BURIAL OF A PET ANIMAL
A young husband and his pet dog were killed in an accident. His widow wanted to inter the dog with him or in a separate grave near him. Is it permissible to bury a dog in a Jewish cemetery? (From P.S.B.)
No question of this sort was ever asked in any of the traditional Jewish legal literature; and it is certain that if such a question had been asked, it would have been dismissed with derision. However, the fact that such a question is asked and perhaps will be asked frequently nowadays, indicates a widespread change of sentiment which deserves, for that reason alone, serious consideration.
In the last few centuries in the western world, there has spread through all branches of the population a great love for dogs. They are deeply beloved as comrades or as recipients for genuine affection. There are series of moving pictures in which the central hero is a dog. There are numerous novels in which the leading character is a dog. The American novelist, John Steinbeck, in his recent book of travels around America, calls his book Travels with Charley and Charley is his dog. Because of this great modern affection for dogs there are hundreds of enthusiastic breed-ing societies, a great development of medical care for dogs, special dogcaterers who bring the balanced dog food daily, and special cemeteries for their burial. I do not know what the rules are with regard to burying them in general human cemeteries, but it is absolutely certain that in states where such burial would be permitted, many people would bury dogs in their family plots.
But clearly the mere interment of a dog will not satisfy the strong modern emotion. There are ministers of certain denomination who give public blessings to hunting dogs. It is therefore to be assumed that certain ministers may well have been asked, or have even acceded to a request to officiate with a religious service at the burial of a dog. How could they logically refuse if they bless dogs at the beginning of their hunting enterprises? What, then, would we as rabbis do if we were actually asked to officiate at the burial of a dog? All this could be a possible consequence of our permitting their burial in a human cemetery.
Obviously this present affection for dogs represents a drastic reversal of the sentiments of the biblical and the Jewish past. When one considers the biblical references to dogs, one realizes that they all voice an utter contempt for that animal. In Deuteronomy 23:19, in discussing disgusting things which may not be brought into the house of God, there is coupled in one sentence, “the hire of a harlot and the price of a dog.” When Goliath wanted to indicate his contempt of David, he said: “Am I, then, a dog that you come against me with sticks?” (I Samuel 17:43). Hazael says to Elijah (II Kings 8:13): “Is thy servant a dog?” How low a dog was reckoned can be seen when Ecclesiastes sought to express how utterly worthless was a dead hero (9:4): “Even a living dog is better than a dead lion.”
Why this strong anti-dog sentiment pervades Scripture deserves serious study, but whatever its real cause is, it is clear that there is not a single pet dog in all of Scripture. The dogs are looked upon, as were the wild dogs in Constantinople, as nasty, scavenging beasts.
Upon this basis, there are certain decisions in Jewish law with regard to dogs. The Mishnah (Baba Kama 7:7) says definitely that a man shall not raise a dog unless he keeps it chained. The later scholars in the Talmud and in the Shulchan Aruch modify the text and speak of “an evil dog”; I suppose we would say “a fierce dog.” So the Talmud in b. Shabbas 63a says: “He who raises an evil dog in his house, keeps mercy from his household and breaks the reverence for God.” Also in Baba Kama 80a, the subject is taken up. Rabbi Ismael suggests some types of dogs that can be raised. It is not clear from Rashi whether he means village dogs, where they can run free, or small dogs. Maimonides (Yad Hilchoth Nizke Mammon V, 9) says that dogs may not be raised unless kept chained, and adds (on the basis of Baba Kama 82a) that the rabbis said, “Cursed is the man who raises dogs, because they do damage.” So the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpot 409) codifies it as a law that it is prohibited to raise dogs unless kept chained. But Isserles (showing, perhaps, the beginning of a change of sentiment) says that the people nowadays raise dogs anyhow, and that we might as well bow to their actions. In other words, he implies that the prohibition has become passe.
Therefore, it is clear that there is a powerful clash of opposite sentiment between modern feelings towards dogs and that of the traditional past.
To the aversion for dogs in the past, we must add the sense of reverential honor given to the cemetery, which was considered bes olom, “the house of eternity,” and which was in the care of the most devoted men of the medieval community, “The Holy Society,” the Chevra Kadisha. It is, then, clear that the very suggestion of burying a dog in the sacred cemetery would bring nothing but horror. Therefore no such discussion is found in any of the literature.
We must, therefore, conclude the following: There is no explicit legal prohibition against burying a pet in the cemetery because the question did not come up. The question could not come up because the very thought would be too horrid to contemplate. To them the dogs were too contemptible and the cemetery too holy. Therefore, while modern sentiment has changed perhaps for the better with re gard to these animals, the whole mood of tradition is against such action.