Cultural awareness for veterinary clinicians

This guide is designed to help veterinary clinicians to consider cultural differences in clients

Jewish Culture

There are ~6 million Americans who identify as Jewish or come from Jewish background; ~66K live in Minnesota.

 There is no Jewish prohibition against owning pets, and while data on Jewish pet ownership was difficult to locate, anecdotal evidence suggests that pet ownership is not uncommon among Jews, even in the Orthodox community. Today, some Jews have even created Jewish life cycle rituals and mourning rites for pets. Additionally, numerous articles about the halachic (Jewish law) implications of pet ownership have been published, presumably in response to growing interest in pets among traditionally observant Jews. The idea that some observant Jews are averse to keeping household pets may derive, in part, from the fact that dogs are the subject of numerous derogatory statements in the Torah and Talmud.

Spay and neutering of pets appears to be discouraged under Jewish law. This prohibition is explicit in Leviticus 22:24, which states (regarding male animals): “You shall not offer to the Lord anything [with its testes] bruised or crushed or torn or cut. You shall have no such practices in your own land.” The Shulchan Aruch codifies this rule explicitly. Isserles, in his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, notes that neutering a female animal is also prohibited.

Over the centuries, rabbinic authorities have proposed various leniencies in this prohibition, but none have been universally accepted. Some permit sterilization if done to alleviate suffering or to save an animal’s life; however in this case the procedure should be done by a non-Jew. In cases where non-sterilization would lead to financial loss, some decisors permitted it if the animal were first sold to a non-Jew and then another non-Jew was designated to perform the procedure. The Israeli Orthodox Rabbi Shlomo Aviner has permitted Jewish veterinarians to spay female animals in case of therapeutic need on the grounds that neutering of females is considered a less serious infraction than neutering males. However neutering merely for convenience or for population control — the most common reason pets are usually neutered — remains forbidden. In 2015, Israel’s agriculture minister floated the idea of suspending a government program to neuter the country’s population of feral cats, apparently out of concern for the injunction against neutering. However, the proposal was not enacted and the program was not suspended.

Today, most pets adopted from animal shelters are already neutered. Since owning a neutered animal does not pose a problem from the perspective of Jewish law, traditionally observant Jews can avoid the issue by adopting pets that have already been neutered.

While Jewish tradition permits the use of animals, acts of animal cruelty are expressly prohibited, a principle known as tza’ar baalei chayim. General principles of how Jews ought to treat animals show concern both for the physical suffering of animals, as well as their emotional pain. Jewish tradition also dictates that one feed one’s animals before feeding oneself. According to Slifkin, the permissibility of declawing a cat or removing a dog’s tail is not discussed explicitly by Jewish legal authorities, but the general principle is that causing pain to animals for the benefit of humans is permitted provided the benefit is not trivial and the pain is not too great.

Last Updated: Apr 24, 2023 11:27 AM