June 11, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Cricket Didn’t Have to Die

By now everyone has probably heard about Governor Kristi Noen and how she personally shot her dog, Cricket. Americans were, of course, horrified. And justifiably so.

There are a number of reasons for this: Firstly, the Talmud in Shabbos enjoins us to emulate the Creator. Just as He is merciful, you too must be merciful. Just as He is gracious, so too, must you be gracious. Shooting your dog is neither merciful, nor gracious. There are other verses as well. In Ashrei, we recite three times daily, And His mercy extends upon all His creations. This is not reflecting divine mercy. She could have given the dog away or she could have sent the dog for further training.

No one doubts that pitbulls, Rottweilers, German shepherds and mastiffs are dangerous dogs and there should be laws enacted to ensure the safety of citizens. In the United States alone, 471 Americans were killed by dogs between 2004 and 2018. Almost 85% of these victims were killed by these four breeds alone. However, one is more than 10 times more likely to die in a plane crash than of a dog bite.

 

The Sources

The mishna in Bava Kamma 79b discusses the prohibition in raising “the dog.” But to what does the mishna refer? Does it include the poodle? Also, it does not tell us to kill it. Rashi gives us some insight. He writes that the reason it is forbidden is because it both bites and barks. He further explains that out of sheer fright, a pregnant woman can possibly miscarry on account of the bark.

Rabbi Yehoshua HaKohen Falk (1555–1614), author of the Smah (Choshen Mishpat 409:5) explains that Rashi is actually presenting two different reasons here. He writes that, according to Rashi, either reason alone would be sufficient to chain the dog. Chain—but not kill. Thus, according to Rashi, the barking but bite-less poodle must be chained. This also seems to be the view of the Rambam (Nizkei Mammon 5:9), the Rif (B.K. 30) and the Rosh in their restatement of the Gemara’s rulings. The first Lubavitcher Rebbe, in his Rav Shulchan Aruch (Shemiras Guf V’HaNefesh), rules in accordance with the more stringent view.

The Gemara in Shabbos 63a writes that whoever raises a dangerous dog in his home prevents chesed from happening in his home. This is because those who seek tzedaka will refrain from soliciting at his house because they are afraid of the dog. The Maharsha on the Gemara in Shabbos actually changes the girsah, wording of the Gemara and removes the modifying word “dangerous.”

 

The Lenient Poskim

The Hagaos Maimanius (Hilchos Rotzeiach 11:3) writes that it is permitted to raise a dog that is not rah, dangerous. The Tosfos Yom Tov in his commentary on the Mishna remarks that the fact that the Mishna uses the “definite article”—the dog—means that it refers only to a dangerous dog. The SMaG in mitzvos 66 and 67 also presents the lenient view. The language of the Tur Shulchan Aruch in Choshen Mishpat (409:6) also indicates a lenient view. He writes: “It is forbidden to keep a dangerous dog unless it is chained. In a city that is next to the country’s border, it is permitted to keep it unchained during the day, but chained at night.” The Shulchan Aruch 409:3 rules like the Tur. The exception of keeping the dog chained refers only to dangerous dogs, according to both the Yam Shel Shlomo and the Aruch HaShulchan. (It should be noted, however, that the Yam Shel Shlomo includes barking dogs as within the definition of dangerous.) Thus, the Shulchan Aruch and the Tur both rule like the lenient opinion. The poodle is safe in terms of strict halacha! Halacha does allow for dogs that do not bite.

The Rema adds an additional leniency to keeping dogs. He writes that, nowadays, when we live among the gentiles, it is permitted according to all. The Vilna Gaon explains that antisemitism makes it similar to the border city discussed in the Talmud.

A further point is that there is a mitzvah to express gratitude—hakaras hatov to dogs because they did not bark when we exited Mitzrayim. The gentile world should likewise express such gratitude because of the friendship that dogs extend toward people. If former president Trump wishes to pick a candidate for vice president—he should find someone else.


Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at [email protected].

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