Playing With Non-Kosher Toys

There is a notable custom in some Chassidic circles not to allow children to play with “non-kosher” stuffed or toy animals and to even limit their exposure to images of such things. This is because a child is highly influenced by the images he sees. It is believed that being overly exposed to things which the Torah calls "impure" can have a negative impact on a child's spiritual development. We are told that we should be extra careful to ensure that a child's formative years are immersed in holiness to the greatest extent possible, especially what he eats, what he sees, and what he hears. It is even written that nighttime lullabies should have Torah based themes.[1]

As the Lubavitcher Rebbe writes:

Because what one sees leaves lasting impressions, especially on young children, the toys that a child plays with, and the pictures that he looks at, should not be of impure animals…pictures of impure animals harm the mind and soul... only kosher animals, birds, and fish [toys] should be chosen. A Jew, and especially a Jewish child, should be accustomed to pure things only ... we should strive that a Jew, and especially a Jewish child, should only come across and look at pure things."[2]

The Rebbe goes on to explain that children are especially susceptible to external influences. He says that what children are exposed to when they are younger will affect them when they are older. As King Solomon says similarly, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it."[3]

It is permitted to show children pictures of non-kosher animals for educational purposes, such as in order for them to be able to differentiate between permitted and forbidden species[4] or to better appreciate the diversity of God's creations.[5] Not only should one not stare at impure images, but even disgusting or repulsive sights must be avoided, as well.[6] There were some Chassidic rebbes[7] who would refrain from staring at monkeys when visiting the zoo due to the teaching that the evildoers who built the Tower of Babel were turned into monkeys.[8]

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kaidanover, in his work Kav Hayashar, one of the classic works on Jewish thought, also expresses his displeasure with looking at non-kosher animals. He writes:

Although it is true that it is permitted to look at unusual [non-kosher] animals, and in fact, a blessing is recited upon doing so, one should only look at them in a superficial manner. This is because… if one sees impure creatures, he elicits a spirit of impurity which then hovers upon him. It also leads one to gaze at worse things which may even lead to sin. One should accustom one’s eyes to gaze only at holy things and in this way one will draw holiness upon himself.[9]

Even before a woman gets pregnant she should conduct herself in a spirit of holiness for the sake of her new baby. For example, from the time a woman immerses in a mikva until she has resumed relations with her husband she should make an effort not to look at anything impure, such as a dog or other non-kosher animal.[10] We are told that the things a woman sees following her immersion in a mikva can affect her children even before they are conceived.[11] Additionally, pregnant and nursing women should be extra careful to ensure that everything they eat is strictly kosher. This is because non-kosher food is especially harmful to babies – even a fetus – and can have a negative effect on their development.[12]

It is especially recommended to ensure that a child does not see anything impure on the day he first begins to learn how to read Hebrew.[13] One should never scare a child by telling him that he will be attacked or bitten by a non-kosher animal.[14] A child's room should be filled with Torah books, especially a chumash, siddur, and even a Haggada. It should also have a tzedaka box[15] and other Torah-related objects and images.

Nevertheless, the halacha is not in accordance with this view, and there is no true prohibition against playing with non-kosher animals and the like. Indeed, the flags of many of the Tribes of Israel included pictures of non-kosher animals, such as a donkey representing the tribe of Yissachar, a snake representing the tribe of Dan, and a lion representing the tribe of Yehuda.[16] So too, it is common to name children after non-kosher animals, such as with the name Aryeh (lion), Devorah (bee), and Dov (bear), among many others. Doing so is largely a result of the many positive traits and attributes that such animals symbolize. There are also many synagogues in which one will find pictures of lions on or around the Aron Kodesh. It is also noted that there were non-kosher images in Yechezkel's vision of the chariot.[17]

As such, those who choose to allow their children to play with non-kosher animals are entitled to do so. So too, pregnant women are permitted to go to funerals and cemeteries, which are far more impure than a zoo or the image of a non-kosher animal.[18] It is also noted that nowadays people are more familiar with non-kosher animals and similar images, and therefore such sights do not have the ability to negatively impact people as perhaps they once did. One is permitted to hang pictures and posters which include non-kosher animals in a child's room or anywhere else around the house.[19]

[1] Shaarei Halacha U'minhag Vol. 2 p.221; Sefer Hasichot 5752 p.357.

[2] See: in length on this issue.

[3] Mishlei 22:6.

[4] Rashi, Vayikra 7:2.

[5] Tehillim 92:6,104:24.

[6] Chessed L’avraham (Azulai), Birchat Avraham, sec. 18.

[7] See Tiferet Meshulam p.759, cited in Birurei Chaim 3:19.

[8] Sanhedrin 109a; Yalkut Shimoni, Noach.

[9] Kav Hayashar Chapter 2.

[10] Rema, YD 198:48; Shach, YD 198:61. See Shevet Mussar 24 and Sefer Habrit Vol. 1 p. 242 for more on this.

[11] Berachot 20a.

[12] Darkei Moshe, OC 617; YD 81:7; Pri Chadash, YD 81. See story in Kohelet Rabba 7:18.

[13] Machzor Vitri 508.

[14] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 33:14.

[15] Hitva’aduyot 5747, Vol. 2, p. 648-649; Sefer Hasichot 5752 p.360.

[16] Ibn Ezra, Bamidbar 2:2.

[17] Yechezkel 1:10.

[18] Minchat Yitzchak 10:42.

[19] Aseh Lecha Rav 8:60.