Caring for animals

By Laura Seymour

The ice storm made Dallas come to a stop — that is often a good thing! For those who had to find a way to work, I hope it happened without an incident. For those who happily stayed home, I hope it was a good rest. For those like me, working at home, I hope it was productive. On returning to work, there were stories galore and the best were about pets. Having a dog who loves to romp outside, I was amazed to hear about poor pet owners who either couldn’t get the dog out or had to carry their pet out. All had me thinking about what we do for our animals (who are so very important to us!).

Believe it or not, Judaism has a lot to say about caring for animals (even about helping your enemy lift his donkey if you see the animal fallen on the road). I took this idea from Joel Lurie Grishaver and Nachum Amsel’s “You Be the Judge” and “You Be the Judge 2: Collections of Ethical Cases and Jewish Answers” (Torah Aura Productions, With your family one night, become a bet din, a Jewish court of law! Here is your chance to be the court and the judge.

The Case: Does Shabbat Have to Go to the Dogs? This first case is a common one in many families. Feeding the family pets is a chore that is often the responsibility of the kids in the family. In this situation, Josh has forgotten to feed the dog and the family is sitting down to dinner — Shabbat dinner. The dog is barking. Grandma says to feed the dog after the blessings and dinner. Cousin David says that the dog should be fed before the blessings and before the family eats.

You Be the Judge: Should the dog be fed before the family eats or after? Make your case!

The Sages Decide: There is a mitzvah called tzar ba’alei hayyim which forbids being cruel to animals, and not feeding is being cruel. In the Torah, we read about Rebecca, who was kind to the camels, and then Moses brought water from the rock for the people and the animals.

Maimonides says, “The sages made it a practice to feed their animals before they tasted anything themselves.” Rashi, in the Talmud, says, “One may even delay ha-motzi in order to feed animals.” Many rabbis have agreed that pets are our responsibility, which includes feeding them as they cannot get their own food.

So, did your decision agree with the rabbis? Caring for animals is important and must come even before we take care of ourselves — it is a mitzvah and responsibility!

While teaching 4-year-olds about this, I asked what they would do, and one voice said, “I’m thankful my mom feeds our dog!”

Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.

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