While Jewish law commands us to treat non-human animals with respect and kindness, there is no recognition of animals as beloved companions with souls. Thus, there are no grief rituals associated with the loss of a non-human family member.
However, as with people of other faiths and traditions, more and more modern Jews are using the same or similar rituals to recognize the deaths of their dogs as those they use for humans. Below are some rituals and resources in the Jewish tradition that might be comforting to Jewish mourners who have lost an assistance dog or pet.
No One “Right Way”
Please note that there is no requirement or commandment (mitzvah) to follow any of these rituals for our deceased animal partners. As with all aspects of grieving, what feels right is extremely individual and often changes as the tides of grief roll in and out. The choice of how we mourn should always rest with the bereaved, regardless of cultural or religious tradition.
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.”
This applies to Jewish mourners, too, who might have deep feelings in favor of, or in opposition to, various death and grief rituals. For example, Jews who are cultural Jews, and do not practice any of the religious aspects of Judaism, might feel completely alienated by any form of traditional Jewish ritual and choose to avoid rituals in how they grieve. Still others might borrow from Christian, Buddhist, New Age, or other traditions that feel meaningful to them. Many religious Jews are not comfortable saying Kaddish for a non-human animal and believe doing so is inappropriate. Each person’s choice is an individual one and meets a certain need. As such, their choices are to be honored.
When You Lack Choices
It’s important to note that some mourners may very much want — or need — to follow rituals that are familiar and comforting to them, but external barriers prevent it.
Some possible reasons would be friends and family who refuse to participate in group ritual (such as a funeral, memorial, or prayer minyan) either because they are observant and believe saying the Mourner’s Kaddish over a dog is a sacrilege, or because they are not observant and are turned off by religious ritual.
Other times, friends and family might be very supportive, but not know the blessings, live too far away, or be too busy with work or family to get away. Similarly, you, yourself, might not be able to get time off from work to sit shiva or may be too sick to attend a burial; the ground may be frozen; you may not have private land as a resting place.
List of Jewish Mourning Rituals
These are only possibilities that might work for some mourners. This is not a complete list. As always, do only what feels right for you. In fact, Jewish mourning rituals — in line with the rest of Jewish laws and tradition — focus first on the needs of the living. While we respect and honor our dead, our top priority is to honor and respect ourselves, the living, and what we need in the wake of loss.
- Burial, as opposed to cremation, of the deceased;
- Wrapping the deceased in a white shroud and/or burial in a simple wood box;
- Having someone stay with the body of the deceased from the time of death to the time of burial;
- Holding burial/funeral services within 24 hours of death (unless the death occurred on a Friday, the day before Shabbat (Sabbath);
- Observing shiva (in some fashion, even if you cannot do it for an entire week or during all parts of the day);
- Reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish (see below);
- Gathering ten or more people (a minyan) to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish at the funeral/memorial/burial, during shiva, and/or at the annual yartzheit.
- You can learn more about Bereavement in Judaism at this Wikipedia page.
Modified Mourner’s Kaddish (Transliteration and Translation)
Most Jews who were raised reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish at a loved one’s death or yartzheit find great comfort and release in saying the prayer, especially in the company of others. It felt very important to me to be able to say the Kaddish when my pets, and then service dogs, died. However, the standard form of the prayer refers to “all of Israel” (all Jews), which felt neither inclusive of non-human animals nor of people I was mourning who were not Jewish. I recited it anyway, but I wanted a better way.
Several years ago, when my cat, Ferdinand, was dying of cancer, I asked a friend who knew Hebrew if there might be a suitable replacement. She came up with a phrase that translates roughly to “all of Creation” or “all G-d’s creation,” which I now use in all situations. The transliteration (pronunciation) of the blessing is below, followed by its translation into English. I regret that I cannot provide it in Hebrew, but neither my keyboard nor my brain are up to the task!
Mourner’s Kaddish (Modified)
Yitga-dal v’yit-ka-dash sh’may raba,
v’yam leech mal-chu-tay,
b’alma deevra chi-roo-tay,
b’chai-yay-chon uv-yo-maychon, uv-cha-yay d’chol bayt yishvay tehval,
ba-a-ga-lah u-viz-man kareev, v’imru oh-meyn.
Y’hay sh’may ra-ba m’va-rach l’olam ool-ol-may ol-may-yah.
Yit-bar-rach v’yish-ta-bach, v’yit-pah-ar v’yit-ro-mam,
v’yit-na-say v’yit-ha-dar, v’yit-a-leh, v’yit’halal
sh’may d’kud sho b’richu;
l’ay-la min kol bir-chatah v’shee-rata,
tush-b’cha-ta v’ne-cheh-mah-tah, da-a-mee-ron b’alma,
V’hay sh’lo-mo ra-ba min sh’may-yah,
v’chay-im olaynu v’yal kol yishvay tehval
O-seh shalom bimromahv.
Hu ya-ah-seh shalom.
Aleynu v’yal kol yishvay tehval,
Mourner’s Kaddish (Amended) — An English Translation
May it be magnified
and may it be sanctified
Your great name
in the world you created according to your will.
May the world establish and fulfill
in your life and in your days
and in the life of all creation
and near in time
and say, Amen.
May your great name be praised
forever, and ever and ever.
May it be praised
and may it be blessed
and may it be glorified
and may it be upraised
and may it be elevated,
and may it be honored
and may it be exalted
and may it be extolled,
the name of the Holy One, Blessed Be,
beyond all words of praise, words of song,
words of blessing, and words of comfort
that are uttered in this world,
and say, Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all G-d’s creation; and say, Amen.
May G-d who creates peace in the celestial heights, create peace for us and for all creation; and say, Amen.
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I have found some other resources recently, which I’m very excited and happy about.
Rabbi Steven Blaine at Officiant.org has a lovely page about how mourning a pet fits in Jewish law and tradition. He takes a courageous stand by saying Kaddish for his own pets and also offering to counsel families contemplating pet euthanasia and to officiate at pet memorials.
I found out about Rabbi Blaine through a post at the blog, SRQ Jew. It’s a brief, thoughtful, and honest sampling of different Jewish perspectives on mourning a pet. Read the post here.
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