Judaism and Pets
Josh from Maryland writes:
Is a blind person allowed to bring is seeing-eye dog into a Synagogue so that he can pray?
Norm in Newark writes:
I have a couple of questions which I need clarified relative to handling pets from a Jewish point of view.
- Firstly, I am told that there are certain things that can and cannot be done on Shabbos with a pet. Can you give me some directions on whether pets can be handled, walked, petted, etc. and /or direct me to some literature for clarification?
- Along a similar line, as I understand it, it is acceptable to feed a pet non-Kosher food. However, what is the situation on Pesach? The pet food which is fed to pets is not normally for human consumption but it is still technically chametz. Any thoughts which may help me?
Dear Josh and Norm,
The Jerusalem Talmud (Tractate Megillah) quotes Rav Imi telling his assistant that if a scholar should visit and need to sleep in the Synagogue, he should let him, and allow him to bring his donkey and other objects in as well.
This opinion is codified in the Ran in Tractate Megillah.
Rav Moshe Feinstein in his Responsa writes, concerning a seeing-eye dog:
"Certainly a dog is no worse than a donkey, and there are no greater extenuating circumstances than this, for if we don't permit him [to bring in the dog] he will never be able to pray with a minyan nor hear the reading of the Torah...but it would be best if he sat near the door so as not to create confusion for the congregation."
Due to a technicality regarding the differences in the assumed-intents when constructing a Synagogue in Israel as opposed to Chutz L'aretz, Rabbi Feinstein wrote a decision only for Synagogues in Chutz L'aretz -- although he also offered an argument that would allow a seeing-eye dog in a Synagogue in Israel as well.
You are right about pets on Shabbos, Norm. Technically pets are considered "Muktza." Muktza is a category of Rabbinic law which forbids handling objects on Shabbos for a variety of reasons. A main concern which prompted the Sages to consider something Muktza is that if one is not vigilant when touching or using the object, he may come to transgress a Biblical commandment. What Biblical commandments are relevant here? The Torah states:
"The seventh day is a Sabbath for the L-rd your Gd, you shall not do any creative work, you, your son and daughter, your servant and maid-servant, your animals, and the stranger that is in your midst."
This means that an animal is not allowed to transgress one of the laws of Shabbos, just as a person must not. Obviously, animals are not obligated to monitor their own Shabbos observance, but their master is. For example, he may not allow his animal to carry something in a public area. An animal is allowed to walk in a public area with protective clothing or a leash which has a protective purpose, just as a person is allowed to walk outside while wearing clothes. However, something that is an extra burden (e.g., a dog ID tag) is forbidden.
Another issue of concern for the pet owner is pet food. A Jew is forbidden to derive any benefit from either a mixture of milk and meat throughout the year, or from chametz on Pesach. Your pet food does not have to be certified-Kosher, but it cannot contain these ingredients.
As long as we are on the topic of pets and pet food, I thought to mention Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair's donkey. According to the Talmud, his donkey would never eat untithed grain. It could sense that the food was inappropriate and would decline of its own accord, without being told that it was forbidden. The Jerusalem Talmud tells us that this is an indication of a righteous person -- that not only will he never accidentally eat something that is not proper but even his animal will not.
"Rabbi Zeira said in the name of Rava bar Zimna 'If the earlier Sages were the sons of angels, then we are the sons of men; but if the earlier Sages were the sons of men, then we are donkeys - and not the donkeys of Rav Chanina Ben Dosa and Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair but like the other donkeys.'"
- Jerusalem Talmud - Tractate Megillah, ch. "Bnei Ha'ir", H. Gimmel.
- Rabbi Moshe Feinstein - Iggros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:45.
- The Torah - Parshas Yisro, ch. 20, verse 10.
- Rabbi Y. Neuwirth - Shmirath Shabbath Kehilchata, ch. 27.
- Talmud - Tractate Chullin, page 7b.
- Jerusalem Talmud - Tractate Chullin, ch. 5, H. Aleph.
- Talmud - Tractate Shabbos, page 112b.