Sometimes a news story seems too ridiculous to be true. Today's newspaper reported that Israel's Minister of Agriculture, Uri Ariel, has stated that spaying and neutering feral cats is "opposed to the Halakhah [Jewish religious law]", and therefore he has proposed either a mass deportation of feral cats, either all the males or all the females, to another country that would accept them, or else finding an alternative to spaying and neutering or killing them, such as "preventing the males' ability to smell the females' heat through sprays, powders, creams, etc.".
This incredible story has so far appeared only in the printed newspaper and not online, so I have scanned it. I hope clicking on the photo will enlarge it enough to make it readable.
[Edit: The story now appears online].
In Israel in recent years over 100,000 feral cats have been spayed and
neutered and returned to their colonies by the Ministry of Agriculture
and local authorities. It was recently reported that Agriculture Minister Ariel had decided to stop funding this project, and an online petition
called upon him not to stop funding it. The petition is currently close to its
target of 10,000 signatures. Today's report reveals the motivation for
this decision and his proposed alternatives.
To address the ridiculous claim first: the Halakhah might oppose neutering on principle, considering it cruel. However, ancient religious laws are not based on scientific studies or observation. It is likely that Mr. Ariel, as a religious Jew, probably considers reproduction to be the foremost duty of humans and animals. It seems to me that religions in general tend to over-sexualize their worldview, considering the male sex drive to be so strong that you can't blame them for their actions, and considering it every female's duty to reproduce.
Extending this idea to cats, perhaps Mr. Ariel believes that male cats denied the opportunity to mate would suffer, and that female cats would be sad never to have kittens. The reality is that sex is just an instinct for animals and not an essential part of their lives. Male cats have to fight to be able to mate with a female, and are often injured by rival males or by the female herself. Female cats certainly don't enjoy the sex act and raising kittens is a severe drain on their resources and health.
In fact, long-term studies from around the world show that feral cats who are spayed and neutered are much healthier and happier. TNR (trap-neuter-return) is considered the most humane and effective way to reduce the population of feral cats. The vast majority of kitten born in the wild die young, through disease, injury, and being eaten by predators. I consider it much more humane to increase the quality of life of those feral cats who are already alive than to blindly support the "right to life", allowing free breeding and ignoring the suffering of the majority of the kittens born as a result. Quality over quantity.
Regarding the suggested alternatives: Moving feral cats elsewhere does not reduce the population, as cats move in from other areas. It would be virtually impossible to gather up all the males or all the females in the country. Some would inevitably evade capture and continue reproducing. Also, sending the problems of feral cat over-population to another country just to avoid having to spay and neuter is inconsiderate of the other country's needs. This reminds me of the way the developed world dumps its toxic waste in developing countries.
The other method, trying to prevent the male cats from realizing that the females are in heat, is just as impossible, and I've never heard of such a method being used in a feral population. If you agree that cats should be prevented from breeding freely, you have to accept the proven method of doing this instead of trying to invent another method. It also seems to me that the religious principle behind forbidding neutering would also apply to other methods that prevent mating, so this proposal contradicts the religious premise itself.
It has been reported that Minister Ariel has so far been considered sympathetic to animal welfare, and we can only hope that the professionals in his ministry and in animal welfare organizations can educate him about TNR and the realities of feral cat reproduction and health, so that he can overcome his religious objections and listen to the voice of science and compassion. Let TNR continue in Israel, and please don't let this country become a laughing stock!