How Judaism Regards Animals
Animals have only recently made the jump from work assistants to companions. Jewish tradition fends for the rights of animals because they serve the human need for food and labor. There is a legacy of caring for animals recorded in the Bible. Jacob is found building huts to shield his cattle from the sun. Later Moses was chosen to lead the Jewish people, according to a legend of the Midrash, because of his kindness as a shepherd.
One of the seven basic laws prescribed by Judaism for society at large protects animals from the cruelty of having a limb removed while still alive, a butchering practice in the days before adequate food preservation techniques. The Torah further instructs farmers to let their animals graze as they plow. Another agricultural law forbade yoking an ox and donkey together, because their disparity in strength and speed would force the animals to struggle as they worked. Inflicting unnecessary pain is also against the Torah precept of tzaar baalei hayyim – causing harm to living things.
Pets become beloved, trusted parts of a family. When a pet dies, there should be some way to commemorate them, but a Kaddish ceremony is not one of them. There is a distinction between pets and people. Saying Kaddish for pets is an inappropriate use of the words used to memorialize people. Ranking animals as human equals through a Kaddish belittles those who are mourning parents, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives and children.
There is nothing wrong with holding a memorial service where favorite photos, toys and memories are shared. Making a donation to an animal shelter in the pet’s memory is a form of tzedakah, righteous giving, and is a fitting way to remember a pet.
Clal, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, has created a blessing for a pet memorial service. Notice that the blessing does not include a mention of God’s name.
“Barukh atah she’lo chisar b’olamo davar.”
Blessed are You in whose world nothing is lacking.
It is filled with wonderful animals that bring joy and companionship to human beings.