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From the Desk - Pets

What’s the Deal with… Pets? A few weeks ago, the question was asked in Lunch N’ Learn: What is the Jewish attitude to having pets? So, what’s the deal? The Talmud indicates that Jews used various animals for recreational purposes. Children used to play with a certain type of locust and the Talmud tells of a certain type of bird which can be used by a child to play. Indeed, the halachic literature indicates that it has been common practice among Ashkenazic Jews over the past several centuries to own non-farm animals, especially dogs. Nevertheless, there is some opposition in Jewish sources to owning dogs. The Talmud cites a view that one who raises an ‘evil dog’ in his home violates a Biblical prohibition. Based on this, there is a view that it is forbidden to raise any dog unless it is secured by chains “since dogs frequently cause considerable damage” (Rambam). However, the overwhelming halachic position differs from this view and holds that there is no problem unless the dog is dangerous or injures people. In that case, the only way it is OK is if it is kept on a leash. According to many, if it could scare people with its barking, it also must be kept on a leash. This consideration applies to ownership of other animals as well. The general principle, according to most authorities, is that one may own a pet provided that the animal does not pose a danger to people or property. A minority opinion holds that one is only permitted to own a dog if the creature serves an economic or protective purpose and that owning a dog as a pet is a waste of time. Some also explain the negative attitude of some authorities toward pets in terms of the practice of European nobles of their time who cared for their dogs better than they cared for their serfs. Some chassidim such as the late Rebbe of Chabad suggest not even looking at non-Kosher animals though this does not have strong halachic basis and is not widely accepted.

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