“There is no creature poorer than a dog, and no creature richer than a pig.”
We lost Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz this week who made the Talmud accessible to secular people like me. We are also near the end of the Shabbat Tractate which has tracked the trajectory of the pandemic. Sometimes the Rabbis seem so accessible as a result of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s lifelong work that I forget they are not speaking directly to each other and lived hundreds of years apart. They enter into what seems like a direct dialogue in the pages of the Talmud, but many lived at different times and held the sensibilities of their time and place. There is no one voice in the Talmud and a lot of contradictions.
The last pages of the last chapter of the Talmud demonstrate in some ways the contrary view of the Rabbis. There is a respect for animals which has been repeated through various passages requiring that we feed our animals before ourselves. There is through the passages a compassion and sense of duty to care for animals that cannot take care of themselves. Today’s reading to some extent demonstrates these values through the discussions on what are permissible actions for feeding animals on Shabbat. But it also sadly backtracks on the value of compassion for animals that I gleaned through earlier readings in its description of the treatment of dogs.
One can untie grains and spread them before an animal but cannot crush hay on Shabbat. Carobs can be crushed for small animals that might need help digesting the pods, but not for large animals who can presumably swallow them whole without assistance. One should prepare an animal’s food before Shabbat because there is a prohibition against making food edible. However, if the food is edible in its present state, it can be further prepared to feed an animal (as long as one does not exert himself in the preparation.)
One may feed a dog on Shabbat, but not a pig because one is responsible for feeding the dog, while there is no responsibility to feed a pig, since “no Jew raises pigs.” (See why I proposed that Babe might have been kosher in a previous post: https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me/shabbos/shabbos-137. ) The overriding principle, putting the issue of pigs aside, is that one is allowed to do what it takes to properly feed a dependent animal.
Rav Hamnuna tells us that it is “proper conduct” to “throw a piece of meat before a dog” because even the “Holy One”himself is concerned with the dog’s sustenance. But here is where the differing sensibilities among the Rabbis troubled me: Rav Mari tells us that we should throw food to a dog in a portion that measures the equivalent in size of his ear, but then to “strike it immediately thereafter with a staff so that the dog will not grow attached to the one who fed it.” We are further told that in the city, one should not feed a dog anything at all, “because the dog will be drawn to follow him and remain with him.”
Rav Pappa said: “There is no creature poorer than a dog, and no creature richer than a pig, as pigs will eat anything, and people provide them with plentiful amounts of food.” I am left with the image of a poor dog who is drawn to a human who feeds him a raw slab of meat each day in a field; but before he can finish his meal is struck cruelly with a rod. The poor creature slinks away after satiating himself with just enough meat to stay alive and hides behind a shed until the following day when this mysterious creature with meat and a hard rod throws him a little meal. But he fares better than his canine cousins in the city who circle tall two-legged creatures as they rush about their business and get nothing in return for their hungry stares.
Every dog deserves a warm place to sleep, good quality food, a brushing now and then, and an occasional pet on the head. An assortment of toys, a nice collar with matching lead, extra treats, a warm coat to wear in the winter, kisses on his soft ears and trips to the Veterinarian for annual check-ups are how we show we care for not just the sustenance, but also the welfare of our animals. For we find our humanity in these creatures that rely upon us so completely.