But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, . . . nor your cattle (Ex. 20:10)
Rami b. Hama said: If one leads a laden ass on the Sabbath unwittingly, he is liable to a sin-offering; if deliberately, he is liable to stoning.Now, how does he reason that deliberately leading a burdened donkey on Shabbat is punishable with the death penalty? Rabbah reasons that under the stricture of Ex. 20:10, "your cattle" is equal to "you." That is, the punishments of working an animal on Shabbat are the same as working oneself. If unintentional, it is a sin-offering, if intentional: death.
We should stop and note that the death penalty for breaking Shabbat laws was probably never imposed - only a theoretical extreme.
Raba counters that only actions the individual performs himself make him liable. This is based on another text, this one dealing with idolatry:
You shall have one Torah for him who sins through ignorance. . . But the soul who does anything presumptuously . . .that soul shall be cut off from among his people. (Num. 15:29-30)Now since idolatry can only be performed by the person himself (not, for example, by an animal) one cannot be guilty of leading a laden donkey.
This is all from the previous page and it is debated in some detail on this page. The argument concludes with a question:
Why does the Torah not say:
you shall not do any work . . .nor your cattleInstead of:
you shall not do any work, you, . . . nor your cattleThat is, why the extra "you"?
[To teach:] only [when] he personally [works] is he liable, but [if] his animal works, he is not liable.Now, that is not to say that it is permissible - only that the punishment is not death!