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Praying in the presence of pets


Rabbi David Sperling

Iyyar 11, 5778
After last Shabbat I was at a neighbor’s house making havdalah. His wife was there and picked up their pet dog, holding it at the table where we were about to pray. I discreetly motioned for her to put the dog away and she seemed to be offended. What are the guidelines for davening in front of pets? Should I have ignored it and simply continued with havdalah? Todah
Shalom, Thank you for your question. One is allowed to pray in the presence of animals, as long as they are clean from excrement and bad smells. This being so, one can pray in a room where a house pet, such as a dog or cat are. (In fact, although there are obvious differences, prayers were said in the holy Temple over the animals before they were slaughtered and offered up on the alter). As to holding the pet during prayers, this is slightly more problematic. There is a minority opinion that one needs to wash their hands after touching an animal – especially an unkosher animal – before praying. Based on this it would be forbidden to hold the animal during a blessing or prayer. However, the majority view is that one is not obligated to wash their hands after touching even unkosher animals, as long as their hands did not get dirty. This being so, holding a pet dog would not require hand washing, and would be allowed whilst saying holy words. There is another issue which is whether holding the animal could be a distraction while saying prayers. Certainly it is forbidden to hold a pet during the Amidah. However, here, where the person in question was not the one saying the Havdallah, but rather fulfilling her obligation through listening, it is possible that her holding the animal was not a distraction for her. If though she were to be distracted by the animal to such an extent that she was not concentrating on the Havdal blessings, this would be an issue for her fulfillment of Havdalah – but it would not effect your having fulfilled your obligation. All in all – it would seem that it would be more appropriate behavior for those partaking in Havdalah not to hold animals in their hands, and rather turn their whole attention to the blessings and prayers being said. On the other hand, as a guest in your neighbor's house, it would seem that as holding the animal is not necessarily going to invalidate you hostess's Havdalah, and as certainly not your Havdalah, it is good manners to ignore the animal, and not mention it. Perhaps now, after the fact, you might want to apologize if you offended. Blessings.
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