Is it permitted for a Jew to own a dog? I heard that there is a problem because it may scare pregnant women who may miscarry as a result.
The source for this halacha is a Mishna (Bava Kama 79B) which writes: “One may not raise a dog unless it is tied with a chain.” There is another Gemara (Bava Kama 15B) that derives from a pasuk that one may not keep a dangerous dog. The Gemara writes that the source for this prohibition is the pasuk, “You may not cause blood to be spilled within your home.”
There is a dispute among the major Rishonim concerning the scope of the general prohibition against owning a dog. The Sefer Yerei’m (siman 210) connects these two Gemaras and limits the general prohibition to dogs that may physically harm people. The Shulchan Aruch (409, 3) when he records the halacha that one may not raise a dog, writes that it is prohibited to raise a “bad dog.” However, in contrast to the Yerei’m, he does not mention any connection with the above-cited verse. Moreover, he records the halacha in a siman which does not deal with other halachas that are derived from the prohibition to keep dangerous objects in one’s home and records these halachas in a different siman (427). This would indicate that even though he also limits the prohibition to dangerous dogs he may not mean the same type of dog that the Yeraim prohibits but perhaps he widens the range of the prohibition.
This is the explicit approach of the Maharshal. While he agrees that the prohibition is confined to dangerous dogs, he explains that the definition of a dangerous dog is one that barks whenever it sees a stranger since its bark is dangerous to a pregnant woman as she may miscarry.
Finally, the Rambam (Nizkei Momon 5, 9) writes that it is prohibited to raise a dog and makes no mention of the dog’s being dangerous, implying that the prohibition includes all dogs.
The Mishna and Gemara do not specifically write the reason for the prohibition. However, the Gemara (Bava Kama 83A) records an instance where a woman miscarried because a dog barked, indicating that the prohibition is related to the fact that the bark of a dog may cause woman to miscarry. Moreover, Rashi in his commentary to the Mishna (79B) writes that the reason for the prohibition is that dogs “bite, bark and cause women to miscarry because of fear.” The Torah Temimo proves from the story in the Gemara that one can’t say that the prohibition is confined to dangerous dogs because in the case mentioned in the Gemara the four teeth that a dog uses to bite were removed, rendering it harmless. The Gemara says that the reason the woman miscarried was because she was unaware that the teeth were removed. Nevertheless, the Gemara indicates that its owner violated the prohibition mentioned in the Mishna.
The Gemara (80A) writes that one is allowed to raise a special type of dog. Rashi says it refers either to a small dog or a big dog used by hunters. The reason for both is that these dogs are known not to be dangerous. The Maharshal rules that this is the halacha since the fact that these dogs are harmless is apparent. Thus, we need not fear that a woman will miscarry when she hears these dogs bark. The Ya’avetz (1, 17) disagrees about the halacha and says that only one opinion in the Gemara maintains this leniency. He says that women fear these dogs as well and therefore one may not own them either.
The Mishna makes an important exception to the prohibition by saying that if the dog is tied up then there is no prohibition. The Sema (409, 5) explains that both of the reasons Rashi mentioned that one may not own a dog – that they bite and bark – don’t apply. One needn’t fear their bite because they are tied up and women won’t fear their bark because they can see that the dog is tied up.
The Gemara adds that in a border town it is permitted to allow the dogs to roam around at night because the people need the dogs for protection. The Maharshal cites a Shiltei Geborim who permits Jews who live in the proximity of unfriendly gentiles to allow their dogs to rove about unfettered even during the day. However, the Maharshal vehemently disagrees and says that the halacha never permitted unfettered dogs during the day.
He explains as well that what is called night is the time when people don’t go out and that is why dogs could roam about at night in border towns since people weren’t outside. This could affect the halacha since nowadays with electricity people do go out at night. In fact, the Shulchan Aruch Harav (Shemiras Guf Venefesh 3) records the halacha that one must keep his dogs restrained until the time people generally go to bed at night.
Today, dogs are not allowed to roam about freely at night and certainly not during the day. Therefore, strictly speaking, in terms of the halacha it is permitted to own a dog.
However, there are several additional points to consider. The Pischei Choshen (Nezikin 5 note 98) writes that if one has neighbors he may only keep a dog if its bark does not disturb the neighbors.
The Chelkas Yaakov (Orach Chaim 34) writes that even if it does not violate this takono it is not proper for a religious Jew to own a dog. He says that is behavior befitting those who want to show off and walk around in public with their dog. Furthermore, in many religious neighborhoods in Israel many people are afraid of dogs even if they are held with a leash. Even though it still may not violate the strict letter of the law nevertheless, it would seem to violate the spirit of the law. This is similar to the previously cited Ya’avetz concerning small dogs.
In the case of a seeing-eye dog there is an interesting controversy. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Orach Chaim 45) permits a blind person to take the dog with him to shul, if the shul is in Chutz Lo’oretz. If it is in Eretz Yisroel he is not certain that it is permitted. There are others including the above cited Chelkas Yaakov who do not permit taking a dog into shul. However, no one seems to prohibit owning such a dog.