Bertie
Bertie

After losing her beloved dachshund a couple of years ago, Sandy Hermanoff did some research to see if there is such a thing as a Jewish dog.

Bertie, our loveable dachshund, left us a couple of years ago. He was willful, stubborn, loving and adorable. He thought he was Jewish. 

He got me to thinking. So, is there such a thing as a Jewish dog? Is it a Sadie or Schmaltsy or Nuddel? Not a Fido or Spot.

Every Friday night when I lit candles (no matter where we were), Bertie would suddenly show up from another room wagging his tail. He stuck around because he knew we were going to cut the challah at some point. There definitely was food in his future. And when we cut the challah, there he was again, wagging his tail waiting for the end piece that Michael, my husband, would cut off. He ate first. We followed.

Sandy Hermanoff
Sandy Hermanoff

While buying his dog food one day, I spied a yarmulka and tallis for a small dog. It was marked down — the only one left. Should I or shouldn’t I buy it for Bertie? He would never keep a sweater on — he always managed to wriggle out of them. I was sure he would not tolerate the duo, but I bought it anyway. 

It was Passover, and we were preparing for the seder. So, I put the yarmulka and tallis on him, and he loved it. He fell asleep with it on and didn’t want to take it off. He even posed for pictures. Yes. He was definitely proud to be Jewish. 

But to be sure, I had to do some research. 

A Longtime Sabra?

I learned that there is a national dog of Israel: the Canaan dog. It apparently has survived in the desert regions of Israel for thousands of years. The Hebrews used the dog in biblical times as a guard dog, and it is still used by Bedouins and Druze today. 

Professor Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman from Vanderbilt Jewish studies writes that the relationship between dogs and Jews has been a fraught and complicated one. Though dogs fared poorly in the Hebrew Bible, of late they have been honored as family pets and even granted “bark mitzvahs.” 

We know people who have sent out printed invitations for their “bark mitzvahs.” No fountain pens needed unless they’re edible. After all, humans can have bar and bat mitzvahs, why not dogs? 

A few years ago, we made a shivah call. A couple, a guy with his significant other, came in, sat down and joined in on the conversation. The significant other who was not Jewish and had never been to a shivah before, was asking questions about the shivah rules and regulations. In the meantime, the family dog sauntered in wearing a cone on his head. He had just come from the vet. 

“Is that part of the shivah?” the significant other asked. You could hear a pin drop. Then someone started to snicker. And another. And then the whole place was giggling. Obviously, the cone did not pass the test for being a Jewish dog. 

Photos Sought

Did you know there’s a website where you can send videos of your Jewish pooch at dogs@forward.com? They ask that you “send your family photos or videos of your Jewish dog, and we’ll feature our favorites on the site.” 

The site also says that:

• Jeff Goldblum in the 2008 film Adam Resurrected, plays a Holocaust victim walking the line between human and canine personalities.

• In Exodus 11:7 it reads, “no dog shall snarl at any of the Israelites.” What could be more supportive of God’s plan to redeem the Israelites?

• The protagonist of Nobel Prize winner S.Y. Agnon’s novel Only Yesterday Balak is the Hebrew word for dog spelled backwards.

•The Canaan dog was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1997, the creation of this breed was a natural part of the founding of the State of Israel.

There’s a charming book on Amazon (five stars) that seals the deal: How to Raise a Jewish Dog (Sept. 5, 2007) by the Rabbis of Boca Raton Theological Seminary. 

The fictional “Rabbis” delve into how specific sounds, TV preferences, tricks and food preferences prove your dog is Jewish, but the way they present “the smell segment” is the winner. They begin:

“What self-respecting Jewish family would not, if given the choice, pick a Jewish dog? Yet one typically does not even give a thought about one’s dog’s religion. And even if one did, how could one possibly ensure that the dog you’ve chosen to invite into your home to become a treasured part of your Jewish family — is, in fact, Jewish? 

“Worry about this no more, my beloved Judaic friends. For after years of study, research, interviews, and consultations with experts, I am about to publish the only guide of its kind, ‘How to Tell if Your Dog is Jewish.’ At long last, you can have peace of mind about at least this one small yet vital part of your family’s life. You’re welcome.”

The Smell Test

The rabbis continue: “For a week, chart the things (and people) that your dog sniffs. Clothes may make the man, but smells make the dog, and in particular, the Jewish dog. 

“Do you find him primarily sniffing the pets of other Jewish pet owners? When you walk past a Jewish deli, do his nostrils go crazy as he makes a sharp turn to steer you toward the pastrami? And while we’re on the subject of Jewish meat, has your dog, after getting a whiff of your Shabbat brisket, jumped up on the table and gobbled it down while you’re distracted lighting the candles?” 

And finally, the Rabbis of Boca Raton tell us: “Then again, ask yourself if it really matters if your dog is Jewish. If it does, perhaps that’s a sign that your life is not Jewish enough to start with. 

“Because if there’s enough Judaism in your life and in your relationships with others, you could have a Baptist dog, a Muslim dog or an Episcopalian dog and still live a pretty good and satisfyingly Jewish life, no? Then again, if you’d truly prefer a Jewish dog, who am I to stop you?” 

I say the Rabbis of Boca Raton are correct. Bertie would have loved them! 

Sandy Hermanoff is a local public relations consultant who loves to cook and bake.