Sitting Shiva for Spot?

What To Do When Your Jewish Pet Is Dying

Mourning Peeps: Karen Iris Tucker cradles her bichon frise, Peeps. With the end nearing, Tucker wonders how to mourn her beloved pet in an appropriately Jewish way.
courtesy of karen iris tucker
Mourning Peeps: Karen Iris Tucker cradles her bichon frise, Peeps. With the end nearing, Tucker wonders how to mourn her beloved pet in an appropriately Jewish way.

By Karen Iris Tucker

Published April 27, 2012, issue of May 04, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

As I peer down at her cotton-puff head, my sense of guilt sets in. Peeps, my bichon frise associate, has just taken a cocktail of three different medicines meant to keep her ticker ticking. Her eyes water, and her mouth turns downward, quivering slightly. It’s obvious she is not digging this new regimen. At 13, this lady has lived long enough to endure an onslaught of insults to her pot-bellied little being — epilepsy, cataracts, a successful surgery to rid her of cancer and, most recently, congestive heart failure.

Each time, Peeps mobilizes and makes room in her life for the difficulties these maladies present. Despite this nobility, I know she will someday leave this world of stealing cat food, lolling in the sun on her paw print pet bed and inhaling cooked string beans in unsalted chicken stock. (The latter is a substitute for her beloved salty pet store treats.)

In thinking about that fateful day and how to commemorate Peeps’s life, I am confronted with the fact that there is no Jewish roadmap for how to properly mourn pets, no universal law or tradition for how to close the circle of a pet’s life.

According to Ari Enkin, an Orthodox rabbi in Israel who has written several books on Jewish law, equating the loss of an animal with the loss of a human is inappropriate. Enkin recently discussed the question of whether, upon the death of a beloved pet, it is appropriate for a Jewish person to say “Baruch dayan ha’emet,” or “Blessed is the True Judge.” It is reflexively uttered by many Jews in response to death and tragedy.

Enkin said that some halachic authorities find precedence for doing so, but only in the context of financial loss; animals were often one’s only source of income in earlier times. A blind person, for example, might recite the blessing upon the passing of a guide dog, since such dogs are expensive to replace.

As a former yeshiva girl who instinctively turns to Jewish tradition for comfort in trying times, I found Enkin’s comments unsatisfying. There is, after all, a clear legacy of compassion for animals in the Torah. Deuteronomy tells us that a person is required to feed his animals before himself, and that one is obligated to relieve an animal’s suffering. The Talmud provides the precept of tza’ar ba’alei chaim — that it is prohibited to cause pain to animals. The term nefesh chaya, a living soul, was applied in Genesis to animals as well as to people.

Seeking continuity from where these laws leave off, I ultimately found that it is mostly Reform and Conservative rabbis who give more credence to the desire to mourn pets in a way that is distinctly Jewish.


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!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • 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.