24th of July 2014 / Serving Oregon & Southwest Washington since 1959

CHOSEN PETS: May Fido have the lobster?


article created on: 2008-11-15T00:00:00

Jewish texts hold in high regard those who care for animals.

The Talmud observes that Moses was chosen to lead the Jews out of Egypt because of his kindness in caring for animals. “The Holy One, blessed be He, said, ‘You are compassionate in leading flocks belonging to mortals; I swear you will similarly shepherd my flock, Israel.’” (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 2:2).

The online Jewish Virtual Library reminds us also that Rebecca was chosen as Isaac’s wife because of her kindness to animals. When Abraham’s servant asked for water for himself, she volunteered to water his camels as well, and thereby proved herself a worthy wife.

Jewish law appears not to be specific on the keeping of pets, per se, but it is specific regarding the treatment of animals in general, so, observant Jews who keep pets should be aware of what is required, what is and is not permissible in the matter of Fido (faithful) or Puss’n’Boots or any other pet.

May Fido have the lobster?

The question many ask first about pets in Jewish homes is whether they too are required to keep kosher. Can one feed non-kosher food to pets?

The answer is yes and no.

Various authorities agree that it falls within the boundaries of kashrut to feed Fido whatever may be in his or her kibble as long as the observant Jew does not also consume any of that food. From this perspective, for example, it would OK even if the kibble contained pork products.

The same authorities also agree that there is one important exception to this perspective on kibble.

That is that an observant Jew must not benefit from mixing dairy and meat. To the extent that one benefits from pet ownership, then the pet cannot be fed meals that contain meat and dairy. One should carefully read the label on the kibble or canned food they buy for their pet; the calf is no less in its mother’s milk regardless of who or what is eating the meal.

There is another issue to consider regarding pet food; it has to do with the proscription against chametz in the home during Passover.

Writing at Jewfaq.org, Tracy R. Rich notes that “you can feed your pets food that contains kitniyot” at Pesach.

Kitniyot (literally “small things”) may include certain legumes such as beans and lentils, or rice and maize. While observant Jews may avoid these during Pesach, some say it is OK to feed them to one’s pet.

Rich also notes that Passover table scraps can be fed to animals during the holiday period.

In the extreme situation when you cannot find a suitable food for your pet during Passover, Rich said, “You must temporarily sell the pet to a non-Jew, as you temporarily sell your other chametz to a non-Jew during the holiday.”

Should Fido keep his or her parts?

Nowadays, at least in the United States, it is almost sacrosanct that a responsible pet owner protect against the suffering of unwanted animals by spaying or neutering their pets.

Jewfaq.org’s Rich says it’s not OK under Jewish law. He said the Torah “prohibits castrating males of any species (Lev. 22.24). Spaying of females, he averred, is covered “by general laws against…causing suffering to animals.”

However, Rich leaves the door open by noting that ownership of a pet that is already spayed or neutered is OK.

Should Fido fetch on Shabbat?

It’s Saturday morning. You’re getting ready for services. Every other day of the week Fido goes outside and picks up the morning paper and brings it to you. This is his or her job. But it’s Shabbat. What’s a dog to do?

Can Fido work on Shabbat? No, Fido too must take the day off for it says in Exodus 23:12, “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor, in order that your ox and your ass may rest…” So Rich at Jewfaq.org tells us, “Like all animals, household pets are entitled to Sabbath rest, thus you cannot have your dog retrieve the paper for you on Shabbat…”

Many other commentators make it clear that there is more about Shabbat that impinges on our relationship with our pets. More than a few aver that pets are muktzeh—objects that cannot be handled on Shabbat.

What constitutes “handling” is not entirely clear or is subject to interpretation.

For a dog that must be walked, there is the question of whether holding his or her leash breaches the prohibition of carrying items on Shabbat. Some authorities say it is OK to walk your dog on a leash, but that the leash must be held short and not allowed to sag. And then there is the question of carrying the little plastic bag of dog droppings.

When Fido faces the black abyss

The most difficult moment in a pet owner’s partnership with his or her non-human companion comes as that pet nears the end of its time on earth. Making the decision to end the animal’s life can be heart-wrenching.

One’s perspective on making that difficult choice may either compound the heartbreak or ease the pain, at least a little. Jewish scholars have given some thought to the issue.

Rabbi Shraga Simmons of Aish Ha Torah has written very sensitively on this topic, noting that, as with our relatives, we might best understand our beloved pet’s passing as a transition out of a suffering body and into “a state of eternal rest.”

Citing “Ethics of the Fathers” (4:16), Simmons writes at aish.com, “We should strive to do our duty in this world. Be altruistic, devoted and caring to friends, neighbors, animals etc. No creation should be treated with disdain. We should envision this world as a vestibule and entrance to the afterworld. Kindness and good deeds will merit our entrance into this world of eternity.”

Speaking directly to the issue of ending the pet’s suffering, Simmons adds, “…one may and should do so as soon as the animal has no chance of recovery and is only suffering.” He cites “Code of Jewish Law,” E.H. 5:14).

And once the animal’s life is gone, burial or cremation is permitted, said the rabbi.

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