There are in fact three technical terms used which I would translate
loosely as (1) CHAI = life, (2) NEFESH = life force, and (3) NESHAMA = soul
(I believe the Zohar has two other terms...Chaya and yechida making 5).
"Life (chai)" in the Torah can refer to animals and man but not to plants,
while secular science considers plants also "alive". Similarly, the Torah
considers that animals and man both have "nefesh" = life force.I would
suggest that Nefesh is the capacity of an organism to "adapt" to a hostile
environment and overcome it (as animals and man can do).However only man
has a Neshama-a soul from G-d.
>>The proof of it is they have emotions>>.
This is certainly a respectable view however there is a controversy among
the early authorities on why Judaism prohibits curelty to animals: One view
is that animals "do" have emotions and hence the prohibition. But another
view (e.g. Rambam in Guide to Perplexed) is that animals are in effect just
machines. They appear to have emotions. The Torah prohibited cruelty to
these animal machines so that we can practice and perfect our treatment to
our fellow humans.
Although this view appears cold and austere it surprisingly is sensitive.
In fact it gives a response to Sonia Bloomfield Ramagem >>my beloved male
dog.. died..how does halachah suggest we deal with it>>. The Rambam's
response is that Sonia's affection for the dog should be a further stepping
stone to her relations with people. E.g. let her take a pad and list all
the things she has done for her dog. Let her then list all her close
associates. Has she done all the same things for all her friends? This
will give meaning to the death.
Russell Jay Hendel, Ph.d, ASA rhendel @ mcs drexel edu