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The Halachot of Dogs

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Like most places in Israel, there are lots of dogs where I live. Some are wild (there is suppossed to be a guy whose job it is to catch them and bring them to the pound) and some are “domesticated”, living in people’s houses. There seem to be lots of families with dogs here, and while the dogs are sometimes cute, they are often very annoying (or scary or even dangerous).

Evil DogsSo this past Shabbat, someone gave a halacha shiur after shul was over on whether or not it is halachically permissible or advisable to own a dog. As this is an area of halacha that I have never seen discussed (the closest that I have gotten is whether or not it is ok to walk a dog on Shabbat), and since nothing would please me more than if all of the dog owners out there who respect their neighbors and halacha would would do their own halachic investigation into the issue, I thought that I would give a synopsis here (for learning only, see a posek if you have questions, etc, etc):

  1. ואנשי קדש תהיון לי ובשר נבלה וטרפה לא תאכלו – לכלב תשלכון אותו
    And you should be a holy people unto me, and do not eat meat that is neveila or treifa – you should instead throw it out to the dog (Shemot 23:30).Here the Torah says that since we are a holy people, we should not eat neveila or treifa meat. And where should this meat go? To the dogs. Thus, regardless of whether or not it is permissible to own a dog, you see here that the Torah identifies dogs as the opposite of something Holy, and something that should be far removed from a Jewish home.
  2. אמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש: כל המגדל כלב רע בתוך ביתו – מונע חסד מתוך ביתו
    Anyone who raises an evil dog in their house withholds chessed from their house… (Shabbat 63a).Also more on the hashkafic realm, but definitely not a good thing
  3. ר נתן אומר: מנין שלא יגדל אדם כלב רע בתוך ביתו, ולא יעמוד סולם רעוע בתוך ביתו? שנאמר (דברים כב) ולא תשים דמים בביתך
    From where do we know that that one should not raise an evil dog or erect a shaky ladder inside their house? As it says: and do not put blood on your house (Baba Kama 15a,b). Here the Torah connects that act of raising an evil dog to a biblical negative commandment.
  4. אסור לגדל כלב רע, אלא אם כן הוא אסור בשלשלאות של ברזל וקשור בהם, ובעיר הסמוכה לספר מותר לגדלו, וקושרו ביום ומתירו בלילה. הגה: ויש אומרים דהשתא שאנו שרוין בין העכום ואומות בכל ענין שרי, ופוק חזי מאי עמא דבר, מיהו נראה אם הוא כלב רע שיש לחוש שיזיק בני אדם דאסור לגדלו, אלא אם כן קשור בשלשלאות של ברזל – שלחן ערוך חשן משפט מט:ג
    Shuchan Aruch: It is forbidden to raise an evil dog, unless it is chained to iron chains, and in a city close to the wilderness (where it might be needed for protection) you can raise (an evil dog), and tie it during the day and let it lose at night (when it could serve as a watch dog). Rama: And there are those who say that now that we are among the non-Jews it is always permissible (since the need for a dog for protection might be there even in a city) - according to the custom of the people around you. Even in this case, if the dog was one that might harm people, it needs to be tied up.There is a clear halacha here not to own an evil dog. If it is necessary for protection you can have it, but it must be tied up during the day. (Also see Rambam, Talmud Torah, 6:7)
  5. So the obvious question is: what makes a dog evil? One might suppose that this would be a dog that bites. However, it seems to be the conclusion of poskim (based on the Maharshal, Yam Shel Shelomo) that a dog is evil even if it barks when someone whom it does not recognize approaches. See the gemara, Bava Kama 83a, where a dog that is seemingly harmless (no teeth or nails) frightens a woman with its barking and caused her to have a miscarriage. Thus, even barking is a potential damage, and a dog that could do this is considered evil (with all of the halachic repercussions as described above).
  6. One other modern teshuva was cited, where another hashkafic rhetorical question was asked: who is it that calls a dog man’s best friend? Is this a Jewish value?

I will leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions about whether it is halachically permissible to own a dog that barks and whether owning a dog “for companionship” is consistent with Torah values.

Update: For more information and sources on this topic, check out Halachic Perpectives on Pets by Rabbi Howard Jachter which appeared in the Journal of Halacha & Contemporary Society – No. XXIII, Spring, 1992, Pesach 575, especially the first section on The Propriety of Owning Pets.

Written by Yaakov

May 15th, 2008 at 11:54 pm

Posted in Commentary,Torah

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