I promised to write something about Judaism’s views on the afterlife, but first I want to talk a little more about mourning for a pet.
I mentioned that my daughters’ adored 4-year-old Siberian Husky died last week. We had an autopsy done, but they couldn’t find a cause of death. It was just of one those awful, inexplicable things that happen.
As my friend Alison pointed out in her thoughtful comment, “Life is impermanent. From the moment we are born, we are destined to die. So living really is about dying.”
I think the converse is also true — dying is really about living. You can’t do one without the other.
I stumbled on a lovely blog called “After Gadget: Facing Life After the Loss of My Service Dog.” (http://aftergadget.wordpress.com/grief-resources/jewish-resources-for-mourning-a-dog-with-inclusive-mourners-kaddish/) About grieving for an animal:
There are already too many unhelpful “shoulds” in our culture (and therefore, in our minds) about how, who, or when we should grieve. Such ideas only cause more pain. Therefore, someone who is grieving ideally will receive permission from themselves and their loved ones to follow their hearts and feelings in how they grieve. Nobody is helped by pressure to grieve “the right way.”
On the other hand, here’s a response to an “ask the rabbi” question, from Ohr Samoyach:
A family can consist of more than just humans. Pets are often integral members of a family, and their deaths can be traumatic life events. Judaism has a great respect for animals and their welfare; the proper care and good treatment of animals is a well-known aspect of Jewish law. The Torah specifies that animals have some rights, and many important figures of Jewish history have been shepherds or otherwise involved in caring for animals. Given this understanding, it is possible to take the position that it should be permitted to say kaddish for a departed animal companion, just as it is for a relative.
On the other hand, in the end pets aren’t people. Jewish teaching does have a great respect for animals and their lives. A person is forbidden to mistreat an animal, and is required to give animals proper treatment and care. However, Judaism makes a distinction between animals and humans. They are simply not in the same category. Humans have a higher status than animals, and it is inappropriate to blur the distinction. Kaddish is to be recited for humans, not animals. It is appropriate to memorialize animals and pray for comfort when they die, but kaddish is reserved for people.
But I’m going to side with Rabbi Steven Blane (www.officiant.org) who does believe it’s OK — even desirable — to say kaddish for a beloved pet.
He acknowledges that pets aren’t people, but points out that, “Under Jewish law, animals have some of the same rights as humans do. Animals rest on Shabbat, as humans do. We are forbidden to muzzle an ox while it is working in the field, just as we must allow human workers to eat from the produce they are harvesting…. We are permitted to violate the Sabbath to some extent to rescue an animal in pain or at risk of death. In the Talmud, the rabbis further dictated that a person may not purchase an animal unless he has made provisions to feed it, and a person must feed his animals before he feeds himself.”
He not only has a lovely prayer on his website that can be said at a pet’s memorial service, he also offers to officiate. Not sure how I feel about that, but I agree with his view that pets may not be people, but they are certainly members of our families.