The Trouble With Dogs

I was shocked to discover that almost every frum family I visited not only refused to have dogs, they generally reviled them.

They had a cat here and there, and maybe birds, but never could I find a dog.

This puzzled me, having grown up with cats and dogs.

Oh I know there are those out there that have them, but none that I’ve met. And I know of at least one Rosh Yeshiva who told his prospective bachurim to throw out their TVs and give away their dogs. Or was it give away the TVs and throw away the dogs? I was too shocked by the edict to absorb it.

I venture the bond between the animal kingdom and observant Jewish mankind rests largely with the BT world, where we grew up secular and with furry creatures sleeping beside us on our pillows. I doubt this happened much among Torah households.

Hashem gave us dominion over the animals for our use. Not for our abuse, but certainly we were given mastery. I assume that precludes us from being best pals with Fido and Flipper.

When I became BT, I was told I should get rid of the pets; that dogs are an abomination and the reincarnated souls of sneakthieves, while cats represent the basest level of illicit sensuality.

If you’ve ever watched a dog in action – any dog – “sneakthief” is the most apropos description going. Try leaving a sandwich on a table within muzzle-reach of a dog, and you’ll see what I mean.

We have two cats both over the age of 22, the equivalent of humans in their 90s.

We also have a beautiful aging Papillon dog, a grande dame of 13 years. Small breed dogs live on average to the age of 16, so my pride and joy, Lili, is a golden oldie in her dotage. For an abomination, I sure love her.

I mean, Lili is cute. No bigger than a football with ears the size of catalpa leaves (hence the breed’s name Papillon – French for butterfly), I couldn’t imagine one person not loving this friendly, fluffy, cuddly dog.

But I’ve watch horrified as frum kids ran from her screaming in terror. Same reaction I get when we’re within 10 feet of Muslims, who definitely revile dogs.

There is a posuk in Mishlei (26:11) that says, “ki kelev shav ell keio (as a dog returns to his vomit), k’sil shoneh beivalto (a fool repeats his error).”

Dog owners know their beloved dogs will eat anything, much of it quite unsavoury. I suppose if you are what you eat then dogs are … (you get the point).

And as for a fool, well, yes, if we don’t learn from our mistakes aren’t we destined to repeat them?

I heard the word “kelev,” dog, comes from “ki-lev,” like the heart, or “kulo lev,” meaning all heart, and this is what I have come to understand about dogs. They are loyal, obedient and trusting of their masters, and isn’t that quite analogous to our service to Hashem?

Dogs have a time-honoured place in Perek Shirah with their own song: “Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before our G-d our Maker.” (Psalms 95:6)

When you look into a dog’s eyes, loving you and trusting you back, or watch how they communicate with sound and physical action, it’s hard to think of them as some programmed living thing of blood and sinew, reacting purely on instinct. To me, they are a miracle of Hashem’s creation – complete with a heart and soul.

They comprehend your connection to them and love you unconditionally for it. So how can they be something to be reviled?

Well, then I met my friend’s grandson Yaakov, aged 7, a young up and coming talmid from New York.

It turns out he is a big fan of dogs and helps out sometimes in the neighborhood pet store, taking the dogs for a walk.

The absolute joy and delight in his eyes when I handed him my dog Lili’s leash for a walk one sunny chol hamoed day was vindicating and heartwarming.

I wish those who revile dogs could just see them from mine and Yaakov’s perspective.

And if we are careful with the halachos regarding pets, what could be so wrong with loving and caring for Hashem’s very own invention?

May we all merit the blessings and adoration of Hashem as his loyal and obedient servants.

32 comments on “The Trouble With Dogs

  1. Im surprised no one has mentioned the fact that Dog in Hebrew is Kelev. Which means loyal or like the heart. In addittion the dogs were rewarded for not barking when we left Mitzraim

  2. About the stuffed animals (non-kosher) – its a CHABAD hanhageh.

    Also, WRT the pasuk in Parashas Bo “lo yechretz kelev es l’shono…”, I was once told that if a dog barks at you, cite this pasuk and the dog will stop. Of course, this “trick” didn’t work with my parents’ dogs or other dogs.

    Also, being a dog lover (even though I don’t have any), how could anyone even consider having a cat? Dogz rule!! Cats…well, they don’t!

  3. Re: the stuffed animals issue- this was/is an issue primarily in Chabad circles as far as I know (okay, I don’t know much!), though I’ve seen other chassidim sensitive about it. The last rebbe gave a pretty long sicha on the topic at least 20+ years ago. Appropo to that, when we lived in Givat Shaul, we had chassidishe neighbours upstairs who wouldn’t even enter the stairwell if one of our cats was in there. Sometimes they would yell a warning down to their children not to enter just yet. I had thoroughly discussed the issue with Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, and he had made it clear that there was no prohibition involved in having pets qua pets, including cats and dogs (barring other complications, such as problems with the neighbours). Interestingly, he noted to me that he preferred that Kohanim not keep a non-kosher animal (behaima t’meia). He did instruct us to wash after handling them, before davenning, etc.

    Concerning dogs, we have three so I am biased on this. My wife feels much safer when I’m not home, having the dogs around as a deterrent. They also afford psychological benefits, which is why we all like our dogs so much. One of our dogs is also a mitzvah dog, since he is trained for wilderness search and rescue. There are some halachic issues to know (being certain not to intimidate the neighbours, possible muktza issues on Shabbat depending on who you ask, milk and meat issues in some commercial pet foods, Pesah, etc.)

    Typically what I’ve seen in Israel is that the Ashkenazim have more of a ‘problem’ with pets in general, and dogs in particular. I think that its pre-Holocaust, BTW; though that more recent experience could only have exacerbated things. I also am of the impression that chassidim had more of a problem with this than Litvishe types. If you go into National-Religious communities such as various yishuvim and kibbutzim, dogs are quite accepted both as pets and added security. When we were in Ramat Beit Shemesh over Pesah, we were pleasantly surprised to see several families with dogs. My wife pointed out that that was likely a North American and British influence.

    I think there’s little doubt that this is a culturally influenced issue, and the influencing cultures are not only Torah.

  4. I was told by a friend, whose grandparents were in the camps in WWII, that some fears likely originate with the German Shepards used by the Nazi’s. For many of those who were regularly threatened by these big dogs in the camps and elsewhere, the sound of a dog barking or the site of one, brought the fear and terror back. These good folks passed on their fears to their children. It’s not a logical thing, but it is a reality for many…

  5. Sorry about the spelling mistake. I guess the computer decided it could spell good better than I could. :)

  6. Bob didn’t mention that the episode where our dog barked and let us know there was a problem with the driveway light happened on Friday afternoon a couple of hours before Shabbos. Our electrician who did come running over said that it looked like the light’s wiring had been tampered with. Our dog was probably barking at the vandals. He finally acted like a watchdog! This was the original reason we’d gotten him. He barked. Bob thought he’d be a good watchdog. He was a good watchdog if the intruder was a plane, squirrel, leaf, etc.(you get the idea). The rest of the time he ignored stuff like that if he could or hid. When a neighbor came over to bring us some mail that had accidentally been delivered to him, the dog cowered in the living room until the neighbor was gone then he came to the door and barked his head off. Some watchdog! He was a goodd pet though.

    Chaya, for whatever reason I think that many people have forgotten the Rashi teaching that you wrote about.

    What I’d like to know is if this dislike of dogs among the frum community extends to service animals like seeing-eye dogs?

  7. We are no longer an agrarian or husbandry-intensive society. Religions evolve or, as the case may be, devolve.

    That’s progress/regress I get.

  8. Whatever happened to the Rashi teaching that because dogs did not bark during the Exodus that they were to be given meat that was for whatever reason not kosher?

    Given that dogs are so often found in shepherding societies, how did they come to be reviled by Jews, given the number of shepherding ancestors? Similarly, when agrarian societies are battling vermin in their food supplies, both dogs and cats serve as useful animals to have around.

    I can actually understand city dwellers not keeping animals because of the issues of having them in cities (although reducing the population of vermin in earlier times, and even today might be a reason) and in fact the issue of not being cruel to the animals.

    As for what people spend their time and money on – people spend lots of time and money on things that they could easily do without.

    Sneakthieves – there are plenty of humans who wreak more havoc.

  9. Yes, it’s probably about people knowing their place and accepting boundaries.

    The first and most obvious boundary IMO is the one dividing humans from animals. Knowing one’s place is not always about attaining humility. In our generation it’s more about attaining pride.

    After all Rav Hutner is not to be confused with Dr. Doolittle. His audience were Homo Sapiens not canines.

  10. I’m not sure Rav Hutner ZT”L meant his statement except in a metaphoric sense, as a comment about people’s traits. Whatever an actual dog might “fancy” was hard-wired into his species at creation.

  11. I do have a problem when people overidealize dogs though and project human-like feelings and emotions on them which they may be far from having. Also, I am apprehensive about them being called ‘man’s best friend’. It’s a sad commentary on our times when many people feel closer to their pets than to other humans Comment #5

    Here here Mordechai.

    There is a stitch in the shalshudos z’miros that goes hanee kalbin d’khatzeefin These impudent/chutzpah-dik dogs. There are probably earlier associations between Chutzoah and dogs in Tanakh or Chazal but none come to mind immediately.

    I once heard in the name of Rav Hutner “The chutzpah of the dog is not in that he barks at people but in that he fancies himself mans best friend”

  12. Before I was married, I had a cat. Living alone, she was somewhat of a companion, and fairly low maintenance. However, she had to go (sob) because my husband was allergic to her. But even if he weren’t, he’s sited something (don’t remember from where), that you can’t have pets running around where there are seforim? Does that ring a bell to anyone?

    We have had a hamster and a few waterfrogs. I’m of the belief that pets are good for kids, and if we had a backyard, I’d love to have a dog.

  13. As mentioned in Bob Miller’s link, there may be a connection between fear of dogs and the Holocaust. I have no evidence at all for that, but anecdotally, the survivors/ children of survivors I know are much more likely to fear dogs than others. Although that doesn’t explain why so many sephardim also seem to dislike dogs. Maybe because in some areas of the world they’re pests, not pets–I know I’d find it weird if everyone wanted to keep cockroaches as pets.

    Anyway, my reasons for not wanting a dog, or any pet, are purely practical. Why put in all of the extra time, work, and perhaps most importantly, money, on an animal (an animal who doesn’t need my help, and who I don’t need)? There are so many needy people.

    I think that might be the main reason for dislike of dogs– in religious areas, a lot of people don’t have spare money/energy lying around for use on pets. And when kids grow up in an area without pets, they can easily come to fear dogs, or just to dislike the general idea of an animal living in the house.

  14. As I tell my wife Leah, the author of this thread, it’s good to have a few pets around. If no other food is available during times of crisis, for pekuach nefesh purposes, those pets become kosher.

    Regards, Eliahu

  15. I know a few Frum people around KGH who have pets, such as dogs & cats, and we have even met some who have had hamsters (we had a hamster & a gerbil at different times over the last 8 years). It’s true that not too many Frum families have them, but there are those that do. And, I don’t think there is anything to be afraid of!


  16. Shalom all,

    Thanks for your very interesting responses.

    Albany Jew: I’ve heard this as well about non-kosher animals (plush or otherwise), and was told that a “kosher” animal would be acceptable as a pet. I suppose we could adopt a duck or a chicken. ;-D

    Jewish Blogmeister: I can see that. They aren’t easy animals. They truly do have to feel dominated and controlled to behave. They’re just this shy of wild. And yes, they do have scavenger tendencies. Having said that, I don’t know the source, but I understand dogs are allowed to eat the flesh of an animal found dead in the field as a reward for having stayed quiet when the Yidden were fleeing Mitzrayim. I hope I have that story straight.

    Mordechai: About being sensitive to those who are afraid of dogs, absolutely!

    Denise: WELCOME!!! :-)

    Bob Miller: My husband doesn’t quite have the same feelings for the family dog as I do. Matter of fact, he likes to tell her that if she misbehaves he’ll drive her to the Korean side of town. ;-D Having said that, he also makes jokes like, “It’s a good thing she’s not kosher. Yum Yum,” with a lip-smacking sound.

  17. I know some observant Jews who won’t even allow plush toy animals which aren’t kosher! (I have no idea if this has anything to do with the topic, maybe a pet goat would be acceptable?)

  18. Wow! This is my first time to your site and what do I find on the homepage? A blog about something my husband and I have wondered about for a very long time. We are BT’s who have 1 dog and 1 cat. I am amazed at how petrified the FFB kids and their parents are of both animals. Watching a child recoil in fear of my fluffy long haired cat is beyond my comprehension. I had never heard the concept that the pets were abominations, or things to be reviled (it’s probably a good thing I didnt hear it because I think I would have turned myself around quickly and headed back to secularviille! Anyway, my motto is Let’s not stop thinking! No matter what intellectual or Torah based theories we have about our animals, the reality is they bring to so many of us what we need… happiness, companionship, protection, purpose. They say that the dogs DNA is identical to that of a wolf. So I ask you: How do we explain the difference? Hashem doesnt make mistakes. If he didnt want them to be in our homes, he wouldnt have added that missing (soul) component!

  19. JB’s point shows that a dog is useful to its owner. Is this not one good reason it was created?

  20. Since you are quoting all these sources you may find it surprising that there is a rashi ( I will try to find it for you) that g-d hates the dog more then any other animal. Why? Because of it’s midos: The dog was forever used to assist in hunting animals. The dog is an animal yet it has no issue with giving up other animals to it’s owner. Just a thought…

  21. The gemara is the basic legal text of our faith.

    It mentions not raising a ‘kelev ra’ (bad dog) in your house, but doesn’t say the same about dogs in general.

    Re reincarnation theories – reincarnation is a subject of dispute. Great Rabbis such as Rav Saadia Gaon, Rav Yosef Albo, Rav Aharon Soloveitchik, expressed opposition to such belief.

    One should be sensitive to those scared of dogs nevertheless.

    I do have a problem when people overidealize dogs though and project human-like feelings and emotions on them which they may be far from having. Also, I am apprehensive about them being called ‘man’s best friend’. It’s a sad commentary on our times when many people feel closer to their pets than to other humans.

  22. We have two cats. Many of the neighborhood kids are fascinated when they come over, although rather shy.

    A friend in Lakewood considered getting a dog recently and decided not to because of fears of communal ostracism if he did so.

  23. I love dogs. There are a lot of “frum” dogs in my neighborhood. My very unscientific observation is that there seem to be more frum families with dogs in Israel than in the US.

    I always wanted a dog when I was a kid. My mom wouldn’t hear of it. She said that I can get one when I get married. When I got married my wife wouldn’t hear of it. She said I can get one when we get divorced! :) B”H I still have no dog after 26 years of marriage.

  24. For what its worth…we were surprise to find that there are a lot of families in Chicago with dogs.

  25. When we lived in MI, our collie may have saved our lives. An arc lamp outlet in our outside wall facing the driveway started to crackle and the dog loudly called our attention to it. Our frum electrician said this could have caused a fire if we hadn’t been alerted in time to flip off the current to the outlet.

    The dog was also a great pal for our kids.

    A nearby rabbi with pets of his own was able to answer our pet halacha questions (such as how to walk the dog on Shabbos).

    Note that, in a densely packed urban setting, even a friendly dog might be harder to take care of properly and more likely to become a nuisance to neighbors. Also, some breeds or non-breeds may really be reincarnated thieves or worse!

    A lot of people are allergic to cat fur (and some to dog fur), which could sometimes make it harder to have guests over.

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