And the youths grew up, and Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Jacob was an innocent man, dwelling in tents. (Genesis 25:27)
The idea of hunting animals has been extensively discussed by halachic authorities through the ages who ruled unanimously that hunting for sport is forbidden. There is however some discussion as to what the prohibition entails.
Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner (d. 1980) cites one problem of tzaar baalei chaim – the prohibition of causing unnecessary pain to animals whereas other cite baal tachshis – the prohibition to destroy something unnecessarily. Rabbi Yitzchak ben Moshe of Vienna (d. c.1270) regards hunting for sport as moshav leitzim – dwelling with scorners (see Psalms 1:1).
Rabbi Yechezkel ben Yehuda Landau (d. 1793) wrote a responsa on hunting for sport. He rejected the idea of baal tachshis on the grounds that the hunters use the skins of the animals. In addition, he argues that there is no tzaar baalei chaim as this only applies when a person wounds or inflicts pain on the animal. Killing an animal directly is different. It is possible that even Rabbi Landau would contend that fox hunting and bull fighting would be examples of tzaar baalei chaim.
Rabbi Landau does assert however that hunting is prohibited due to the very nature of the activity which is cruel and unnecessary. Hunting for food or for commercial purposes would therefore be permitted.
Rabbi Menashe Klein (d. 2011) writes that based on this, fishing is permitted provided that one intends to keep the fish for food afterwards. Fishing with the intention of throwing the fish back would also be prohibited on the grounds of tzaar baalei chaim (Mishneh Halacha 12-432).
In addition to all of these issues, it seems logical that hunting for pleasure is also inherently damaging to a person’s character as it desensitises a person to killing and death. Rabbi Landau points out that the two characters known to be hunters were Eisav (Esau) from this week’s parsha and Nimrod (Genesis 10:9), two of the most arrogant and loathsome individuals in the Torah.