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Synagogue Dogs

            I wish that my dogs could participate at my synagogue. Yes, Cricket is obstreperous and barky and disruptive, but I’d like to believe that there is something in the music of prayer and the solemnity of the service that would help calm her and give her some relief, the way it does for me. The Rabbi and Cantor at my synagogue like to sing harmonies. I think that was the clincher for me when we visited the synagogue last year and decided to join, the way the music was like a conversation between the two of them.

            It would be nice to have an acknowledgment that dogs are members of our families, especially for people like me who don’t have children, or husbands or wives. We get left out of community rituals that would allow us to feel more whole and welcome.

And sometimes, I just feel like I want Butterfly to be sitting on my lap, so I won’t feel so strange to myself in this strange place that isn’t home. She would be my therapy dog, for when I start to twitch and shake and feel self conscious about being in public.

Butterfly, in silent prayer.

Butterfly, in silent prayer.

 Butterfly’s presence would calm and relax the people around her, except for the occasional stress peeing. And then there would be one less place my dogs would be barred from going. It’s already painful for them that they can’t go to the supermarket.

            My synagogue is Reconstructionist and one of their prime directives is to be inclusive of all kinds of people. People, but not dogs? They’ve broken down barriers for intermarried couples and gay couples and women in leadership. Shouldn’t there be some way to break the prejudice against my dogs?

At Friday night services, people wear casual clothes. I started out wearing black dress pants and high heeled boots, because I thought I should, but now I wear jeans and sneakers. There is an aging population at services and they are very accepting of each other’s limitations. They understand the need to be there instead of alone. This is the kind of place that could welcome dogs.

            I would have loved there to be a service to welcome Butterfly into our family. I picture something like the Lion King scene where Simba is introduced to the community, raised up high. I would have liked the Rabbi to hold Butterfly up on the pulpit and say a blessing over her and announce her name to the congregation.

Butterfly's naming pose

Butterfly’s naming pose

When Cricket is sick, it would be nice to be able to go to synagogue and say a public prayer for her recovery. There’s something powerful about putting aside privacy to ask for help from the community, as if we are tapping into an electrical system where everyone’s energy is pooled together.

Cricket is less amenable to being raised in the air

Cricket is less amenable to being raised in the air

On Purim, when we read the story of Esther and use a noise maker, called a grogger, to blot out the name of the bad guy in the story, Haman, the dogs could participate. My dogs, especially Cricket, could be living noisemakers. There could be a whole Hebrew school class for the dogs, to train them for their big day, when they can stand up as a barking choir, and blot out the name of the enemy who tried to harm their humans.

But most of all, I think dogs could bring something unique to a house of worship, because they are not of any particular religious or ethnic persuasion. A Golden Retriever could just as easily, and happily, live with Jews or Muslims or Christians or Buddhists. Dogs are not biased towards one religious group or another. A dog’s presence in the synagogue could be a reminder of the basic spirituality we all share, the God-sense we are all trying to tap into, rather than the specific religion we use to get us there.

My synagogue-ready dogs

My synagogue-ready dogs

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

107 responses »

  1. This is a beautiful vision, Rachel, really touches me. I would join a synagogue that welcomes dogs as members in a heartbeat.

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  2. Sounds wonderful to me…the healing power of animals is well accepted and as such are they not a perfect addition to any form of uplifting service! I love our town chuch has a blessing for the animals to see them included is wonderful and appropriate…indeed many people find they get their ability for compassion and kindness from pet ownership…they are truly miracles and should be included in our lives in every aspect…in the meantime I am sure your babies feel blessed already to be with you.
    Fozziemum xx

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  3. I love this idea! And very well said!

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  4. It seems to me that dogs – our companions – are as much the creatures of G-d as we are, therefore why should they not be allowed in His House. I should like that. I sometimes think that we have become so caught up in the majesty and reverence that we tend to forget the compassion and the love.

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    • I have a feeling that God laughs as much as I do when the dogs do their silly things, and cries when they are in pain. Very anthropomorphic of me, I know. I just want to have them with me whenever possible.

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  5. I would like this idea! The silent prayer picture of Butterfly is a heartwarmer – Thanks :o)

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  6. If anyone’s dogs are ever welcomed to the synagogue, I vote for yours!! They would add just the right amount of godliness to any religious gathering. Mention it to the rabbi. You could ask for a special seating area for members with dogs?

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  7. Nobody asked us dogs about this. I’m in favor of it. As to what religion I’d attend, I can be bribed. So far the Catholics have bid a small glass of grape juice and a wafer at a service. I have yet to hear from the others.

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  8. Maybe the rabbi could start with a blessing of the animals of some kind and go from there.

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  9. Oh yes!!!! I so hope you get a bazillion comments on this post…I think the time is coming soon to have dogs in worship!!!! I totally agree with you….I need my buddy with me in worship too…So thankful for other dog lovers…That pic of Butterfly in silent prayer is beyond a.dor.a.ble!!!!

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    • My synagogue has family services once a month so the little kids can come and make a lot of noise and use a simpler prayer book, I figure, the dogs couldn’t be TOO much noisier. Right?

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  10. Beautiful post! There is a church down the street from me that has a St. Francis of Assisi blessing of the animals each year. I think it’s wonderful. I could never take any of my animals, though. They’re so unruly they would create a riot! So I’ll just have to bless them myself! 🙂 After all, we are all God’s creatures and God has given us stewardship over his animals. I firmly believe we will all have to answer for the way in which we each treat the animals.

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  11. Really loved this post. I think animals are more spiritual than people – they do not hate. I took Max to my church for the blessing of the animals and it was beautiful. We were outside in a covered walkway/patio area and there dogs, cats, hamsters, and even birds in cages. They were all so peaceful. It was very moving.

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    • Do they ever kick dogs out for being too barky? I’d probably end up waiting outside with Cricket half the time, trying to get her to calm down, even with three Thundershirts on.

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      • She might surprise you and put her doggie Zen on and go into a calm, deep spiritual state ….. but then again maybe not. lol There was one little dog who refused to get out of the car in the parking lot and the frustrated owner got back in the car and drove off!

  12. The church I plan to start attending soon (United Church of Christ demonination) has an annual blessing of the animals and pets are encouraged to be brought to that service, but I hadn’t thought about dogs being able to attend regular services. Why not? Yes, they can both contribute to and benefit from the peacefulness. I’m not sure how my Chihuahua, Bailey, would handle it, but I’d like to try. Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

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    • Oh goodness, “denomination,” not “demonination” — and here I proofread for a living! Well, it’s my day off, what can I say? 😉

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    • You could probably sneak a chihuahua into the church in your bag. I used to carry Cricket around in my blue crochet bag when she was a puppy, even into the supermarket, until we got caught. I would have tried bringing her to services, but I wasn’t going to a synagogue at that point.

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  13. Very nice. Here on the western prairies, there are some “church goers” who are not very progressive at all. They tell me their version of the bible forbids animals from being inside their homes/farmhouses. Apparently, THEY can be inside but others species can’t…unless they are meat on the table. Not very charitable people.

    Conversely, the local Buddhist Temple has several “Family Days” a year where all family are invited including Cats, Dogs, birds (usually in cages), etc.

    You could suggest something like that maybe….

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    • That sounds lovely! The Buddhist part, anyway. I grew up with people who believed that dog food, because it isn’t kosher, should be kept outside, and eaten outside, and therefore it would be best not to have a dog at all. I could never make sense of that.

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  14. Synagogue Dogs! Love it! And Cricket is a such a great name for a dog!

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  15. Beautiful! I love what you’ve said about how a dog’s spirituality transcends all religions.

    By the way, a NJ Synagogue has a “Shabark Shalom” Program (Har Shalom of Warren, NJ) where they sit on the lawn with their dogs (kids are invited to bring stuffed dogs too) and have their tefillah service outside. I’ve never been, but I’d love to go. It sounds like a wonderful way to bring in Shabbat.

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  16. Ha, I think Butterfly would be an excellent contrinbution to the Synagogue: she looks utterly devout to me! Charley dog would make a bad companion, she would start howling to beat the rest opf the crowd in making noise;0)

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  17. Loved that last sentence, it is so true.

    I am not sure I could sit peaceably through a service longer than about 3 minutes, mind you!

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  18. I’ve always thought dogs should be allowed in places of worship. The other night on TV there was a programme about guide dogs for the blind. One of the blind people was from a strict Muslim family who believed dogs shouldn’t be kept in the home as pets, let alone taken to mosque! But the family came to accept his guide dog and the mosque allowed the dog to wait on a cosy bed in a crate in the lobby while the owner was at prayer. The dog wasn’t actually involved in the prayers, but at least he was in the building!
    The harmonies sung in your synagogue would almost certainly being calm and relief to your dogs. Pearl and Millie love to listen to chanting, and harmonies played on the piano.

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    • Maybe as the idea of therapy dogs, for anxiety and support, becomes more accepted, we’ll see more dogs in places of worship. We could even see Golden Retrievers up on the pulpit one day!

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  19. Why not use your synagogue as the beginning point in the quiet revolution to welcome dogs into all social settings? 😉

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    • Absolutely! I think my girls would really enjoy a trip to the museum of natural history, followed by sushi at the sushi bar. I wonder, seriously, if Cricket would calm down once she knew she wouldn’t have to miss out on so many things her people get to do.

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  20. I’m all for this!

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  21. Have you asked your synagoge? Talked to a rabbi/let them read your post?

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  22. Funny, years ago, I married a catholic who wanted his dog so badly to be the ring-bearer in our wedding. The monsignor told us it would never be allowed in the church, so my groom asked if the wedding could be held outdoors. The monsignor said no to that, as well. LOL You are not alone. 😉

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    • I wonder of the decision would have been different if the wedding happened today. Maybe there’d have to be a certification process to prove that the dog could really carry the ring, and not swallow it, or run away with it, or, more importantly, to prove that the dog could walk down the aisle without being tempted to pee on the officiating clergy.

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      • Though Catholics believe in the Blessing of the Animals (not sure what it is really called), I don’t believe that they allow them in church. I wonder, now that you have brought it up, if any religion feels they are worthy…or at least not annoying enough to be refused entrance. Hmmm. Outdoors, I have seen them in weddings that were not religious. 🙂

  23. What a wonderful post Rachel-I wish too that the Catholic Church would allow dogs at mass-particularly given the emphasis of St. Francis and his fellowship with animals and that we have a patron saint for dogs-but who knows? that barrier may yet come down-

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  24. I love this blog. I have considered ways to get Joey classified as a therapy dog, so I can take him with me everywhere.

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    • I’ve heard of people getting their dogs registered like that, even without special training. I think I could convince people that Butterfly is a therapy dog of some kind, but not Cricket, unless her job would be to create anxiety rather than relieve it.

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  25. I’ve had Max blessed – he had the most blissful expression. I think dogs should be allowed everywhere. Max is a certified therapy dog, and he spreads love and joy everywhere we go. Who can resist that? Definitely dogs should be allowed in synagogue!

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  26. Mark in Sumpter

    very good sentiment Rachel! That’s why we are so thankful that we live in a place where dogs are so well accepted!

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  27. I LOVE Butterfly’s silent prayer pose….too cute!!!

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  28. I got to go to a Bible study at church today – I wouldn’t let my person out of the house without me because it was storming. They want me to come to the Bible study every week. Now I’ve got to figure out how to get into the worship service.

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  29. This is a wonderful idea! Very inclusive! And yes, you are so right, we dogs love unconditionally and do not care about religion, race, nationality, creed… or any “ism”. Even though some people look down on me because I’m a Pitbull and judge me because of my breed, I won’t stoop to that level…I’m just going to love, and love, and love. Your dogs are very lucky to have you in their lives! Such a beautiful post! Woof!

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  30. Synadogs no less? But not sinnerdogs. I live in the Jewish quarter of our city and our dog gets a mixed reaction in the street. Some Jewish people and children will cross the road or walk out of his way, others don’t bat an eyelid. Same with Muslims. Other total strangers will rush up to him and hug him.

    As some of your other readers have said, there is the St Francis blessing of animals day in Spain, and in some areas, animals do go to church, usually donkeys I think.

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  31. Oh my goodness, I have so many things to say about this. Well, first, I once did somewhat secretly bring my baby poodle Allie to synagogue. It was a fledgling congregation, and I had agreed to lead Saturday morning services. My pup had just been spayed, and couldn’t be left alone, so I brought her in her crate, and put her in the corner in a not-so visible place. However, a child spotted her. When we did a circle toward the end and sang “V’shamru…” for the wine and challah blessing, the child brought her into the circle (in her crate), and she was forever know as “The Shabbos Dog”. Allie slept peacefully through the entire event.

    The rabbi never found out, luckily. Later I learned that I would not be allowed to put my poodle Mouschi’s name in the healing circle when I tried to. She was gravely ill, and it caused me much distress. Mouschi went on to live a long, spiritual life, and participated in some meditation groups held at my apartment.

    Alli and Mouschi have a little resemblance to Cricket and Butterfly.

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    • This is wonderful! Now I just need to recruit some children to my cause. Who could say no to a cute little girl carrying my adorable Butterfly into the sanctuary? You need to write a children’s book called “The Shabbos Dog!”

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  32. You could make your little furry pals a special jacket for attending your church in and teach them that when it is on this is their quiet time. Could you do it yes. My little friend is crazy un jacketed but behaves quietly ad with much doggy decorum as soon as his Assistant Dog Jacket goes on. He was trained at 7 years old.

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  33. I think it may be common at more than my parish and at my sons’ school, but the Catholic faith in America also recognizes an annual pet and animal blessing in remembrance of St. Francis’ love for all creatures. That’s the closest I know about any Abrahamic religions welcoming pets into worship.

    With the comfort and companionship that animals provide to so many, it’s interesting that they aren’t more welcome in our various methods of reflection, praise, or worship. It shouldn’t feel awkward wondering if it’s appropriate or not to ask for prayers after having to put a loved pet down last week.

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  34. My synagogue has had a couple of “Muzzle Tov” services where canine friends are included. I haven’t been to one (I pretty much haven’t been to anything there in a few years) so I don’t know what transpired, but I love the idea. And based on the pictures, they had a pretty good turnout, so I expect they’ll do more. 🙂

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  35. This is beuatiful. My mother & gradmother are catholic, and every year they celebrate the feast day of St. Frsnsis of Asisi. The community brings their pets to be blessed by the priest on the front steps of the church. Its very welcoming & a little wacky.

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  36. My 2nd husband was Jewish (reform) and my children grew up going to “Sunday School.”. There was this little Synagogue my kids went to when my son was 13. My husband had died and the ladies got together for my son’s Bar Mitzvah to buy the cake and bring the food. In all my life I’ve never felt a sense of belonging the way I felt in that tiny Synagogue. But we were forced to relocate so that I could find work.

    My father had been raised Catholic, my mother Baptist, and they dragged my sister and I to a Methodist church. My children were 5 and 7 when my husband died. He asked me to raise them in the Jewish faith. It was hard, considering the only place that would accept them was reform Judaism. In a few of the places we lived, only Conservative Synagogues were available. I disliked how my children were rejected by them.

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    • It’s been a revelation going to a Reconstructionist synagogue, and seeing the creative ways people have learned to integrate religion with modern life and the realities of how people live their lives and who they love. I’m so glad you were able to have that experience with the reform synagogue, and that your son had that.

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  37. They allow dogs in several places where food in not served, they are therapy dogs sometimes healing the elderly or the students with disabilities. If the movie (animated and so cute!) “All Dogs Go To Heaven” is an example, why not in a synagogue? Such a fun and sweet picture of your pup looking like the baby “Lion King!”

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  38. wow I really felt, enjoyed, and connected with this post. I’m 23 and my wonderful dog I’ve had since first grade passed away two years ago. He was always a part of my night time prayers; always mentioned and usually present for them. All dogs certainly go to heaven and I think they’d fit in at a church service in the best way. Great post!

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    • I love the idea of the dog being there with you when you say your nightly prayers. I can picture Cricket sitting there murmuring her own prayers, about all of the chicken treats and long walks and extra scratching she wants for tomorrow.

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  39. Well heck, I just love your idea! You make a very persuasive case, too. Why don’t you start out letting the old people coming to Synagogue pet your dog, get to know her, and you, make little advances that way. Then maybe ask they say a prayer for her or a dog you know I. Trouble. Include them. Maybe soon they’ll all feel your dog is their dog, and let her come to the service.

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  40. BTW, I believe all living things are actively involved in the life of the spirit. Check out my poem on my blog titled ” On the Spiritual Wisdom Of My Dog Phoebe ” if u get a chance. I think you’ll like it.

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  41. Those pictures rock. Adorable!

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  42. Rachel, I feel the way! But I think their attention span might not survive a Passover Seder (how long do we have to wait to eat????) and just image what might happen to a pack of hounds when the shofar blows at the new year. Oy. :).

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    • But couldn’t the same be said of children? My niece and nephews were barely coherent by 10:30 PM !!!!!!!! when we finally ate dinner one Passover. They were crawling under the table, visiting with a surprisingly well behaved Cricket. Though the shofar… that would be a whole other story.

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  43. Wow, that is such a beautiful idea! I think that all of God’s creatures worship him in their unique ways and that it would be great to include them in our worship. 🙂

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  44. I have a blog friend who does have a church that allows animals to attend. I think it is most fitting for after all dogs ARE one of Gods many creatures.

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

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  45. that’s the best idea i have ever heard! i love butterfly bas rachel’s naming pose.

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  46. Another thought – provoking post! I love the idea of our shared spirituality with all animals. And of us all striving towards God-sense, no matter what our religious leanings. I think that’s something many have lost sight of.
    (I also love all your pictures! Butterfly’s little pink tongue always poking out is just too cute)

    Reply

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