Image: Rabbi Adar and Gabi. Photo by Linda Burnett.
Thousands of years ago, human beings and dogs formed a partnership that lasts to this day. We know that ancient Egyptians held cats in such reverence that one of their gods, Bastet, was often pictured as a cat. Other animals have sometimes been the companions of human beings, and those bonds can be deep and powerful.
This is one issue upon which the Torah is largely silent. The closest we have in rabbinic literature to a mention of dogs as companions is in a midrash, a rabbinic comment upon a story in Torah, which says:
To protect Cain from being killed, a dog was given him, who accompanied him and protected him against all comers. – Bereshit Rabbah 22:12
Given this long history of connection, and given the strong affection between some animals and humans, a person might ask, “May I say Kaddish for my beloved pet?”
Modern rabbinic responsa (official opinions written by learned rabbis) are firm on the subject: mourning for animals must be kept separate from mourning for humans. So the answer is no, we do not say kaddish for animals, even the most beloved ones.
Some pet lovers find this ruling hurtful: “I am grieving, so why should I not mention my beloved pet at the Kaddish?”
The answer here is straightforward: animals are not people. Our mourning rituals address the end of a human relationship: the loss of a mother, father, child, spouse, or sibling. Our relationships with animals are qualitatively different than our relationships with human beings. We mourn them differently.
By “differently” I am not specifying a quantity. There are people who have had more satisfying relationships with animals than with other human beings. Where the “fault” lies for that is not the issue: it is simply a fact. Animals are different from people. For some animal lovers, the loss of a pet can be genuinely devastating.
The fact is, Jewish tradition does not have forms for mourning animal companions. However, conversations about mourning for animals are emerging. The site Ritualwell.org has several interesting articles on the subject, including:
Grieving the Loss of a Pet by Rabbi Rona Shapiro
Burial Service for an Animal Companion by Rabbi Susan Schein
Creating a Ritual for Loss of a Companion Animal by Rabbi Joshua Snyder
Animals are part of God’s creation. As such they are sacred, just as the earth itself is sacred, as human beings are sacred. Losing an animal companion can be wrenchingly difficult. If you are suffering through such a loss, you have my sympathy.
Readers who would like to do so are welcome to leave stories and memorials to beloved pets in the comments.
9 thoughts on “May I Say Kaddish for my Pet?”
I loved my doggie very much. He left me a broken heart . I feel I need to do something for him. What else can I do if not Kaddish?
Oh, Leah, I am so sorry for the loss of your doggie! Some suggestions:
– Make a donation to a local animal shelter or agency and invite friends to do so as well.
– Invite a few friends who remember your dog to gather with you for remembrance. An evening of sharing stories and memories with friends is one way to honor his memory and your feelings.
– If the grief goes on and on, consider contacting your rabbi or a counselor for grief counseling. It’s a process, but sometimes we get stuck in it, and need help.
I wish you comfort in your memories and in the embrace of friends.
Loved looking at your picture of Gabi. Maggie, who died two years ago, was also a silver poodle. She was first my parents’ dog, but I moved home to take care of them at the end and had Maggie for a few years after my mother died. She lived to 16 and I had her cremated so I could spread her ashes in my father and hers favorite place. I think spreading a dog’s ashes is a good way to do something that doesn’t involve saying Kaddish.
Thank you for this article and the comments. The yartzeit for my little Oogie is coming up in a week and, while I feel his presence in my heart, it often still feels broken. Thank you again. (Your Gabi is a cutie.)
I am so sorry about Oogie, and glad this helped. I wish you comfort and peace.
Thank you for this article. As an animal lover myself, I say a brief Kaddish every time I see an animal struck down in the road… In some small way, even though I can’t help, I say a prayer…then I call Animal Control to pick it up.