Contemporary American Reform Responsa
124. Qaddish for a Pet
A pet of a family quite active in the congregation has died; the entire family has been very
much attached to it for years. They would, therefore, like to recite qaddish for it. What
does Jewish tradition say about this use of the qaddish? (A. S., West
Virginia)ANSWER The indulgence of pets, a recent American phenomenon, was
unknown in earlier times. Animals played an important economic role in Biblical times, but there
was no discussion of them beyond the need to treat them decently and kindly. For example, the
commandment which deals with Sabbath rest insisted that animals rest along with man (Ex.
20.10). They are servants of man, but on a lower level. Some were not seen in a complimentary
light, so dogs were mentioned disparagingly. For example, Goliath spoke of David when that lad
was sent against him; “Am I a dog that you come against me with sticks?” (I Samuel 17.43).
When Ecclesiastes wished to indicate the value of even a meager life, it stated, “A living dog is
better than a dead lion” (9.4). Dogs were traditionally considered unclean, mainly
through their contact with corpses (Lev. 22.4). The dog was seen primarily as a scavenger, as
already shown in Exodus. Cattle which had been killed by wild animals were thrown to the dogs.
Elsewhere, male pagan religious prostitutes were referred to as “dogs” (Deut. 23.18). When the
Talmud wished to be derogatory about Goliath, it provided him with a genealogy in which
he is called the son of a loose woman, who had intercourse with dogs (Sotah 42b; Rashi and
Commentaries). Only in the post-Biblical book, Tobit, were there some
favorable references to dogs (5.16, 11.4). The Mishnaic and Talmudic literature understood the
danger of certain kinds of dogs being indistinguishable from wolves, especially in the evening
(M. Kil 8.6, 1.6; Ber. 9b). A dog was considered among the poorest of all creatures and often had
to subsist entirely on scraps and as a scavenger (Shab. 155b). Dogs used in sheep herding were
viewed more favorably (M. Hul. 1.8) On the other hand, the Talmud
appreciated the atmosphere of safety created by dogs and suggested that one should not
live in a town where the barking of dogs was not heard (Pes. 113a; Betza 15a). The potential
danger of rabies was also recognized (Hul. 58b; Yoma 83b). Dogs were to be chained as they
were considered dangerous (B. K. 79b; Yad Hil. Nizqei Mamon 5.9; Shulhan
Arukh Hoshen Mishpat 409), and it was considered sinful to maintain a dog that was known
to bite people (B. K. 15b), but one could let a dog run loose in harbor cities, presumably as an
additional safeguard against lawless seamen (B. K. 83a). Enmity between human beings and
dogs was mentioned in at least one passage of the Jerusalem Talmud (1. Ber.
8.8). Hunting dogs were not mentioned in the Talmud but later by Rashi in his
commentary to B. K. (80a). Dogs were sometimes kept as pets and the Talmud in one
place mentioned that if a woman spends her time entirely with lap dogs or on games (possibly
chess), this was grounds for divorce (Ket. 61b). Although cats were certainly known to
ancient Israelites, after all they were considered sacred animals in Egypt, there is no mention of
the domesticated cat in the Bible. The single reference in the post-Biblical book of
Baruch (6.22) may refer to a wild cat. The Talmud considered cats as loyal (Hor.
13a) in contrast to the dog. The principle purpose of keeping cats was to rid a building of mice
(B. K. 80a) as well as other small animals (San. 105a), including snakes (Pes. 112b; Shab.
128b). They were, of course, dangerous to chickens and domesticated birds, as well young
lambs and goats (Hul. 52b, 53a; Ket. 41b). Cats also endangered babies (B. K. 80b). The limited
intelligence of cats was blamed on their consumption of mice, which were supposed to decrease
memory (Hor. 13a). In nineteenth century Russia, a folk myth warned Yeshivah students from
playing with cats because that might diminish their memory. Cats were, on the other hand, seen
as a model of cleanliness and modesty (Er. 100b). Once cats established themselves in a house,
they rarely left and remained very loyal (Shab. 51b). Sometimes their fur was used as it was
particularly soft (B K. 80b). Nothing in the halakhah has dealt with the affection
felt for animals. This feeling is understandable, but we should not confuse it with the greater love
and respect for a human life. We should not use a prayer which is dear to the heart of every Jew
to commemorate a dead animal. It would be absolutely wrong, and a mockery, to include the
name of the pet in the weekly qaddish list. Mourners would be shocked and angered to
see their father and mother listed alongside a dog or cat. Whatever mourning for a pet
which may occur should be conducted privately and outside of the purview of
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.