294. Mother and Child Reunion: The prohibition against slaughtering an animal and its offspring...
…it and its offspring you may not slaughter in one day. (Leviticus 22:28)
It’s pretty straightforward: an animal and its offspring may not both be slaughtered for food on the same day. Now for some details:
• The parent animal in this mitzvah is specifically the mother, though if one knows for sure which male is the father, it may not be slaughtered on the same day as its offspring (see Talmud Chulin 78b-79a); • One might think that the referent of our verse is the male, since the word “oso” (it) is in the masculine form. Ramban (Nachmanides) on our verse clarifies that the masculine referent is the species, continuing a line of discussion started in the previous verse; • If one purchaser bought the mother animal and another bought the offspring, whoever purchased first has the right to slaughter first. If the second buyer jumps the gun and slaughters his animal, the first buyer must wait until the next day to slaughter.
The reason for this mitzvah is that, while we are permitted to slaughter animals for food, we should not permit this to make us insensitive. We should be cognizant of God’s providence over both man and beast. He watches over all species and permits them to endure and we should not take His handiwork for granted. We should be aware of the things He has given us and not wantonly slaughter His creatures with reckless abandon. Being aware of such things helps us to cultivate the trait of mercy and avoid becoming cruel, even when we slaughter animals for food.
This mitzvah applies to both men and women in all times and places. It is the subject of the entire fifth chapter of the Talmudic tractate of Chulin, running from page 78a through page 83b. This prohibition is codified in the Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh De’ah 16; it is #101 of the 365 negative mitzvos in the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos and #108 of the 194 negative mitzvos that can be observed today in the Chofetz Chaim’s Sefer HaMitzvos HaKatzar.