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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

Tagged with , ,

15 Responses to 'The Halachot of Dogs'

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  1. The first point could actually be an argument in favor of owning a dog — easy disposal of neveila and treifa.

    Of course, a natural question– have you ever owned a dog?


    20 May 08 at 22:11

  2. @jabbett: while I see how your first point could make sense, in a backwards sort of way, I will take it as having been given tongue-in-cheek, and will not attempt a serious reply.

    I haven’t ever owned a dog (though my parents did get one for a few months right after I left home – however, Frosty wasn’t as toilet trained as I was, so he had to go).


    20 May 08 at 22:15

  3. Yaakov, it seems you have a pretty one sided view of dog ownership.
    (full disclosure: I am a frum jew and I own a dog)
    Jabbett’s point is not necessarily tounge in cheek. we see that the torah assumes people own dogs, and sees them as a good way of disposing treif meat.
    The gemara also repeatedly uses the term “Kelev Ra” a bad dog, i.e. one that bites or barks, and not all dogs.
    It seems like the rabbi who was giving the drasha had a very one sided view and was trying to bring “raayas” to his view. I don’t thin the torah’s stance in unequivocally anti dog ownership.
    I know that in todays frum world dog ownership is frowned upon, but i think it comes from a sort of “collective bad experience” with dogs in Europe, (the nazis, progroms, gentile neighbors sicing their dogs on jews etc.)


    23 Jun 08 at 18:18

  4. Eli:

    1) The first four words of the passuk are of utmost importance (see #1 in the post above). Jews are suppossed to be Holy people. Therefore, we don’t eat meat that is neveila or treifa, as these are items that are diametrically opposed to the concept of being Holy. We want to therefore get rid of these items. So where do we throw them? To the dogs. True, you can say that a dog is the recommended disposal unit for treif meat (especially since dogs will probably not leave any behind). However, the dog is also labeled here as the an animal that thrives on the very substances that would distance a Jew from God.

    2) See #5 in the post above for analysis of the term Kelev Ra. I never said that it applies to all dogs. However, even if it is limited to all dogs that bite or bark in a way that can be frightening to anyone, it is still pretty inclusive.

    3) Do you have anything to back up your claim that the frum world frowning on dog ownership is only because of “bad experiences” with dogs, and is not at all founded on the words of Chazal? What do you think about #6 above?


    23 Jun 08 at 18:28

  5. “3) Do you have anything to back up your claim that the frum world frowning on dog ownership is only because of “bad experiences” with dogs, and is not at all founded on the words of Chazal? What do you think about #6 above?”

    Kalev ben Yefuneh’s very name means dog – that seems like a Jewish source to me. Most likely the reason for his name is that ancient Jews recognized and valued dogs’ loyalty.


    25 Jun 08 at 1:38

  6. eric -

    His name is Calev, not Kelev. The vowels change the meaning of the word. His name does not mean dog, despite the fact that it has the same spelling.

    I looked around a bit and was not able to find anyone who made this connection. Do you have a source for this claim?

    Additionally, even if your claim that “ancient Jews recognized and valued dogs’ loyalty”, so what? The Torah still makes the connection of a dog to anti-holiness, the Gemara still makes its statements critical of dog ownership, and halacha still says what it does. Even if a dog can have a redeeming quality, if it can be classified as a kelev ra then it is to be treated as such.


    25 Jun 08 at 10:23

  7. “However, the dog is also labeled here as the an animal that thrives on the very substances that would distance a Jew from God.”
    Your proof from this posuk, seems to be a it of a stretch. By this logic, lions, bears, wolves, and the average gentile are also “the opposite of something Holy”.
    According to Rashi, the reason the Torah singled out the dog, is not because it is unholy, but as a “hakarat hatov” for the dogs not barking in Egypt when the Jews left.

    That being said, you don’t have to agree with Rashi, everyone is free to interpret the pasuk as the wish, I was merely pointing out that it appears that the rabbi (or you) have a strong bias here.

    re. #5: The bias shows through here clearly, the term “Ra” can be translated as both bad, and evil, usually based on the context. By choosing to translate the word as “evil” you are showing a strong bias. once again, its your right, but i wanted to let you know it feels biased.
    as an aside, we got our dog specifically b/c he barks when strangers knock on the door,as a security measure. We were told be the security officer of KaBat of a large Yishuv, that a lot of times intruders (Arabs) will be deterred from breaking into a house if they hear a dog. So I guess in this case we (I) hold like the Rama, not like the Maharshal.

    re #6: this too, is a misleading argument. Not all dog owners get their dog because “a dog is man’s best friend” so it is irrelevant who said it or if it is a “Jewish value”. A person gets a dog for specific reasons, companionship, therapy, safety, not because of a Jewish value. If the dog is overall conducive to making their life better/happier/healthier, then it is a “jewish value” (as long as they own the dog, and take care of it, according to halacha).

    re: the frum world’s reason for frowning upon dog ownership. I am not “claiming” anything, this is my own theory/opinion, based on personal experience.

    Please understand, I have no problem with you having an “anti dog” opinion, I just don’t like arguments that feel stretched or contrived.

    The best argument I have heard against owning a dog is simply: I
    t is not easy to own a dog according to halacha (shabbat, spaying/neutering/ tzaar baalei chaim, etc.) why would you want that headache (and the chance of transgressong a halacha)?

    BTW, thanks for the link to the article on the Halachic perspective on pets, I found it really useful.


    25 Jun 08 at 21:39

  8. retraction:
    re. translating “Ra” as evil, I see that Rabbi Jachter also translates the term “Kelev Ra” as “Evil Dog” not “Bad Dog”, so perhaps you are right, and it is supposed to be translated that way.


    25 Jun 08 at 21:56

  9. Eli – Thanks for your comments.

    By this logic, lions, bears, wolves, and the average gentile are also “the opposite of something Holy”.. The “average gentile” I can understand, but where do you get lions, bears and wolves from?

    I don’t think that the Rama and the Maharshal are in disagreement. The Maharshal is simply defining the term kelev ra. In your case, where you are getting the dog as protection from intruders, it seems pretty straightforward that according to both the Shulchan Aruch and the Rama there is no problem with your dog (who would be classified as a kelev ra by the Maharshal) in your situation (where you have it for protection), provided that it is restrained during the day.


    25 Jun 08 at 22:04

  10. B”H

    very entering pilpul; thank you gentlemen.
    i learned a halacha that if one’s already made the bracha on hamotzi and then realizes that the dog’s not yet been fed, s/he should first feed the dog and then eat the bread. interesting…
    Shabbat Shalom


    10 Jul 08 at 23:03

  11. This an old post, but to whoever comes across it, I have only this to say: There is nothing more holy than the love of a dog. A dog that loves its caretaker exhibits all the qualities and middot that humans so often woefully lack—love, cheerfulness, forgiveness and above all, loyalty. Any rabbinic commentary representing dogs any other way is sorely misguided. A dog mistreated by humans is rendered “evil,” as any human being would become upon being abused. A dog given love and properly cared for will become gentle, friendly and loving. I know. I have raised dogs my entire life.

    The hebrew word for dog is “celev,” which can also be pronounced “calev,” (as a heart). Nothing more fittingly describes this beautiful creature.


    1 Jan 10 at 1:13

  12. I appreciate your sentiments, but “There is nothing more holy than the love of a dog”?? How about the love of HKBH for Am Yisrael, the love between a husband and wife, between parent and child? I am sorry that you find the Torah, Gemara and Shulchan Aruch to all be sorely misguided on the topic.


    4 Jan 10 at 11:14

  13. I think that you’re missing some important things.

    First, it’s clear from the pasuk in shemos that people did have dogs, that’s who they gave their treifed up meat to…

    Second, all of the focus on raising an evil dog, means that jewish people raising dogs was a common occurrence. But the rabanim wanted to make sure that people weren’t training attack dogs…


    12 May 10 at 4:20

  14. @lostgod – though I am sympathetic to your intentions of defending your dog’s honor, I don’t think that I missed anything:

    1) If the passuk want to refer to dogs owned by people, it would have said “לכלבך תשליכון אותו” – throw it to your dog. However, there is no possessive here. Rather, the passuk says to throw it to a dog. No implication is made regarding dog ownership – it could just have easily be referring to the pack of dogs that may have followed after Bnei Yisrael in the desert, scavenging after the garbage that would inevitably be created by such a large gathering of people. And if you read above carefully, I note that there are cases where having a dog are ok (according to the shulchan aruch).

    2) I don’t see how a halacha limiting dog ownership means that dog ownership was extremely prevalent. One could find many many cases of halachot that only apply in limited circumstances. And looking at the source referred to in #5 above, it was not only “training attack dogs” that would be prohibited (though one could make an argument that this would be permissible if it was needed for security and the dog was properly restricted in its movements). Even a dog with a loud bark (which could frighten a child or cause a pregnant woman to miscarry) was denigrated by Chazal.


    12 May 10 at 9:17

  15. I had the impression that all dogs had been accorded a promise of resurrection in human form on account of their mitzvah of not barking in the households of the Egyptians when the angel of death visited at the time of the Exodus.

    Robin Datta

    13 May 10 at 9:16

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