The Feline Exemption"). Moreover when I was home sick last week, I realized not only was the dog happier because it was near me, I was actually happier it was nearby, too. With the dog nestled beside me on the couch, I felt that weird euphoria of first love, albeit potentially enhanced by cold medicine. The pugs even populate my dreams. One one level this makes sense: after all, the dogs like to sleep on my pillows and--being pugs--they snore loudly. Why wouldn't they enter my subconscious? Yet, I also had the nagging feeling for the first time I viscerally understood a kabbalistic edict that had long puzzled me, namely the Lubavitcher Rebbe's prohibition against socializing with non-kosher animals. My dogs had eaten my soul, or more accurately become affixed to it. Let me explain what I mean.
|"Your child will remember the discussions |
of water buffalo in Shulchan Aruch (YD 28:4).
Some say buffaloes are the “meri” of II Samuel 6:13
and I Kings 1:9,19 or the “t’oh” Deuteronomy 14:5
or even the “re’em” of Numbers 23:22, 24:8,
Deuteronomy 33:17 and Job 39:9-12"
|"A dog, possibly an Alsatian, |
attacking a Jewish woman wearing an armband."
Ghetto Fighters House Archives
For the Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, the problem was not just the spiritual gulf between man and God non-kosher pets created, but that non-kosher animals could taint one's soul. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe explained, what one sees with one's eyes leaves a lasting imprint on one's soul, and "pictures of impure animals harm the mind and soul" (Schneerson). Moreover, the Rebbe cites the Jewish Code of Law (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 198:48) that, "Upon leaving immersion in a mikveh women should be careful … that the first thing they encounter should not be an impure thing [such as a dog or donkey]." A woman who does she these animals should reimmerse herself in order to protect her potential embryo (Schneerson).
Although the prohibition against seeing non-kosher animals and their representation was a stringency, for the Rebbe this stringency was tied to the messianic era. As the Rebbe explained,
The importance of the above is even more emphasized in our times, the era immediately preceding Mashiach’s [Messiah's] coming. It is our responsibility to prepare for the Messianic era, to “taste” of [As stated, “Those who taste of it merit life” – see Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim ch. 250, subsection 1; Aruch Admur HaZakein, Orach Chayim ch. 250, para. 8.] those things which will then be present [See Likkutei Sichos, vol. 15, p. 282]. And one of those things will be the fulfillment of the promise “I will remove the spirit of impurity from the land." [Zechariah 13:2] A fitting preparation for the Messianic era is to ensure, where possible, that only pictures depicting pure and sacred things be used (Schneerson).
By refraining from viewing representations of non-kosher animals, individuals could help take part in the preparation of the world for the messiah, a figure some followers of the Rebbe identified as the Rebbe himself. Importantly, the Rebbe also identified children's souls as particularly impressionable and susceptible to the "spirit of impurity" embedded in such representations. Since Lubavitcher women were most likely to be the ones securing toys and children's clothing, this edict on "Visual Education" presented an important way that women (and children!) could immerse themselves in quotidian activities that took on a cosmic significance of preparing and purifying the physical world.
As someone who was raised by biologists and had never been a follower of the Rebbe, I had never seen the logic in this stringency. Yet, despite all my skepticism, I am not utterly unsure that the Rebbe was incorrect that (non-kosher) animals touch our souls. According to the Zohar, when we sleep our soul leaves our body. (In fact this is why many orthodox Jews wash our hands upon rising: because our bodies taken on a small amount of death impurity during sleep.) Yet if my soul travels when I sleep, if I dream of my dogs, does that mean that their souls travel with mine on that voyage? Perhaps. Possibly it means something more telling about myself. As the Zohar goes on to explain, "When the body falls asleep... the nefesh [spiritual essence], rises upward and encounters the unclean essences. If the spirit is pure, if the person had not transgressed the commandments, the unclean essences cannot cleave to the nefesh" (Gersh 42-43). In this reading, if my dogs cleave to me in my dreams, it is the fault of my own misdeeds.
Whether or not I accept the idea that my dogs are "impure," they are a good reminder to me not to judge things I do not understand, including Rabbincal decrees based on kabbalah. Yet despite the insights the dog's closeness has brought me, for now it is enough for me that my life seems better for the way the dogs have adhered to my essence. I find that when I am with them, I too am more dog-like: I am happier, more upbeat, and forgive people more easily. Hence, I have decided to side with the Rabbis who rule more leniently and follow books like Perek Shira that suggest dogs, too, sing the song of the universe. Besides now my office is cozier.
Perek Shira 5: [כְּלָבִים] אוֹמְרִים . בֹּאוּ נִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה וְנִכְרָעָה נִבְרְכָה לִפְנֵי יי עֹשֵׂנוּ: (תהילים פרק צה ו)
- Dr. Know, "The Feline Exemption." Willamette Week. 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 9 Oct. 2015. <http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-25411-dr_know_the_feline_exemption.html>.
- Gersh, Harry. Kabbalah. Springfield NJ: Behrman House, Inc, 1989.
- Masters, Madeline. "Does Petting a Cat Release Endorphins?" The Nest. Web. 9 Oct. 2015. <http://pets.thenest.com/petting-cat-release-endorphins-10269.html>.
- "Perek Shira (פרק שירה)." Sefaria. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.
- Schneerson, Menachem M. "Visual Education." Sichos in English. Chabad-Lubavitch, 1993-2005. Web. 14 Oct. 2015. <http://www.sie.org/templates/sie/article_cdo/aid/2518320/jewish/Visual-Education.htm>.
- Slifkin, Nosson. Man and Beast: Our Relationships with Animals in Jewish Law and Thought. Israel: Zoo Torah, 2006.
- Slifkin, Nosson. "Perek Shirah." ZooTorah. Web. 9 Oct. 2015. <http://zootorah.com/assets/media/perek-shirah-booklet.pdf>.