In recognition of the power of pets to inspire love and care among people, Temple Tiferet Shalom of the North Shore will hold a Blessing of the Pets during a virtual Shabbat service on Oct. 29.
Attendees can participate on Zoom or Streamspot, with their pets present on live video or in a photo or drawing. People are encouraged to write blessings to recite and share. The event will start at 7:30 p.m., led by Rabbi David Kudan and prayer leader Gary Gillette.
“A lot of religious communities have something like this as an annual event,” said Kudan. “It’s not as widespread in the Jewish world. I know congregations that have done it.”
Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly is also having a pet service on Oct. 29. According to the temple website, the event will be in-person and will take place from 9 to 9:30 a.m., with pet treat donations requested to aid a local shelter. Attendees are encouraged to bring their pets.
Kudan said that a blessing of the pets incorporates “a lot of Jewish values,” including “sensitivity to animals, caring for them” and not allowing them to suffer needlessly.”
“In many parts of Jewish tradition, many places are … required to alleviate the suffering of animals,” he explained, adding, “there are certain halacha on keeping pets – dogs, in particular.”
Within Jewish tradition, Kudan said, “I think there’s a deeper appreciation of animals as part of our world.”
He cites such examples as the Nishmat Kol Chai prayer that recognizes God as the “creator of all creatures,” and the morning blessing that “praises God for making the rooster, who knows the difference between day and night.”
There are also Jewish fables involving animals, including one in which King David is saved by a spider. On the run from enemy soldiers, David hides in a cave, and a spider spins a web across the entrance. Because of the spiderweb, the soldiers assume the cave is empty and keep searching elsewhere.
“We can learn many lessons, certainly, from animals,” Kudan said.
A summer trip to Ireland got him thinking about the subject. A stray walrus nicknamed Wally was appearing across Europe, including in the waters off an Irish village the rabbi was visiting. Then he read an account of news closer to home, on Cape Cod, where a lobster diver named Michael Packard was reportedly swallowed by a whale and spit out.
The rabbi mentioned both Wally and Packard in a Rosh Hashanah sermon that also mentioned animals from the Bible. There was another whale narrative, this one of the biblical Jonah, which is traditionally read on Yom Kippur. There was also the dove in the story of Noah’s ark, and the talking donkey of the prophet Balaam.
Other animals mentioned in the sermon included ones that people encounter in their everyday lives, from outdoor dwellers such as deer and wild turkeys to household pets including dogs, cats, birds and fish.“Many people have pets they feel close to and care for,” Kudan told the Journal.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored this, with pets helping calm the nerves of people confined to their homes in an uncertain time. The Misiura family, who are congregants at Tiferet Shalom, appreciates their Chiweenie Bandit and poodle Zoe.
“During the pandemic, my dogs have been right beside me all the time,” said Bella Misiura, a high school sophomore who is the daughter of temple president Bryna Misiura. “It really helped to have soft, furry dogs to cheer me up when we were in school remotely and couldn’t be with our friends.”
“Pets are in some ways better than humans,” said Rebecca Misiura, a high school first-year who is Bella’s sister. “They show unconditional happiness and love. They make difficult times better.”
For the past few months, Kudan has been taking care of Pixel and Tezca, a pair of rescue dogs adopted by the rabbi’s son and his partner, who are both currently living in New Zealand. Tezca suffered a broken hip when he was adopted in Mexico. Kudan’s son’s partner found a way to help the injured dog.
“People care so much about their pets,” said Kudan, We’ve spent a lot of time with them during the pandemic. They sort of pick up on our distress. As we go back [in person] to work, school … we acknowledge how pets got us through a difficult time.”