For the week ending 20 December 2003 / 25 Kislev 5764

Dog Gone

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Margie in MA

Dear Rabbi,

Why do religious people seem to have an aversion to pets?

Dear Margie,

Your question is not a petty one. There are undoubtedly significant benefits to owning pets. Children can learn responsibility and sensitivity by caring for pets. Pets bring joy into the home and also can provide company for the lonely. The Talmud notes that dogs in particular are sensitive to danger and guard against intruders. Our Sages further assert that one can learn good traits from animals, "Had the Torah not been given, we could have learned modesty from the cat, honest labor and industriousness from the ant, fidelity from the dove, and consideration for ones mate from the rooster".

Jews in all periods and places owned nearly all types of animals; they raised them, worked with them, and otherwise derived benefit from them. Nevertheless, keeping pets in the home for enjoyment involves certain considerations that may not be worth it to everybody. I'll discuss a few of them:

A Jewish home should be a sanctuary full of Torah study, prayer, and blessings all of which can not be recited in the presence of refuse which pets either intentionally or unintentionally leave in the house.

Causing pain to animals is a Torah prohibition, therefore a Jew is required to feed his animals before eating his own meal, and delaying their food even once is a serious transgression. For this reason, Rabbi Eliezer Papo (b. 1785 Sarajevo) advises against raising birds, and the same can be said of other pets. In addition, in a case where keeping pets penned up all day in the house or in cages would cause anguish to animals, a Jew would certainly wish to avoid this.

Also, if a pet gets loose on Shabbat, trapping it is forbidden in many cases. Even handling an animal on Shabbat can be forbidden, due to the prohibition of muktza, unless needed to feed the animal or relieve it from pain. Furthermore, one must make sure his pet doesn't cause damage. For this reason, the Sages looked unfavorably on raising certain animals, such as dogs, unless one needs them for protection. Yet another consideration is the Torah prohibition to have an animal sterilized.

Some practical reasons why religious Jews may refrain from keeping pets has to do with having larger families. In homes where older children often take a significant role in caring for younger siblings, there is ample opportunity to learn responsibility and sensitivity. Obviously, a house full of children is itself a blessing of joy and happiness where there is never a dull moment, let alone boredom or loneliness. Furthermore, young children are often afraid of some pets, while infants sharing the floor with animals may be outright unadvisable. A last reason might be economic - a large family may forego the cost of pet food, veterinary care and other expenses in favor of providing more for the children.


  • Baba Kama 60b
  • Eruvin 100b
  • Pele Yoetz, Ba'alei Chaim
  • Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 316:12, M.B. 54,57
  • Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 308:39-40, M.B. 151
  • Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 409:1,3
  • Beit Yosef, Yoreh Deah 107
  • Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 5:11,14

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