The Blessing of Dogs

Sha-Bark in the Park

This year, studying the books of I and II Samuel, we have repeatedly encountered phrases that insult people by likening them to a dog.   As pet owners, it is clear that these derogatory comments can only be explained as ignorance.  And that is exactly what it was.


During the biblical period, an Israelite owning a dog would have been quite rare.  This mainly had to do with the expense of keeping a pet in a time of scarcity.  There may have also been some discomfort in keeping dogs as pets as they were worshipped in Egyptian and Canaanite religions.


Still today it is uncommon for Orthodox Jews to have dogs as pets.  Some believe keeping a dog is a violation of the command not to own a dangerous animal – a rule interpreted to include not only dangerous animals but also those that others might perceive as dangerous.  The fear of dogs, which can be prevalent in communities where they are uncommon, is amplified by the use of dogs in pogroms and during the Holocaust.


But while dogs have historically been rare in Jewish homes, the tradition is not silent when it comes to singing their praises.


The Maharal – a 16th century rabbi from Prague taught that in Hebrew a dog is called Kelev because they are K’lev – like the heart of the owner.


A story in the Jerusalem Talmud tells of dogs amazing loyalty.  Taught in the name of Rabbi Meir, they story describes a dog who watched a serpent poisoni his master’s milk. As the man went to drink the milk, the dog barked frantically, hoping to warn him.  But it was to no avail.  Finally, just as his master was about to drink from the poisoned jug the dog jumped up and drank the milk himself, thereby dying an agonizing death while saving the lives of its master and his fellow shepherds. As the text explains, the grateful shepherds buried the faithful dog with funerary honors and erected a monument to its memory.”


Finally, the rabbis imagine dogs playing a role in one of Judaism’s foundational story, the Exodus from Egypt.  In the Torah we read that as the Jews left Egypt “no dog wagged its tongue.”  Commenting on this verse, Rashi teaches that because the dogs were silent, allowing the Jews to leave Egypt unhindered, they are singled out for reward.


Though many of our ancestors – perhaps even our own parents or grandparents would never have owned a dog, we have welcomed canine companions into our lives. I trust that your home, like mine, is richer and more full of love with a four-legged friend running around.  And so this morning we take a moment to thank God for the blessing of our pets.