Why are Orthodox kids scared of dogs?
I have a better question: Why do dog-owners get offended when Orthodox kids are scared of their dogs?
Here’s the answer to the first question; dog owners will have to supply the answer to the second:
Orthodox kids typically do not grow up with dogs as pets. Their relatives and classmates typically do not either. Therefore, they are not used to them. Therefore, they don’t know how to read their signals or distinguish from pit pull to golden retriever (did I get that right?). When a huge doggie leaps up and is larger than said child (or not), it can be frightening.
Which begs an even better question: Why don’t Orthodox people typically own dogs?
1. They have more kids instead of pets. Me, if I ever thought I had the time and mental energy to handle caring for an animal, I’d say to myself: Self! What is stopping you from bringing another child into this world?
2. For kids of Holocaust survivors, dogs were a no-no, as the Germans used them for crowd control, and worse.
3. There are some Halachic issues with caring for a pet on Shabbat and holidays. Yes, yes, I know that they can all be surmounted, but some people would prefer to avoid this issue in the first place.
4. Part of Jewish philosophy is the stressing of the distinction between human and animal. I don’t know if or how that relates, but I sure find it interesting, especially as society as a whole tends to humanize animals and animalize humans. Think Curious George all the way down to the Berenstein Bears, to the zoo telling us we are simply cooler primates. Jewish philosophy disagrees.
5. Due to the above and possibly reasons I’ve never thought of, it has become culturally unusual for Orthodox people to own dogs – which drives its own resistance.
Nevertheless, I want to stress that it is not AGAINST Halacha (Jewish law) to own a dog, and if an Orthodox person wants to, he most certainly can, and all the power to him, and that’s awesome.
And if it could please not lick my face, I’d be decidedly grateful.
Any other hypotheses out there?
I have another hypothesis which I suggest holds especially true for the chassidic communities who tend to be more influenced by the mystical teachings of Judaism. Call it nistar, kabbalah, chassidus, whatever. In this realm (and I don't profess to begin to understand it), the dog represents absolute impurity, and pgam habris in particular.
This symbolism of the dog is elaborated upon in Likkutei Moharan I:50, a chassidic discourse from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov expounding a verse from Tehillim 22, "Rescue my soul from the sword, my essence from the grip of the dog" (thank you Artscroll Tanach translation).
I also saw in another classic (and more recent) chassidic work, Sefer Taharas HaKodesh (Maimer Kedushas Einayim), where the author Rabbi Ahrele Roth writes that one should not cast his gaze upon impure animals. In his own words:
"וכן כתבו בספר יראים שלא להסתכל וליזון עיניו מצורת בהמות וחיות טמאות או עוף טמא, כי פוגם מאוד הראיה"
How much for so, we can imagine from the implication, to avoid touching them if possible.
Again, he's obviously not writing this as halacha, but middas chassidus, given the strongly negative connotations in kabbala regarding dogs and other impure animals, and chassidim try to take these quite seriously in their avodas-Hashem. One of my good friends is a Reb Ahrele chassid living in Meah Shearim who heard firsthand from his rebbe (Reb Ahrele's son) to avoid touching dogs!
In full self disclosure, much of this is very difficult for me to internalize, given my background. I am BT and grew up in a home where dogs were like members of the family. I loved my childhood dogs, yes, LOVED them, as strange as that sounds to people who didn't grow up with dogs, and was unbelievably sad when they died. And to this day, I am still absolutely crazy about my brother and his wife's dog, the greatest golden-doodle in the world!
Great post! It hit home.
First off, I grew up with big dogs–120 lbs was the biggest, 75 was the smallest and some people were nervous when we went on walks. I was never offended. If anything, I was sorry that they were disturbed, or if perhaps they had once been harmed by a dog and I was causing them distress. I never got annoyed with them, and those dog owners that do get annoyed or defensive need a reality check. Dogs, especially large ones, are not for everyone. That being said, I have to disagree with your wording of point 1. A dog is not a child, and while my husband and I are looking at bringing a dog into our home, we are not even thinking about another child at this time for many reasons. So to say that if you can handle "another animal" you should wonder why you are not having another child is a bit…off. I know what you are trying to say, but I think the wording came out wrong. Our dogs ate with us, slept with us, and defended our home. And we loved them all. But never once were they a child, and never once did they cause a fraction of the joy, the worry, the anxiety, or evoke the love that a child does.
When I traveled through Shomron, I met many Orthodox "settlement" families that had dogs. Some gave more mystical explanations, such as "dogs can see the Angel of Death", while others were more practical with reasons such as the dog being a service dog (for eyes, for those with epilepsy,etc)or that they will bark and defend the house from the, unfortunately, rather vicious neighbors who were just a few hills away. I guess what I am saying is that I think for a lot of Jews in Israel, dogs are more the norm than here in the States. Obviously, this is community by community.
Anyway, I enjoyed your post. Dogs are wonderful and can make people's lives better, but they are not for everyone–no question. And I will do anything I can to train our future dog to not lick your face, but no guarantees. 🙂 Rivkah (Emily) Chilungu
Many dog owners are not familiar with the life and lifestyle of the orthodox. When someone of the orthodox community, freaks out about a persons dog… for whatever reason, the owner quite frequently could take that as a personal attack, it hurts their ego. The dog is an extension of themselves. True. I've seen this too many times. It is the owners mindset, sensitivity, or perhaps lack of… awareness, to become a bridge. To be an "Ambassador of Dog Ownership". Of being a "responsible dog owner."
You know, it's on both parties, if you will, the lack of education, the lack of knowledge of the orthodox lifestyle and and the dogs behavior. If only there was communication. As well as positive exposure!
My dog Breezy and I are a team. We are a therapy dog team. I've been pioneering therapy dogs since 1992. We go into schools, hospitals, nursing homes, hospice, special needs facilities. We are life educators. We teach, explain, demonstrate, with warmth, confidence and calmness.
Breezy lives a few nights a week in an orthodox home in University Hts!! Yes, Rabbi Olgins house. With 6 kids. the children take Breezy around the neighborhood. Exposing the families and children to a safe dog. Yes, people have screamed about the dog. What do the Olgin kids do? They calm the people down, and then introduce Breezy to the orthodox families. And then the other orthodox kids take Breezy for a walk! And play with her! Because she is a very safe dog. The Olgins, Breezy and I are building bridges. And that's what we all need to do. It's also about trust.
Breezy and I would be delighted to meet and greet and educate all of you. Just ask and invite us! It would be a privilege. Oh, and I am B.T.
I agree with Julie. People get enmeshed in their stuff. If you told someone their car was ugly or you didn't like the way they painted their house, it would be hurtful to them. If you have an extreme, outward, negative response to a dog (which is different than choosing not to pet a dog, which is anyone's choice), people take it personally.
That being said, if it is a child, then I think the dog-owner needs to get a grip. My son is afraid of vacuum cleaners. My daughters are afraid of automatic flush toilets. Kids just have fears. It's not a personal statement.
I also agree that equating a dog with a kid is not the accurate. (Yes, some people look at dogs as their children, but I'm not addressing that.) Dogs in general have fewer needs, but I would not have the same internal drive. My kids would like a dog, but I don't want to be out walking it in the cold, wet, etc. But, I have no hesitation of going out in whatever weather to meet my kids when they get off the bus or going out to the store because they need something for school or whatever. (Hope that makes sense.)
Anyway, we have frogs, which I highly recommend for a child longing for a pet. Dwarf water frogs get fed twice a week and have to have their tanks cleaned every three months or so. Maybe when there are no more little ones in the house (meaning the youngest child is older than 5), we would consider a hamster.
Interesting! Thanks for sharing! I'd agree wholeheartedly with Anon that dog owners who get offended need a reality check. We always, always make sure people know we have a dog, and are ALWAYS willing to crate her, or in the case of one of my daughter's friends, ship her off to Saba and Savta's house for an afternoon if a child is that fearful. Having pets is not for everyone, for sure. It's a ridiculous amount of work, but for us (well, me and the kids – Josh is, um, not super-excited about having pets), the payoff is huge. Companionship, love, a playmate, and the purr of my cat on my chest is better than Xanax 🙂
Pets are NOT children, however, no matter how much some owners try to anthropomorphize them. They are animals. An important part of our lives, yes, but pets. Not kids.
Amy, I admire you having frogs. Ewwwwww.
Do orthodox familites have any pets? Cats? They are more independant and probably easier to care for over Shabbat..
Loved this post, Ruchi.
Leah, you bring a great point, about how it's good for dog owners to be up front about having a dog, and be willing to sequester the dog somewhere if need be.
We spent a Shabbos in a different town, and the people we stayed by had a dog. We didn't know this until we showed up on their doorstep. I like dogs a lot, but my toddler was petrified. Like, I had to hold him the whole Shabbos. Thank G-d, the baby was fine with the dog, otherwise I would have had to hide in my room.
It didn't occur to me at the time that I could have asked for the dog to be crated (or put in another room). Pity!
I would love for my kids to not be scared of dogs, but I'm not willing to put in the effort of having one (at this point in my life, at least). I guess I should make friends with someone who has a dog or something…:)
Appreciate all your input! Dominique, orthodox people seem a lot comfier with animals that live in limited spaces, like hamsters, fish. Cats seem to be as unusual as dogs. Although reason #2 only relates to dogs, the others relate to cats too. Thanks for asking.
loved this post, my kids really, really want a pet, but I am always telling them reason number 1.
Just a thought or two:
1. I'm not sure that your post really applies to modern Orthodox Jews (as opposed to yeshivish/Hasidic); my brother lives in a (mostly) modern Orthodox neighborhood, and plenty of people have dogs!
2. I would imagine dogs and cats are a pain during Pesach (due to having to worry about kosher-for-Pesach food). On the other hand (and I realize I'm getting offtopic) some pets really fit Pesach perfectly: if you get domestic rats and substitute matzoh for their regular chametz food, they will love you for it!
Anonymous – finding kosher for pesach dog food isn't very hard – just check the lists the same as you would for other products. I can't speak for cats, but I think it's similar from reading the lists annually. This past year we discovered some entirely gluten-free potato based dog food – originally designed for dogs with a gluten allergy, which worked nicely.
My family always had dogs, even before I became religious, though they have always been small and fun to cuddle with on the couch.
The halachos of shabbos/yom tov can seem complicated, but as long as you have an eruv to be able to walk your dog, or if you just let him/her out in the backyard, then you don't really have any problems. See Rabbi Neustadt's "The Daily Halacha Discussion" from Feldheim, which actually surprised me in mentioning that there are poskim that say you can even pick up/handle pets on Shabbos.
Another great post!
I didn't see much representation from the Chassidish/Yeshivish/Whateverish crowd, but I'd like to offer some things to consider.
Our rabbinic authorities, whether they be Rishonim, Acharonim or recent/current day poskim/Roshei Yeshiva, are not distant entities handing down decisions to us; rather, they are our parents in the spiritual (and sometimes literal) sense. They care for us, and have our best interest at heart. When they caution against something, they are doing it from their greater perspective and deeper understanding, and want to prevent us from doing ourselves inadvertent harm. Who among us has not looked back upon some event which our parents warned us about, only to have to ruefully admit that they knew better.
Nowhere is this more true than in situations where sensory impressions are involved. Affection, which is easily aroused by cute and playful animals, is very difficult to balance with other considerations. Sometimes we make choices where substantially more serious matters, say choice of spouse, are concerned, mostly on the basis of superficial responses to visual stimuli (stimulae ?).
While a spouse should certainly be appealing, there must be much more in order for a mate to be appropriate. Since we (hopefully) don't cosider owning a pet at that level of concern, we also might not consider the implications invovled as carefully either, but there is a lot to think about.
Touching live animals (as opposed to say, Shabbod chickens)is more complicated that it might seem. Dogs are certainly tamay, and that is something to be avoided. Kohanim do not enter graveyards, even though we are all in a state of tum'as mais. Keep in mind that tum'ah is not a physical uncleanliness, which can be seen (and smelled), but rather spiritual, which is very difficult to sense. We can't know what the impact of that tum'ah is, but it is clearly a real issue in our times as much as in previous generations. If dog ownership has overwhelmed our need to avoid tum'ah, then we have lost a critical battle with our Yetzer HaRa, and with it the ability to distinguish who we are as a people.
There is also the fact that since all dogs shed (except perhaps "hairless" breeds), we are presuming upon every person with whom we come in contact, because it is unlikely that we will inform them that we have touched a dog before we shake their hand, and have thus taken away from them the choice to avoid that kind of contact. Do we all wash our hands after touching our dogs ? Unlikely.
Denver Yid speaks about being "unbelievably sad" at the loss of his pet, which is entirely understandable. Let me ask an uncomfortable question: Does he (and this is not at all a personal attack) observe Tikun Chatzos and mourn the loss of the Bais HaMikdosh with that same intensity ? If he does, then the Bais HaMikdosh has been equated with a dog. If not, then the Bais HaMikdosh is not even equated to that dog.
That may seem a harsh thing to say, but the truth of it is irrefutable. We have been given emotional attributes to utilize in appropriate ways, and in a world where so many humans are sorely in need of emotional connection, a dog certainly has no claim on that resource.
The anonymous poster who wrote that his dog slept with him is providing an alarming piece of information. While I do understand that there is creature comfort to having something warm and cuddly in your bed, there are many reasons to avoid it being an animal of any kind. That subject can take up a volume all by itself, and I won't elaborate here.
That poster's contention that the author's view of another child being preferable to a dog is off bears careful examination. Where are we obligated to invest our attention ? If we have additional time and energy, don't our children deserve that time ? Any time devoted to a pet is time a child has a higher claim on, and is certainly more deserving of. There are no children who cannot benefit from additional attention.
The subject of service dogs is probably the only exception to all of the above. It is as critical to the owner as anything else they need to function, and should certainly be acceptable.
Regarding the comment by Julie Rubenstein of it being "on both parties", both halacha and I disagree. The owner of the dog (or pit, or ox or fire) is solely responsible for any consequences their animal causes. Since it is very difficult, if at all possible, to predict what will happen, it seems that bringing a dog anywhere is creating a situation of likely damage in one way or another, which in turn makes it impractical to own one.
There are significant expenses in owning a dog. How can one, in good conscience, devote that money to an animal when there are so many Jews who literally have nothing to eat ? Few of us have grown up exposed to that reality, but I have watched people set aside their dignity and line up for leftover food from weddings. Could you look them in the eyes as you shell out for dog food and veterinary care ? We are obligated to care for our fellow Jews to whatever extent we are able. Can we honestly allow ourselves to spend money on a dog which could have fed a Jew ?
Finally, it is unlikely that a Rosh Yeshiva or posek of acknowledged standing can be found who themselves own a dog, which speaks volumes in and of itself. We need to carefully observe those people in order to benefit from what they are offering us, which is a guide for becoming closer to G-d, and that is the primary focus of our lives and the reason for our existence, or at least so we say many times a day. They might not tell us what to do, but that doesn't mean that we should or should not do it.
I have a theory being an amateur geneticist and hope I didn't offend the rabbis or Hasidic dog walker whom I emailed.I know people did things that had health benefits that couldn't be explained by science until around 2003.An example are the kosher laws where my lack of a gene for making an enzyme to digest pork and sea food would never be discovered.Yep,I almost died from accidentally having sea food laced pasta the other day when I ordered Vegetarian.Food allergies are no joke.I'm a secular Sephardi veg o+ blood veg but back to my theory…I read that people with rh negative blood react to Animal bites worse and have more Animal allergies.Could anyone tell me if rh negative blood is common with Hasids?They probably have a reason to be afraid of pets.By the way,I love dogs,and my mom was the cat woman.She had a Hasidic friend who would sneak over to our house with her kids to teach them compassion to animals.