Pets on Shabbat, Rabbi Morenu, and Epidemics

Orthodox Jews traditionally have not kept pets.

Marc B. Shapiro blogs:

* R. Moshe did not regard pets as muktzeh. It would thus be permissible to handle your own cat that lives in your home, but not to do so with a stray cat or with an animal on a farm, as they are not pets.

* “A widow is forbidden to raise a dog, because of suspicion [people will suspect her of bestiality].”

As far as I can tell, there is agreement among the aharonim that this law also applies to a divorced woman, but there is no consensus about a single woman. There also seems to be agreement that there is no problem with a female dog.

Despite the fact that this halakhah is found in the Shulhan Arukh, there is no question that it is ignored in the Modern Orthodox world, either because people don’t know about it or because they find it far-fetched or even offensive.

* In general, dogs don’t come out looking too well in rabbinic literature…

* In Louis Jacob’s autobiography, Helping With Inquiries, pp. 54-55, he writes:

“Before leaving my account of the Gateshead Kolel, I feel it would be incomplete unless I said something more about Rabbi Dessler, one of the most remarkable men I have ever met. Until he became the spiritual guide of the Ponievezh Yeshivah in B’nai B’rak, near Tel Aviv, Rabbi Dessler was the moving spirit behind the Kolel and his wise counsel was sought by its members even when he had moved to Israel. He was physically small and had a full but neatly trimmed beard until he went to Ponievezh, when he allowed it to grow long. He had studied in his youth at the famed Musar School in Kelm, presided over by the foremost disciple of Reb Israel Salanter, R. Simhah Züssel. He married the daughter of Reb Nahum Zeev, son of Reb Simhah Züssel. Reb Nahum Zeev was also an outstanding Musar teacher. He earned his living as a merchant in Koenigsberg, where he dressed and conducted his life in Western style. His wife and daughters dressed in the latest fashion. He even had a dog. Rabbi Dessler told us of the occasion when a Polish rabbi, in Koenigsberg to consult a physician, was invited by Reb Nahum Zeev to be a guest in his home. Witnessing the Western style in which the home was conducted, the rabbi was careful to eat very little, suspecting that the food was not completely kosher. Late at night, the Polish rabbi was awakened from his sleep by the sound of bitter weeping from a nearby room. Thinking someone needed help, the rabbi went on tiptoe to the room from which the sobs were coming only to hear the “Westernised gentleman” sobbing his heart out as he chanted the verse from Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanity; all is vanity.” Needless to say, after this experience, the rabbi had no further qualms about eating at Reb Nahum Zeev’s table.”[8]

I cite this passage because it reports that that R. Ziv had a dog, and this information must have come from R. Dessler.

R. Ziv was a very great man and there is a lot more that can be said about him. R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg reports that when he lived in Germany, not only did he dress in a modern fashion, but he also trimmed his beard and shook the hands of women. R. Yosef Yozel Horowitz of Novardok was very upset about these things and asked the young R. Weinberg, at this time serving as a rabbi in Pilwishki, to rebuke R. Ziv. R. Ziv told R. Weinberg, “What does he want from a Jew in Germany? I am just a simple Jew and I do not wish to cause ahillul ha-Shem. I behave like the other German Orthodox Jews.”

* In years past there were two understandings of how diseases were spread. One is known as the Miasma Theory, and I can do no better than to quote the opening lines of the Wikipedia entry on the topic: “The miasma theory (also called the miasmatic theory) is an obsolete medical theory that held diseases—such as cholera, chlamydia, or the Black Death—were caused by a miasma (μίασμα, ancient Greek: ‘pollution’), a noxious form of ‘bad air’, also known as night air. The theory held that the origin of epidemics was due to a miasma, emanating from rotting organic matter.”

The other theory is Germ Theory, which in non-scientific language must be regarded as a fact. Germ theory explains the spread of disease as coming about through the spread of living organisms. Until the second half of the nineteenth century, both the Miasma Theory and Germ Theory (in earlier versions) found supporters in the scientific community.

In an article published in 1851,[16] Joseph Loewy claims that the amora Samuel accepted the Miasma Theory. He calls attention to Bava Metzia 107b: “And the Lord shall take away from thee all sickness (Deut. 7:15). . . . Samuel said: This refers to the wind. Samuel follows his views, for he said: All [illness] is caused by the wind.”

* For R. Zvi Yehudah Kook, the “original sin,” as it were, of Agudat Israel is precisely that it was founded by a layperson (Rosenheim), and R. Zvi Yehudah contrasts this to Mizrachi which was founded by a great Torah scholar, R. Isaac Jacob Reines. See Be-Ma’arakhah ha-Tziburit (Jerusalem, 1986), p. 76. In his eulogy for Rosenheim, R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, Li-Frakim (2016 edition), p. 607, also refers to him as the founder of Agudat Israel. Yet it is more correct to say that Rosenheim was the major force in the founding of Agudat Israel, as he cannot be identified as the organization’s sole founder.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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