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Why We Need A Canine Co-Rabbi

Google image of a Rabbinical dog. What do you think?

Would this little guy make you want to go to synagogue? (not my picture)

Almost from the beginning of my time at the synagogue three years ago, I’ve been talking to the rabbi about dogs. I don’t remember how it started. Maybe I brought in a picture of Butterfly and Cricket right after we adopted Butterfly from the shelter, maybe it was because I’d heard about his dog, who’d died just a few years before we arrived, and was well known by the congregation, playing a role in rabbinical stories over her long tenure as canine in residence. And maybe it’s because, going to the rabbi’s house for a new members evening, I noticed that pictures of the dog were as prominent as pictures of his daughters, meaning, she was family.

"We are family!"

“We are family!”

He made it clear that he wants a smallish dog, but not too small, hypoallergenic, because he always has people at his house and doesn’t want anyone to get sick, and she has to be a girl. He has two daughters, so he knows he gets along well with girls, but maybe he also wants to avoid the marking and humping young male dogs can do. I did not ask.

I gave him a list of hypoallergenic, or supposedly hypoallergenic, dogs, and we went over it, a year and a half ago.

Talking about dogs is a neutral zone where I can offer the rabbi my attention and concern, without feeling like I’m invading his privacy. There’s such a strange dynamic with teachers and rabbis and therapists, where you create a bond and naturally want to know more about them, but their privacy is meant to be protected, and it feels like I am puffing myself up imagining that I know anything or have the right to care about whether or not he has a dog.

Once a year, dogs play a role in the ritual life of the congregation when they come to the pond on Rosh Hashanah. The ritual of Tashlich is about tossing our sins into the water to let go of them and start the new year fresh. At our synagogue we toss birdseed instead of the traditional bread, which supposedly chokes the birds. I guess the dogs are invited, because with all of the goose poop, no one will notice if they pee or poop on the grass.

"Where should we pee?"

“Where should we pee?”

But once a year is not enough if we want the dogs to get to know each other and develop their own roles in the congregation. We need a rabbinical dog to lead the rest of the dogs in finding their place in the community, whether it be helping kindergarteners learn to read, helping bar and bat mitzvah kids practice in front of a friendly congregation, or offering help to dogs who need it.

We need a rabbinical dog, a small, well trained, friendly, hypoallergenic dog, who can walk through the crowd offering consolation and sweetness and reminders of dogs at home. Just like a rabbi is often a stand in for the good parent you either had or needed.

The rabbinical dog could sniff each congregant’s dog, have private meetings with those in need of further consultation, and maybe plan a few more events during the year for the sake of dog/human families who otherwise have to go to shul without half of the family.

"Why can't we go with you?"

“Why can’t we go with you?”

I think the only real problem with dogs in the synagogue, other than peeing on the carpet, is that there is often food, especially cake and cookies and chocolate. We are in great danger of setting up the oneg on Friday night, going into services, and coming back an hour and a half later to an empty buffet table and sick dogs.

Butterfly is always hungry.

Butterfly is always hungry.

But Cricket might need some Pepto Bismal.

But Cricket might need some Pepto Bismal.

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About rachelmankowitz

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

88 responses »

  1. I very serious, well-thought out post….until the last picture! I laughed out loud! Oh, Cricket–you are a riot! A dog who can walk through a crowd offering consolation and sweetness: would this not be Butterfly?!

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  2. Great thoughts on the comforting of the congregation! I hope your Rabbi proceeds with your idea!

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  3. It would work! Everyone loves puppies!

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  4. The food table would be a problem. . . although can Cricket & Butterfly get up on a table that high? My beagle generally cannot. But the Vizsla – no problem at all getting at it all!

    Nancy

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  5. In the episcopal church we have a service for the blessing of the animals where we bring our pets into the church. Your respectful caring about your Rabbi having a dog… What are we if not ones who care for each other’s well-being?

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    • I think he’s worried about having to travel to so many weddings and who would be there for the dog. I don’t think he understands how many people would volunteer to help him, with anything, yes, but especially with the rabbinical puppy dog.

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  6. I think that Cricket and Butterfly would make the best co-rabbi’s, seprately perhaps not, but together they would be perfect.

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  7. First, just let me say that I continue to find great delight in your posts. They always make me smile.

    My dogs are such an important part of my life. People who do not have dogs or who do not care for dogs do not understand this. They also do not understand the grief that pet owners undergo when their dog (or other pet) passes on. Pets are seen as merely adjuncts to one’s life – and for them to be anything more, to some people, smacks of something odd or immature.

    I’ve never understood this attitude. My own dogs are very much a part of our lives. I take seriously the responsibility of owning this ‘life’ and taking care of it: feeding it, giving it affection, including it in my life. Animals are feeling, living creatures. They feel emotions.

    Gosh, I’ve gone adrift from your post! But I love how you include your dogs in your posts.

    My church, the Episcopal Church, has a yearly blessing of the animals. People bring their pets in to have a prayer said over them. They are blessed.

    I think that’s appropriate; my animals have certainly blessed my life.

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  8. I’m a pantheist, but my dogs worship with me. Mainly by sniffing and weeing on nature.xxx

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  9. I loved this post and could absolutely relate but Jewish antipathy to dogs is longstanding, as Rabbi Judah Elijah Schochet points out in “Animal Life in Jewish Tradition,” (KTAV, 1984):
    “The dog is one of the few animals almost invariably spoken of in negative and derogatory terms [in Jewish Scripture]. There apparently was little personal relationship between biblical man and the dog.. Dogs are described as being noisy [Psalms 59:7-14], greedy [Isaiah 56:11], stupid [Isaiah 56:10], filthy [Proverbs 26:11]…. The term “dog” is applied as an insult to humans [I Kings 22:38]. Furthermore, “dog” appears to have been a derogatory designation for male prostitutes [Deuteronomy 23:19].”
    I never really thought about it until you just brought it up, so I went to look want the Torah said (as you see above). Most Jews I know have dogs (or cats). I think a Temple dog would be a perfect idea to console the sick and bring a smile to those in need. I do worry about the food thing, my dogs do love lox on a Sunday morning.

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  10. “…a stand-in for the good parent you either had or needed.” Just love that.

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  11. I loved this! Doggie co-rabbis! I like the job description and your astute analysis of the personnel problems that could arise. Should I think of a solution for your food table problem, I’ll let you know.

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  12. henriettamross14

    Brilliant post and I enjoyed hearing about the ritual of casting ones sins into the river. Quite a release I suspect. I hope all works out!

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  13. Enjoyable post, Rachel (as always)! Love the idea of a temple dog.

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  14. It’s all possible. Kyla wanted to be pope but she was black, female and wasn’t even Catholic. Why can’t Cricket and Butterfly have their own synagogue?

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    • Kyla would have made a great pope! When Cricket and Butterfly start their own synagogue, we’ll have to put up pictures of their doggie inspirations. Kyla will have a place of honor, bigger than life!

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  15. Excellent idea – with scriptural precedence. See the first chapter of Lassie, verse 17: God didn’t make dogs just to stay at home. He said let there be love, and there was dog.
    So bring the little devils along with you when you go to synagogue, for My Sake.

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  16. For an agnostic, it is delightful to read about a faith that properly takes into account all creatures and involve them in their activities! Won’t make me my less agnostic, but it makes me even more positively disposed towards those with am inclusive faith, and I envy those who can truly believe.

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  17. Love it! Choppy could definitely use some spiritual guidance. And cookies. I’m guessing she would personally want more of the latter.

    Also, perhaps watch out for the girl dogs and humping – Choppy is a practitioner, despite being a female and six years old! Thankfully, only a few of her stuffed animals bear the brunt of her “love”.

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  18. Amen! More dogs at church (whatever the flavor) would certainly make the experience a more uplifting one, because where better to observe the true nature of God’s grace, than in the beautiful simplicity of a dog? (not saying God is a dog or even a dog ‘person’…I’m sure that’s none of my business, but up to Him)…but to me? God put beautiful souls into the animals, and gave especial compassion to the dog (apologies to the cat people in the wings). I consider them angels among us. I know my Hunydog is an angel and I’m sure it’d make my own church services so much more satisfying to include her. But she’s a chihuahua and there’s the whole “big dog in a small body” attitude. She might bite my Bishop….

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  19. Not too sure about the dog pictured making want to go to a synagogue, but if Cricket and Butterfly were there (and I was in the US) then I just might!

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  20. Though pagan, Max is available for short term consulting on all matters pertaining to religion and food. Especially food.

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  21. Delightful post. I’ve tweeted it and two of your others. 🙂

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  22. In reference to the part at your shul’s service where the dogs are allowed to come to Tashlich at the pond because presumably their pee won’t be noticed due to the goose poop. I may comment that if my dog (Tova a black Lab) were to come to your shul’s gathering during this time, she would consider Tashlich the oneg as well as a mikvah. I’d include a swimming in a pond image but I don’t know how to attach it to this post.

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  23. ooy is that a punim..i think the rabbi would love the puppy in the pic…you know how you go in the kitchen & forget why..well last night at 8 ,i said let me go see if rachel wrote & now it’s sun. at 11;30 & i don’t even know what happened.lol..sleep deprivation, maybe.

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  24. Talking “dog” always seems to be a neutral ground where others feel free to share. It’s a beautiful thing.

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  25. I would attend a temple with dog rabbis…or priests…or gurus. Purity is sacrosanct and we could all do well to open our hearts as our dog gurus do…er, rabbis.

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  26. My dog Bilbo could use a bit of therapy after the storm. He is currently lying on my lap, which isn’t easy for a large Border Collie and he sure makes typing difficult but I love him and he is helping to calm my nerves as well.

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  27. What about a miniature smooth-haired dachshund like Nicholas? He would fit in fine! Pip

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    • The head of my first masters program had two mini dachshunds and they went everywhere with her. They had their own office inside her office. The dogs were a great welcoming committee!

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  28. What an interesting post sweet Rachel. I think dogs should be allowed everywhere possible and what a better world it would be if they were. I have taken cats to church that we found left at the gates of the humane society on our way to church. We always kept a carrier in the van just in case and I would take them in church in the carrier and after services we would bring them home and care for them for as long as the HS needed us to. We even had cats and dogs dumped at the church and I was always asked to take them. One Sunday a mama cat and her kittens came walking down the aisle right in the middle of the service. Someone had left a door open and they came right in. The service was not interrupted, the cats just walked around and after the service we gathered them up. We brought some of them home with us and the pastor kept the others. Animals are always welcome there. Your idea sounds like a super idea and I hope your Rabbi finds the perfect dog. Hugs

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    • We had a mouse walk in, once, and he seemed to enjoy the conversation. But I love the idea that people know to bring animals to the church for safe keeping. If that started happening at my synagogue, I’d be tempted to bring a sleeping bag and stay overnight just to keep watch and be the welcoming committee. I don’t think my own dogs would be too thrilled with that plan, though.

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      • No, I don’t think sweet Cricket and sweet Butterfly would care for you staying at your synagogue and leaving them at home. They would want you home with them for sure.

  29. I’m afraid my dog wouldn’t make the short list. She doubtless possesses an abundance of wisdom but she lacks all sense of proportion. She would be able to inform if any mice or rats had managed to make their way into the synagogue but that’s about it.

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  30. Hi! I’ve tweeted this post again, and another two 🙂

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  31. Super cute! Love the idea but you’re probably right about leaving the dog & the food together alone…. 🙂

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  32. this is the cutest article lol

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  33. greyzoned/angelsbark

    Love the idea of a rabbinical dog!!! Have you presented the idea to your Rabbi?? I’m an animal chaplain and as time goes on, more and more churches are opening to the idea of animals playing a role in the services. Our religious leaders are finally coming to understand that our animals companions are members of the family and should be viewed as such. I think Cricket and Butterfly would be great ambassadors!
    Michele at Angels Bark

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