Home January 2021 Mourning the Loss of a Pet

Mourning the Loss of a Pet

We recently lost our dog Charlotte, who was part of our family for 11 years. Towards the end of her life Charlotte slowly deteriorated mentally and physically and we were prepared that one day she would pass. However, the grief of her eventual passing struck us very deeply and it truly felt as if we lost a family member. Having converted to Judaism two years ago, I found myself wondering during many moments of grief what Judaism instructs when we lose a pet. What I found is that there is no clear Jewish road map when it comes to losing a pet, but we can honor and mourn them in a way that is distinctly Jewish. 
    Judaism is clear as to how we should treat animals. Jewish law commands us to treat non-human animals with respect and kindness. The Talmud provides the precept of tza’ar ba’alei chaim which prohibits causing pain to animals. Maimonides argues in Mishnah Torah “If one encounters one’s friend on the road and sees that person’s animal is suffering from its burden, whether the burden is appropriate for the animal or is excessive, it is a mitzvah to remove this burden” (Hilkhot Rotzeah 13:1). This means that while Jewish law prohibits cruelty to animals, it does not prohibit killing them. Therefore, almost all Jewish authorities agree that euthanizing an animal that is suffering is permitted. 
    It is also clear under Jewish law that a hierarchy exists where humans are in a higher status than animals. As such distinction exists, most rabbis will not recite the Kaddish prayer for a deceased animal nor will they bury an animal in a Jewish cemetery. Moreover, both the Midrash and Maimonides reject the idea that animals have an afterlife, which implies that they do not have the higher immortal soul of human beings.
    However, while Judaism speaks about our relationship to animals, it does not specifically address our relationship with pets. This is likely because in ancient times, animals were mostly used for consumption or work. As such, Judaism does not prescribe any specific rituals for grieving the loss of a non-human family member. In the absence of any clear direction, some contemporary Jews have adapted rituals used to mourn the death of humans to recognize the death of their pets. Rabbis have taken notice to the increased interest in having more guidance in this area of pet loss. For example, in 1998 the journal of the Reform movement’s rabbinical association published a ritual for pet loss by veterinarian Ruth Chodrow which includes readings from the Bible. 
    To welcome and love a pet as a family member is inherently also accepting that one day, almost always sooner than we would like, we will lose them. When such tragedy occurs, we may look to Judaism for guidance and comfort. Rabbi Shoshana Werner once stated “Participating in rituals and acts of tzedakah are Jewish ways of finding comfort.” While Judaism does not provide a clear road map for handling the loss of a pet, perhaps this is actually a good thing. Grief in itself is such an individual process in which there is no “correct” prescribed way to grieve. For our family, we have chosen to honor Charlotte through tzedakah to an animal rescue organization, honoring her memory through photographs and stories, and hopefully rescuing other dogs like her in the future.      Jeremy Goldman, of blessed memory, was light and laughter for everyone who knew him. A true mensch, Jeremy’s warmth, humor, generosity of spirit and larger-than-life personality endeared him to family, friends and colleagues alike. He cherished his wife of 20 years, Debra, and his three kids: Braden (17), Dylan (15) and Makena (11). On the evening of November 16, Jeremy died unexpectedly.
    Jeremy was a criminal defense attorney who successfully represented clients facing charges ranging from misdemeanors to serious felonies. An exceptional lawyer, Jeremy had an easy way about him that made juries relate to him, colleagues adore him and clients like and trust him. He earned his J.D. from Western State University School of Law in 1995 after earning a B.A. in Political Science from University of California, Irvine, in 1992. Jeremy started his career with the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, and opened his own firm, Goldman Defense, in 2007.
    Jeremy was an active member of Shir Ha-Ma’alot, which he and Debra joined in 2003. He was president of Northwood Little League and coached teams for more than 10 years. An active participant in Provisors professional networking organization, Jeremy served as group leader for Newport Center 2.
    Family was Jeremy’s priority, and you could often find him at Angels games with his kids. He was an inspiration and mentor for many, both professionally and personally. His leadership and love for his community, the dignity with which he treated each individual, and the joy and exuberance with which he lived life, characterize Jeremy Goldman. May his memory be for a blessing.    

MELODY MUHLRAD is an animal lover,  mother of two and a contributing writer to JLife Magazine.

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