A Jew’s Best Friend? The Image of the Dog throughout Jewish History

Publication Year



The dog has captured the Jewish imagination from antiquity to the contemporary period, with the image of the dog often used to characterize and demean Jewish populations in medieval Christendom. In the interwar period, dogs were still considered goyishe nakhes (‘a gentile pleasure’) and virtually unheard of in the Jewish homes of the shtetl. Yet, Azit the Paratrooping Dog of modern Israeli cinema, one of many examples of dogs as heroes of the Zionist narrative, demonstrates that the dog has captured the contemporary Jewish imagination.

A Jew’s Best Friend? The Image of the Dog throughout Jewish History discusses specific cultural manifestations of the relationship between dogs and Jews, from ancient times to the present. Covering a geographical range extending from the Middle East through Europe and to North America, the contributors – all of whom are senior university scholars specializing in various disciplines – provide a unique cross-cultural, trans-national, diachronic perspective. An important theme is the constant tension between domination/control and partnership which underpins the relationship of humans to animals, as well as the connection between Jewish societies and their broader host cultures.

A public increasingly interested in cultural history in general and Jewish history in particular will benefit from the diverse perspectives provided herein. One need look no further than the popular media surrounding President Obama’s choice of a canine companion: dog-owners and dog-lovers, and all those involved at university level with cultural studies, can deepen their understanding of the human–canine relationship by reading this volume.



“Introduction,” Rakefet J. Zalashik and Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman

“Dog Cult in Persian Period Judea,” Meir Edrey

“From Unclean Species to Man's Best Friend: Dogs in the Biblical, Mishnah, and Talmud Periods,” Sophia Menache

“Good Dog-Bad Dog: Jews and Their Dogs in Ancient Jewish Society,” Joshua Schwartz

“Uncultured, Uncontrolled, and Untrustworthy—Yet Protective and Productive! The Dog in the Mindset of the Jews of Medieval Islam,” Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman

“The Bread, the Children, and the Dogs,” Kenneth Stow

“‘If a Jew Has a Dog ...’: Dogs in Yiddish Proverbs,” Robert A. Rothstein

“A Dog without a People for People without a Dog: Rudolphina Menzel and Canines in Canaan,” Susan M Kahn

Only Yesterday: A Hebrew Dog and the Colonial Dynamics in Pre-Mandate Palestine,” Uri S. Cohen

“An Israeli Heroine?: ‘Azit the Canine Paratrooper,” Rakefet J. Zalashlk

Adam Resurrected: A ‘Dog’s’ Journey from the Circus to Asylum,” Iftah Biron

Taking the Circumcised Dog by the Throat: A Critical Review of Contemporary Rituals for Dogs in America,” Aubrey L. Glazer

“Teaching the Jews and the Dog: A Pedagogical Essay,” Katharine Baker and Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman

The Contributors



“Brilliantly documents the way Jews have imagined dogs and in so doing imagined what it means to be a human, a Jew, and an Israeli. A substantial contribution to both Jewish studies and animal studies, the text will be valuable both to research scholars and as an engaging resource for teaching undergraduates about the diverse experience of Jews throughout history.”  —Aaron Gross, assistant professor of theology and religious studies, University of San Diego

“This unique, fascinating, and entertaining book is a must read. Evolutionary biologists, archaeologists, and paleontologists have long argued that our four-legged friends played a key role in human survival. Dogs developed a unique genius for sensing human intentions as the interplay between handler and hound shaped canine behavior and our own. Now Ackerman-Lieberman and Zalashik offer research that provides the historical detail, scholarly stamina, textual analysis, and captivating stories that detail the sometimes ambivalent, but always important role of canines in Jewish history and cultural heritage.”  —Glenn Yago, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Milken Institute, Los Angeles

“Original and learned, this collection of studies provides a fascinating insight into a hitherto unexplored dimension of Jewish life.”  —Dan Cohn-Sherbok, University of Wales

Sussex Academic Press
Brighton and Portland, OR
9781845194017, 9781845194024