Why Do I Never See Orthodox Jews With Dogs or Any Other Pets?

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Dear Jew in the City,

I have never seen any Orthodox Jews with pets. Is there a reason for this? Or does it just so happen that I don’t know any Orthodox people who are great pet lovers. Thanks!

Sincerely,

Leorah from Canada

Dear Leorah-

Thanks for your question. It’s something I’ve wondered about before, and the answer is quite complex, mixing history, sociology, and Jewish law.

I’m not sure what sort of interactions you’ve had with Orthodox Jews, but if you think about it, a dog is the main pet you’d see a person out and about with. So unless you’ve been inside the homes of many religious Jews, you probably wouldn’t know if there was a cat, a bird, or a fish tucked away somewhere. But let’s start with dogs since they’re the most public of pets. When it comes to dogs, there seems to be a range of feelings that people have, from very positive to very negative. Let’s start with the Torah sources, then we’ll talk about history and sociology.

In terms of the Torah’s view on dogs, the most famous reference is in the book of Shemos (Exodus). As the Jews were leaving Egypt, we’re told, “And against the children of Israel, no dog wagged its tongue.” Or in other words, the dogs are praised for keeping quiet so that the Jews could escape without drawing attention to themselves.

The Maharal – a 16th century rabbi from Prague who is best known for the legend of having created a golem - wrote that a dog is called “kelev” in Hebrew because it comes from the words “k’lev,” which means “like the heart.” It sounds a whole lot like the expression we say in English, “man’s best friend.”

However, there are some considerations one must take into account when owning a dog. In the Talmud, there is a prohibition against owning a dangerous animal. Of course not all dogs are dangerous, but the halacha (law) is pretty clear that it’s prohibited to own a dangerous one. The halacha, goes one step further, though. It is prohibited to own an animal that could be perceived as dangerous, even if it’s not actually dangerous, because there is a certain damage that the fear of the animal could cause others and Torah living is very concerned with how one person’s actions affect another’s.

The Talmud gives over a story of a pregnant woman who’s petrified of a barking dog she passes on the street. The owner assures her that the bark is worse than the bite, but the woman informs him that she has already miscarried due to her immense fear. In our old building, there was a guy who had two pit bulls. The guy was kind of scary looking, the pit bulls were very of scary looking, and their leashes were made out of chains! I personally have positive feelings about dogs without being a super dog lover, but these dogs scared me and they especially scared me when my children were around. Pit bulls have a reputation of being aggressive, and every time I was in the elevator with them and my kids, I would think about stories of pit bulls attacking children.

My husband and I both had dogs growing up, and although we don’t have one now, we’ve raised our kids to be comfortable around them (pit bull paranoia aside), but just the other day, as we were out bike riding, my daughter, who’s just getting used to no training wheels, got pounced on by a dog that was bigger than her and knocked off the bike. The dog got mud all over her face, scratched her a bit, and shook her up. My daughter was able to pull herself  together pretty quickly, but you can imagine that if my daughter had a pre-existing fear of dogs, this incident could have really caused her great emotional distress.

So to sum up our sources, dogs seems to be viewed positively and are fine to own as long as they are neither physically dangerous, nor intimidating to others. However, there are more considerations that come into play as to why you’re not seeing so many Orthodox Jews with pets, and the next thing to look at is history. There is a history of dogs being used to intimidate Jews, first in the pogroms and later in the Holocaust, and if you think about it, fear of dogs is something that seamlessly passes from one generation to the next, even if the later generation has no reason to be afraid. All that is needed is a kid seeing his parent’s fear.

The people who are the closest to the old country, who have mixed in the least with Western dog-loving culture, is the ultra-Orthodox community, who happen to also look the most visibly “Orthodox.” I believe that many of them still hold on to this fear of dogs based on what happened to previous generations and having never gotten a chance to have positive dog experiences. Therefore, it’s pretty uncommon to see people in this community with dogs and it is quite common to see people in this community petrified of dogs. (Plus, in general, this is a community that’s more up on Torah learning, so they even have sources to back up their fear of dangerous animals.)

You have probably passed Modern or Centrist Orthodox Jews walking dogs on the street without even realizing it, either because they dress modestly but more stylishly and blend in, or because they don’t dress according to the laws of Jewish modesty at all and aren’t recognizably Orthodox.

Another thing to keep in mind is that many times pets get introduced into a household because a person is living alone and wants a companion or a couple doesn’t feel ready to have kids and wants to try out a pet as a practice run. But in the Orthodox circles, the practice run for having kids is usually having kids!

Then once all those kids are born and being cared for and paid for, many people don’t have time, energy, or money to add another life into the mix. (We’ve had a few fish, but that’s the biggest commitment to pet ownership we’ve made despite my kids’ desires for bigger, cuddlier pets.)

So, I think that you are correct that you’ve noticed the most “Orthodox” looking Jews are not walking around the streets with pets (namely dogs), but, I would say that there are still a fair number of Orthodox families with smaller pets at home or who ARE on the street with dogs, but you just didn’t realize they were Orthodox.

Hope this question no longer dogs you!

 

All the best,

Allison (aka Jew in the City)

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Comments

  1. Simone Shapiro says:

    An other thing to consider is the laws around pets and shabbes observance: can you open cans to feed them, can you walk them on a lease if there is no erev, can you carry their mess, etc. Sometimes people find it so complicated and get different opinions from different rabbis that they just decide it is simpler not to have a pet, especially a dog.

  2. I know a hassidic family that loves pets, of all kinds. They constantly adopt abandoned or stray dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and more. (although sometimes the pets don’t get along so well with each other…) Even though it isn’t common, if an ultra-Orthodox family really wants animals they will get some.

  3. Another thing to consider is everyday interaction with dogs. There are lots of questions concerning halacha with pets at home. On such halacha that comes to mind is washing your hands after touching/playing with one. That is easy to fix, but I have met people that along with the hassle of dealing with animals on Shabbat have just shied away from it. In my experiences it is very common to see halachically ‘easier’ pets in one’s home, such as fish.

  4. @Simone – very few dogs are fed EXCLUSIVELY canned food. Most are kibble fed and most of the time the kibble is inside. My dog is fed a raw prey diet (I’m Modern O) and I prepare the meat into individual portions when I buy it so all I have to do is pull it out of the freezer and put it in her bowl. According to Halacha, you ARE allowed to carry a leash to walk your dog on Shabbos if it is clear you are walking a dog and the leash is taught, not dragging (coming from my local Chabad Rabbi). Poo bags must be pre-torn and disposed of outside in a dumpster (as opposed to carrying them from the public into the private). MOST of my Ultra-O neighbors have a pet of some form and we get great enjoyment out of walking the dogs together on Shabbos morning before shul.

  5. thanks for the question and the answer. I’ve recently wondered about this myself. Good to know.

  6. Well, come to Israel. You’ll see plenty of Orthodox Jews with all kinds of pets.

    • R.Louis says:

      I would think that the health benefits of a calm, happy and much safer dog that isn’t contributing to dog over-population – not to mention the greatly reduced risk of your dog getting into a fight, and some evidence it can reduce cancer – would be adequate reason to neuter a pet even under religious law.

      • mark watts says:

        I have no idea what you are talking about..only to say 7 people are alive today because of my dogs heroic actions..and for that he has been shot at spat at cars and bikes driven at him..so I no longer let him go abroad to earthquake torn cities. Its these kind of people that discriminate and spread fear about mans best friend. My dogs would willingly give their lives to save me and my family without thinking about it. You know that a dog is 100% loyal…100% unconditional love for its owner…not many people can be labled this!!

  7. And yet another consideration: the halachic problem with neutering. Not neutering a male dog essentially makes him more territorial and therefore dangerous, and many families do not want to have to deal with puppies/kittens all the time. The halachic grounds for neutering an animal are weak and many authorities hold that it is prohibited except for health reasons.

    • Good point, although we adopted a puppy that was already spade before we got her so that might be a way around this?!

  8. Actually, I’m presently learning in seminary in Israel and we were discussing neutering/spaying a dog or cat and one of the rabbis said that the way around this is to go to a non-Jewish veterinarian and sell him your pet before he spays/neuters and then buy your pet back after the deed is done. Easy squeezy!!!

    • If you adopt a pet from a shelter, they will most likely be spayed or neutered before adoption, usually by non-Jewish vets. In addition, you will be rescuing an animal that would otherwise be killed or living a miserable life.

  9. Come on over to Wesley Hills, NY. We are an Orthodox family with a 110 lb. golden doodle. There are many families here with dogs and cats.

  10. My grandmother was modern Orthodox, or Orthodox-ish, and she had cats as long as I can remember. In regards to Shabbos, she made sure there was food and water out beforehand, didn’t scoop the litter during, and generally felt that if there was anything else she had to do in order to ensure the health of her cat that might break Shabbos, she was obligated (by the Torah) to care for the wellbeing of any animal in her care before worrying about prohibitions.

    • Lhyzz, thanks for your comment, but just to clarify. A pet owner not only can feed the animal on Shabbos – he MUST and he must feed the animal before he feeds himself. It is certainly possible to care for a pet on Shabbos according to Jewish law without having to break any rules (under normal circumstances).

    • My family was Orthodox growing up although we are considered Conservative/Reform now. My Bubbe and Zayde were Orthodox and kept Shabbos to the best of their ability. They LOVED animals particularly cats. We were taught the same principle as Allison mentioned in regards to pet care. We always had cats growing up and we also had two dogs. We were taught to be responsible for the animals welfare BEFORE we took care of ourselves.

  11. I live in a pretty frum neighborhood and there are more dogs (and assorted other pets) than I can count. We have a dog and a cat. As for Shabbos, it’s never been a problem. The animals are fed dry food, which on Shabbos gets some chicken or brisket added to it – not to mention their favorite of all treats….challah.

  12. Interesting discussion.

    I am a Muslim living in Karachi, Pakistan.

    Most of our scholars prohibit keeping dogs on different pretext.

    Ironically, in Quran, dog is described to be kept by a group of virtous people. So its good to have dog.

    I think, its natural to have/keep dog which is the most loyal among the pets.

    Regards,
    Mushtaq

  13. Just a few weeks ago I was wondering if pets need to eat Kosher? I asked my Orthodox friend and the during the discussion, she turned me on to this fun and informative website.

  14. I,ve seen a few Jewish people in Hendon, London with dogs.

  15. Re Emily:

    No, pets owned by Jews do NOT have to eat kosher, so they can eat pork, etc. HOWEVER they CANNOT be fed pet food that is made from milk & meat together and they cannot be fed chametz (leaven) that was owned by a Jew over Passover.

    The reason for the latter 2 prohibitions is because the OWNER is prohibited from benefiting from these. Feeding them to one’s pets is a form of benefit in that the owner saves the money he would have had to spend on other pet food.

    • Frum Femme says:

      But then how would you wash the bowls? Do you do it outside with a spigot, or have a separat e insert for the kitchen?

      We have 1 dog and 2 cats…all strays/shelter. We feed them kosher and treat the bowls as fleishig (and milk is bad for cats anyway according to our vet).

  16. Thanks for everyone’s comments. very informative.

  17. I’m confused by Pinny’s comment about the milk & meat petfood. My cat Snowball loves dairy, but is lactose intolerant, as most cats are. So, am I to never allow him the joy of dairy cat food/treats? I’d like to think not. He deserves all the happiness in the world.

    Also, I’ve heard that Orthodoxy are not allowed to pet their animals during Shabbos, due to some Torah citing. (not sure which book/chapter). Is this found to be common? I am all about observance, but I would not be able to enjoy Shabbos without snuggling the cats! Please advise.

    Thanks for your insights
    Melissa

    • Thanks for your comment, Melissa. What Pinny is referring to is the Torah prohibition of “al tivashel g’dee b’chalev imo” or “don’t cook a kid in its mother’s milk.” That prohibition is repeated three times in the Torah because there are actually three different parts to it. Don’t *cook* milk and meat together, don’t *eat* milk and meat together, don’t *derive benefit* from milk and meat being together.

      The first two parts are self- explanatory, the third part about deriving benefit has different applications, but among them, is the prohibition of giving food which has both milk and meat in it to your pet. So, back to Snowball. I have to say your explanation has left me confused! Snowball loves dairy. I got that part. But Snowball is lactose intolerant. I got that part too. It’s the ” am I to never allow him the joy of dairy cat food/treats?” part I don’t get. It would appear that you shouldn’t give Snowball dairy cat treats since he’s lactose intolerant. You make no mention of milk and meat being combined in these treats. So confusion aside, I’ll explain it like this. If you’re OK giving Snowball dairy treats (that have no meat in them) b/c he loves dairy – go for it! If the only dairy cat treats are combined with meat, then that is a problem according to Jewish law.

      In terms of are you not allowed to pet your pet on Shabbos? It depends on who you ask. Animals (the wild kind) are not supposed to be touched unless they are in pain and could be helped by being touched. They’re considered “muktzeh” or in the category of having no Shabbos purpose and therefore being off limits during Shabbos.

      There seems to be a disagreement about pets, though. It has been argued by certain prominent halachic authoritie that household pets are not included in the category of muktzah at all, because they have an “immediate practical use” — namely, providing people with pleasure and companionship. There are others who disagree, maintaining that the rabbinic prohibition against handling animals on Shabbat was imposed across the board.

  18. Corrita says:

    Your answers are extremely thorough, thank you for your service.

    • Julia, I think it is so nice that you searched and found the site. I am jewish but not Orthodox and was talking to my brother the other day who lives in a very Orthodox area of L.A. as well. So, I too looked this up and got here. What a phenomenal site, and how wonderful it is to see someone who is not Jewish engaging in these posts. I love to see people reach for information into areas outside their norm. As a Jew living in the U.S. I do my best to be educated on the ways of other cultures and religions which surround me. It is nice to know there are non-Jews who do the same.

  19. This is fascinating, so glad I found this post! I’m not Jewish, but I live in an Orthodox neighborhood in Los Angeles. I get such varied reactions to my dogs, a Mastiff and an American Bulldog. Mostly my neighbors keep far away from them, and I thought there must some religious/cultural reason for this. Now I understand. Although they’re both very gentle, I know they look intimidating.

  20. lou fridkis says:

    You forgot to mention the issues of having a pet on Shabbos & yom tov: muktzah, trapping; and on pesah: hometz may not be fed to animals; and the issue that animals are tamay

  21. I think Melissa misunderstood it to mean that a cat or dog cannot have either, instead of reading it correctly that either one is OK alone, but not both together. Thanks for clarifying it.

  22. Shalom from Paris!

    I wondered if cats were mentioned at all in the torah?

    Thank you very much!

    • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

      The domestic house cat (as opposed to big cats, like lions) is not mentioned anywhere in the Torah, not in all of Tanach (the entire Jewish Bible, including the Torah, the books of the Prophets, and the Writings).

      Aside: I’m Orthodox and I have owned dogs!

  23. Brian Levy says:

    I am a Torah observant Jew. Having said that, I am disgusted at the hypocrisy of the fear/loathing of animals in the religious community. Toting around a Sefer all day does not make you a kind human being…. The business of pets being “muktzah” is just fanatical garbage. Pets are not “work animals.” People continually knock on my door asking money for this Yeshiva and that yet seem repulsed by pets that are indeed part of my family. No more. I’m going to show these people the door…

    • Thanks for your comment, Brian. I can’t speak for the people you’ve encountered and I’m certainly not into people being judgmental, but I think you need to consider that a) dogs were used as weapons against Jews in Europe and b) not being around animals in general makes people not comfortable with them. They certainly shouldn’t give someone else a hard time about it, since they are certainly opinions that say that having a pet is completely fine, but in some circles, pets (dogs especially) are so foreign and even scary, they might not even realize how closed-minded they’re behaving.

  24. mark watts says:

    My dogs have saved many lives (search and rescue)they do not discriminate..they absolutely LOVE saving someone whos allmost DEAD!!Also did you know that theres a dog for EVERY disabilliy..even diabetics..and epilectics Also you cannot catch anything from a dog..thier mouth is cleaner than humans..well iam a vetenary surgeon so i can assure you its true. Dogs have enough predudice to deal with so i will step up and try and quell thier (BAD) rep. They would give thier life to save thier owners family 100% loyalty and unconditional love..if only people were half this good. “MANS BEST FRIEND”

  25. Great Article, I’m not Jewish but I live next to a Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn,NY and was interested why I was getting the reactions I was to my dog when we walk down the street, Now I know. Very Informative.

    Cheers

  26. Just to let you know I’m an Orthodox Jew with 2 dogs, I live on a block of other Orthodox Jews who also have dogs, cats, birds and reptiles. We live in a very Frum area of New York so you see it is not uncommon for religious Jews to own pets it just not done by many.

  27. I wonder if the orthodox dogs eat only Kosher dog food?

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      the food doesn’t have to be kosher BUT a Jew is not supposed to benefit from milk and meat being eaten together, so it’s prohibited to feed it to a pet and on Passover, a Jew’s not supposed to own leaven, so the dog food on Passover needs to be with no grains.

  28. I hope you do not mind revisiting an old post. I am a Baalat Teshuva(in the process of becoming observant, not fully observant yet) but an currently studying with the goal of going to veterinary school. Do you know of any Halachot that are especially pertinent to either my studies or being a veterinarian? The comments appear to say that a Jew cannot perform the spaying or neutering surgery, it that true? What is the basis?

    • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

      It’s true. There’s a mitzvah in the Torah specifically prohibiting neutering animals – Leviticus 22:24: “Do not offer to G-d an animal whose testicles are bruised, crushed, torn or cut, and do not do such things in your land.” The underlying rationale is that G-d created animals and people to populate the world (Genesis 1:22, 1:28, et al.). To castrate an animal goes counter to that purpose. (More here: http://www.ou.org/torah/mitzvot/taryag/mitzvah291/ )

      Neutering is even problematic for non-Jews under the seven Noachide laws (http://www.ou.org/torah/mitzvot/taryag/noachide_laws_5/ ).

      Spaying is not prohibited by this verse because the obligation to procreate is only incumbent on the male of the species. Women are not obligated to procreate if they don’t want to because it poses a danger to them (see http://www.ou.org/torah/mitzvot/taryag/mitzvah1/ ).

      I hope this answers your question!

  29. kashaman says:

    We had a dog. I am a Jewish Yankee from Maine who got religion and my wife was a Mennonite
    Veterinarian converted by Bobov. He helpe us off eacj others nerves as per Rabbinical advice. He died Shabbos. Jewish tradition avoids negativity so I borrow an insight that is rather uncomfortable :

    “DOG, n. A kind of additional or subsidiary Deity designed to catch the overflow and surplus of the world’s worship. This Divine Being in some of his smaller and silkier incarnations takes, in the affection of Woman, the place to which there is no human male aspirant. The Dog is a survival –an anachronism. He toils not, neither does he spin, yet Solomon in all his glory never lay upon a door-mat all day long, sun-soaked and fly-fed and fat, while his master worked for the means wherewith to purchase the idle wag of the Solomonic tail, seasoned with a look of tolerant recognition.”

    Ambrose Bierce quotes (American Writer, Journalist and Editor, 1842-1914)

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