Mourning a pet Jewishly is a controversial topic

Dear Families,
People often ask where I get ideas to write about, and that is a good question.
I must get between 6 and 10 newsletters, blogs and other “interesting stuff” daily. Some is interesting, and some I read quickly and delete. Sometimes, if I just find something that makes me wonder and I am hoping it answers questions you may have — it’s often those questions that start with, “What do Jews think about…?”
So, this comes from this past week: Judaism and Pets. We have a dog getting on in years who has been struggling with health issues this summer. Just as we have talked about and made plans (a will, a cemetery plot) for ourselves, what should we think about for our pets? Here are three interesting excerpts from the article (abbreviated):
Are there any Jewish rituals for mourning a pet?
The idea of mourning a pet in the way one mourns a relative is deeply controversial, with authorities from even the liberal Reform movement maintaining that reciting Kaddish or performing a Jewish burial rite for a pet is inconsistent with Jewish tradition. In a 1984 responsum, Reform Rabbi Walter Jacob wrote that it would be wrong to recite the Kaddish prayer for a deceased pet — not due to any explicit violation of Jewish law, but because of propriety.
“We should not use a prayer which is dear to the heart of every Jew to commemorate a dead animal,” Jacob wrote. A separate Reform responsum rejected burying a pet in a Jewish cemetery, again not citing any explicit legal precedent, but rather asserting that “the whole mood of tradition” counsels against it.
Can I euthanize my pet?
Jewish law prohibits cruelty to animals, but does not prohibit killing them. Virtually all Jewish authorities agree that euthanizing an animal that is suffering is permitted. In Man and Beast: Our Relationships with Animals in Jewish Law and Thought, Rabbi Natan Slifkin writes: “According to some authorities there is no restriction on killing animals, provided that one kills them in a painless manner. However, it seems that all would agree that if an animal is suffering, it is permissible to kill it in order to put it out of its misery.”
Do pets (and other animals) have souls?
Both the Midrash and Maimonides reject the idea that animals have an afterlife in the world to come, the implication being that they do not possess the higher immortal soul of human beings. However, the Jewish mystical tradition associated with Rabbi Isaac Luria believes in the transmigration of souls between humans and animals. A human soul that requires further rectification could be reincarnated in the body of an animal. For this reason, Hasidic Jews historically were often exceedingly careful about the kosher slaughter of animals for fear they might house the souls of repentant sinners.
Does hearing “answers” to Jewish questions mean you must follow the advice? Yes and no — we are often told that if we don’t want to follow advice, don’t ask. We may go for second opinions with doctors and the same is true for rabbis. However, remember that it is not about “rabbi shopping” — asking until you find someone who will agree with you. It is about hearing perspectives and ideas and then making a decision. For me, hearing a Jewish perspective is always helpful and when the day comes for our dog, this advice is helpful. Yet, it is never easy.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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