This Hanukkah, I will mainly be buying gifts for other people’s dogs. Every day, it seems, another friend succumbs. “We did it!” says the inevitable Facebook post, accompanied by yet another picture of an adorable ball of fluff, as one more Jewish mom goes over to the bark side.
At this rate, I’ll be going home for the holidays with a whole suitcase full of Chewy Vuitton dog toys for all these new arrivals. When did dogs, and shopping for them, become such a thing?
Dogs and Jews
Traditionally, dogs have not been considered very Jewish at all. While there’s nothing in Jewish law that forbids keeping dogs as pets — as long as they can’t harm anyone — they haven’t been a part of the culture. Biblical references are mostly negative. With the exception of the heroic canines that maintained a discreet silence when the Jews were trying to escape from Egypt undetected, they’re generally depicted as violent beasts that eat corpses and maul human beings. In the Kabbalah, dogs are used to symbolize evil.
Now, though, our four-legged friends are everywhere. Bark mitzvahs — coming-of-age ceremonies for dogs when they hit 13 — are moving into the mainstream. Actor Jason Biggs threw one for his pet Teets in 2014. If you fancy following suit with your own celebration, your pooch can mark the occasion with this chewy bark mitzvah pen by Modern Tribe. Over in New York, The Workmen’s Circle has been creating a buzz with its occasional Yiddish dog training classes in Central Park.
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In Israel, meanwhile, it’s a far cry from biblical times. Tel Aviv now claims to be the most dog-friendly city in the world, with one tail-wagger for every 17 residents, and an annual “Kelaviv” dog festival (kelev is the Hebrew word for dog). Last year, Tel Aviv’s municipal government even launched a mobile app, Digi-Dog, to help dogs and their owners navigate the city.
As a non-dog person in an increasingly pooch-friendly climate, it’s hard not to feel left out — and not just on those Facebook threads. Dog-walking meetups are the new school pickup line. Dinner parties are dominated by tales of Fido, particularly when someone has just taken the plunge (honestly, first-time parents have nothing on pup newbies). And even work offers no escape, with eight percent of workplaces now welcoming dogs to the office. There are over 1,000 of them at Amazon’s Seattle HQ alone.
I get that having canine friends is good for you, both physically and mentally. One recent study found that owning a dog leads to a longer, healthier life. Recently, therapy dogs were dispatched to comfort grieving Jewish Federation staff after the mass shooting in Pittsburgh.
But this is one lifestyle trend I won’t be exploring personally. “You’re just not a dog person, are you?” said a friend as her adorable mutt chewed all the sequins off my Coach sandals this summer. She got that right! The mess. The travel logistics. The sheer day-in, day-out responsibility of it all.
But hey, you do what’s right for you, no judgment.