Reprinted with permission from the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society
Rabbinic opinion is divided concerning the permissibility of a blind individual's bringing a guide dog into a synagogue. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim I, 45) offers two arguments to permit this action. First, he cites the Yerushalmi:
Rav Yehoshua Ben Levi states that synagogues and study halls are built to be used by Talmud scholars [to eat and drink there] ... Rav Imi instructed the teachers of youngsters [who were present in the synagogue during the course of the day] to permit even a marginal scholar to enter the synagogue with his donkey and his tools [or clothes].1
Accordingly, the Yerushalmi regards permitting a donkey to enter a synagogue or study hall to be no more disrespectful to the sanctity of these places than eating or drinking in them. Hence, argues Rav Moshe, just as the practice has developed to permit eating and drinking in the synagogue, at the very least in case of urgent need,2 so too an animal should be permitted to enter the synagogue in case of urgent need. Even though these actions constitute disrespect for the synagogue, they are permitted since synagogues outside of Israel are built on the condition that their sanctity does not forbid their use for mundane purposes in case of urgent need. Enabling a blind person to attend the synagogue most certainly constitutes urgent need, insists Rav Moshe, and accordingly a guide dog may be brought by its blind master into the synagogue.
Rav Moshe also suggests (although he expresses some hesitation concerning this line of reasoning) that bringing an animal into the synagogue for mundane purposes (such as protecting the animal from theft) undoubtedly constitutes an expression of dishonor to the sanctity of the synagogue. However, when an animal is brought into the synagogue to enable a blind person to pray with the community, no disrespect is shown towards the holiness of the synagogue.3
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein has cited Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik as permitting a blind man to bring a guide dog into a synagogue,4 albeit utilizing a different approach than that of Rav Moshe. Rav Soloveitchik points out the Gemara's standard for what constitute permissible behavior in the synagogue is what one would permit to be done in his home (Berachot 63a). The Talmud states that just as one would not allow a stranger to use his house as a shortcut, so too one is forbidden to use the synagogue as a shortcut. However, just as one would allow a stranger to enter his home and not require him to remove his shoes, so too one is not required to remove his shoes when he enters a synagogue. Similarly, argues Rav Soloveitchik, just as one would certainly permit a blind person to enter his home with his seeing-eye dog, so too a blind person is permitted to enter the synagogue with his guide dog.5
However, a number of authorities rule that a blind person is forbidden to bring a guide dog into the synagogue. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher (Torah Sheleima XV, p 147) points out that the Torah (Devarim 23:19) forbids one to offer sacrifice that was purchased with money acquired from the sale of a dog. Accordingly, Rav Kasher asserts, it is certainly forbidden to bring a dog into the Temple area. Rav Kasher argues that since many early authorities consider the sanctity of the synagogue to be of biblical origin and similar to the sanctity of the Temple, then just as one is forbidden to bring a dog into the Temple, so too one is forbidden to bring a dog into the synagogue.
Rav Kasher's argument is not persuasive. The fact that an activity is forbidden in the Temple does not at all imply that it is forbidden in the synagogue.6 The laws regarding the sanctity of the Temple differ from those regarding the sanctity of the synagogue. Many activities are forbidden in the Temple and yet are permissible in the synagogue, such as wearing shoes (see Berachot 62b). Furthermore, Rav Kasher fails to prove that one is forbidden to bring a guide dog into the Temple.
Two other prominent rabbis argue that a guide dog may not be brought into the synagogue. Rav Yaakov Breisch (Chelkat Yaakov 3:87) and Rabbi Solomon Braun (Shearim Metzuyanim Behalacha 13:2) cite Chatam Sofer's assertion (Orach Chaim 31) that if non-Jews forbid a particular activity in their place of worship than if Jews were to permit that activity it would constitute a desecration of God's name. Hence, they argue, since non-Jews do not permit animals in their houses of worship, it would be a desecration of God's name to permit a guide dog in the synagogue. Regardless of the merits of this argument,7 it appears to be factually incorrect. In fact, the various Christian denominations in this country do not have a policy forbidding a blind person to enter their houses of worship with a guide dog.8
Rav Breisch's other criticisms of Rav Moshe's responsum include concern that a guide dog will disrupt prayer services. However, those familiar with seeing-eye dogs report that these animals are well-trained and are very unlikely to cause a disruption. Rav Breisch also writes that he cannot imagine why there is no alternate means of enabling a blind person to attend the synagogue. The fact is, however, that there is a training period in which the dog and the blind individual must be together at all times.
Many Halachic authorities essentially permit ownership of harmless pets. A pet owner is confronted with many Halachic problems, but with appropriate care and attention one can overcome these problems with relative ease. Next week, God willing and Bli Neder, we will discuss the interesting notion of making a Kinyan over the Internet.
1. See Korban Haeida and Pnai Moshe ad. loc.
2. For a discussion and summary of this issue see Biur Halacha 151:11 s.v. Aval and Rav Joseph Stern, "The Contemporary Synagogue," Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society X, pp. 49‑52.
3. According to this approach, one would be permitted to bring guide dog even into synagogues in Israel (which are not built with the stipulation to permit mundane activities to take place within them). However, Rav Moshe expresses reservations regarding this line of reasoning and stops short of asserting that his lenient ruling also applies to Israeli synagogues. However, according to Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik's approach to this issue (which will be discussed shortly), a blind person may bring a guide dog into a synagogue even in Israel.
4. Rav Lichtenstein stated this in a lecture at Yeshivat Har Etzion. However, Rav Hershel Schachter (Beit Yitzchak 31:4) relates that Rav Soloveitchik stated that it is forbidden to bring a guide dog into a synagogue. Apparently, Rav Soloveitchik maintained conflicting views regarding this matter at various times.
5. Similarly, Rav Herschel Schachter cites ("Beinyanei Beit Hakenesset Ukedushato" Ohr Hamizrach Tishrei 5746 pp. 54‑55 and Eretz Hatzvi p. 89) Rav Soloveitchik's opinion that one is forbidden to wear galoshes or winter boots into the sanctuary of the synagogue since one removes these articles before entering a home. Similarly, Rav Soloveitchik criticized those who pace to and fro in the synagogue as one would not do so if he were a guest at someone's home (Beit Yitzchak 31:3).
6. Despite the fact that the sanctity of the synagogue is similar to that of the Temple, the intensity of their respective levels of sanctity differs. Rambam expresses this distinction by stating (Hilchot Tefila 11:5) that a synagogue must be treated with respect (,"&$) as opposed to the Temple (Hilchot Bait Habechira 7:1) towards which we must maintain an attitude of awe (*9!%). Rav Soloveitchik explains that the distinction derives from the fact that the Temple is God's home in which we are visitors, in contradistinction to the synagogue which is our home in which God (so to speak) is a visitor (see Shiurim Lezecher Aba Mari Zal, pp. 63‑65). Halachic authorities differ to what extent various laws regarding the synagogue should be extrapolated from the laws of the Temple. See Haelef Lecha Shlomo Orach Chaim 76, Binyan Tzion 9, Meishiv Davar II,14, and Rav Herschel Schachter, Eretz Hatzvi chapter 12.
7. Rav Breish criticizes Rav Moshe in a similar manner regarding the latter's ruling permitting artificial insemination (Chelkat Yaakov 3:45). Rav Moshe responds to this criticism (Chelkat Yaakov 3:48 and also published in the addendum to his commentary to Masechet Ketubot) by limiting the principle cited by Rav Breisch. For a summary of this debate see Rav Alfred S Cohen, "Artificial Insemination," Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society XIII, pp. 51‑54.
8. Communications from the National Council of Churches, The Chancery of the Roman Catholic Diocese of New York, and the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind.