Jewish Dog Tales

By David Kaufmann

Published November 20, 2007, issue of November 23, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

An elderly friend who likes to pretend he comes from the old country but in fact comes from Detroit tells me that my two dogs make me look, well, goyish. He’s got 3,000 years of Jewish opinion to back him up. Dogs don’t do so well in the Tanakh or in the Talmud. To maintain, as Ecclesiastes does, that a live dog is better than a dead lion doesn’t say much for the dog. To argue, as the rabbis do, that breeding dogs is like breeding swine doesn’t say much for the breeder. It seems that dogs can’t get a break. They are either savage or wild. They drive away the Shekhina; they scare away the needy; they bring blood upon a house. For the tradition, it all comes down to the bark and the bite.

But the tradition doesn’t know about the modern Jewish dog. According to the whole new system outlined in the recently published “How to Raise a Jewish Dog” (Little, Brown), a “guidebook” by Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman, this dog (a Bernard Malamute, say) is so confounded by guilt and uncertainty that it does not have time to bark or to bite. Mixed messages and an ever-present sense of both dread and inadequacy (combined, of course, with a monumental dose of aggrandizement) will instill obedience in even the most recalcitrant hound. What dog wouldn’t obey the Jewish command for “sit”? “What, would it kill you to sit down for one lousy second?” What dog wouldn’t toe (or heel) the line if it heard that baleful complaint, “How could you do this to me?”

For the modern Jewish dog, it all comes down to the whine.

Perhaps I have failed my dogs. I have not been appropriately inconsistent. I have not been careful to induce the requisite level of anxiety. But despite my negligence, they might be Jewish dogs, after all, or, at least, dogs that the Talmud would approve of. They are neither savage nor wild. They don’t drive the needy from our door. Apart from the time my 80-pound pit bull jumped up on Mr. Wally, the UPS man, to try to lick him, they have not scared a soul. They didn’t even notice the burglar who relieved us of a number of personal and remarkably portable electronics last year. For my dogs, it all comes down to sleep and their walks.

Their easy comfort in the world might indicate that they are not properly Jewish, but my dogs display what to me seem to be rock-ribbed Jewish virtues. True, they are disgustingly indiscriminate about what they eat. True, they are constitutionally unable to practice the kinds of self-control that the Law demands. Nevertheless, no matter what the rabbis say, my dogs do bring loving-kindness into the house. They greet every visitor as if that visitor were Elijah himself. They are relatively obedient and remarkably stubborn. They show an annoying curiosity, and their skepticism is tempered by an overbearing, even pushy, eagerness. Most important, though, they will wait. My dogs, bless them, are capable of an astonishing patience where it counts. And in this way, they really seem like Jews: They can sustain whole eternities of impossible hope.

David Kaufmann teaches at George Mason University.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.