Thursday, March 31, 2011

Is it Cruel to Force Dogs to Keep Passover? Hammerman on Ethics

Is it Cruel to Force Dogs to Keep Passover? Q - I've heard that pets are supposed to keep Passover. I'm fairly traditional regarding Passover and just got a dog. Isn't it cruel to force an innocent animal to change its entire diet for a whole week? It's hard enough for humans!

A- As the proud owner of two adorable standard poodles, one of whom is extremely neurotic, I can sympathize with you. Let's start by saying that Passover is absolute heaven for dogs. Lots of exotic, tasty table scraps tossed their way by easily manipulated relatives who have no idea how you've been trying to keep your pooches from begging, plus an added bonus: crumbs are everywhere. I believe that in dog language, in fact, Passover is known as "The Festival of the Crumbs." So almost by definition, there will be a week-long love affair between mutts and matzah.

But what about their regular diet? Dogs often have difficulty adjusting to sudden, radical changes in their food, especially those on special diets. But our kitchens need to be hametz-free. On Pesach we are not only required to refrain from eating leavened products, we also can't benefit from them. That goes beyond the regular standards for kashrut year round, when it is fine for pets to eat non-kosher food. Passover is another animal entirely.

Interestingly, dogs play a major role in determining what household products require rabbinic supervision. One standard applied is whether a dog would eat it. The technical term is "Nifsal mayachilat kelev," "unfit even for a dog to eat." Things that are determined to be unfit for canine consumption do not require special Passover certification. That includes dish soap (in many opinions), cosmetics, pure alcohol, as well as burnt bread. That's why we burn the hametz - to render it so disgusting that even Fido would turn up his nose at it.

Several years ago, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (a.k.a. the Rav) ruled that toothpaste is not "fit for a dog to eat" and therefore can be consumed on Passover without special rabbinic certification. After hearing this in class, a student raised his hand and stated that the prior night he had conducted an experiment, leaving an open tube of toothpaste by his dog's bowl. The next morning, the toothpaste was gone, seemingly disproving Soloveitchik's theory. The Rav simply responded, "Your dog is crazy." I know that my dogs probably would also eat the toothpaste, but I follow Soloveitchik's lenient ruling. In rabbinic times, pre Purina, there was no such thing as dog food; table scraps and garbage were all the rage. But in recent years, certified kosher for Passover pet foods like Evangers have hit the market (I wonder which rabbi does the taste test). Soon your dog will be waiting three hours before Milkbones! If you don't want to go that route, keep in mind a few things:

* Table scraps are OK. * Foods that are all-meat need no certification (dogs don't need to keep kosher in that sense).

* Pets are automatically considered Sephardi - in other words, they can consume the kitniyot (legumes, rice, corn, soybeans, etc.) that Ashkenazi Jews don't traditionally eat on Passover. My dogs' regular food is a rice and meat mixture, which is perfectly OK for Passover.

* Take care to buy pet products before Passover begins, when the restrictions on hametz are also more lenient (see my Passover guide for more). The Aish website has some helpful suggestions on how you can make life easier for pets on Pesach. And while you are online, you might want to outfit your dog for the Seder with some Passover pet clothing.

Happy Pesach to all our four legged friends.

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