this point and she didn’t want to end up being a burden on her children. Many commenters found this to be very noble. How long before anyone who does dare to be a “burden” begins to feel like a selfish parasite for failing to kill themselves? And yes, it is the case that many people who have no problem whatsoever with late term abortion or healthy people killing themselves have been among those most vocal about the death of Cecil. But I don’t think this is the moment to challenge them on the inconsistency of their values. It should not be (and virtually never is) a question of “either/or” It can (and should) be “both/and.” We can care about Ceil, and the unborn, and the elderly, and the poor, and all of God’s creation.

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on August 7, 2015

      For SURE we should respect all of God’s cations. But if we as a society don’t realize that a human begin, endowed with a Divine spark, is not different than a squirrel, it is pretty frightening..


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