The first documented Jewish blessing of the animals and remembrance for pets that have passed on, occurred in 1997, in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.
Today these special blessings are offered three times during the Jewish year; at Rosh HaShanah when we celebrate creation and the birthday of the world, during the Shabbat when the Torah portion, Noach, featuring the flood, the Ark and the animals, is read and in the winter during Tu B’Shevat when Jewish Earth Day takes center stage.
In the Bible, those who care for animals are heroes. Jacob, Moses, and King David were shepherds, responsible care givers for their animals. (Gen. 30, Ex. 31, I Sam. 17).
A traditional story recounts the story of Moses and how he was chosen for his mission to Pharaoh because he was skilled in caring for his animals. Our holy books tell us, “The Holy One, Adonai said to Moses: ‘Since you are merciful to the flock of a human being, you shall be the shepherd of My flock, Israel.'”
Likewise Rebecca was chosen as a wife for Isaac because of her kindness to animals. When Abraham’s ‘s servant asked for water for himself, Rebecca volunteered to water his camels as well. The servant was so impressed with her attention to thirsty animals that he determined that Rebecca would be a loving partner for Isaac. (Gen. 24).
Jewish tradition emphasizes “the love and care of animals,” because it is in the Torah itself where we learn how beasts of burden must rest on Shabbat, how oxen should not be muzzled when threshing in corn fields, and how unlike species should not be yoked together.
In addition in the Shulchan Aruch, the code book of Jewish law, we find that we are prohibited from causing any animal tsa’ar ba’a-lei chayim) which is Hebrew for unnecessary suffering.
So it is entirely appropriate that we Jews offer and accept blessings for our care for our beloved animals. Take time during Tu B’Shevat to call or Zoom a friend or family member who cares lovingly for a pet. Offer them the Caregivers’ Blessing:
Blessing for Caregivers
Blessed are You, Holy Source, Maker of all living creatures.
On the fifth and sixth days of creation, You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land.
You inspired us to call all animals brothers and sisters. Now we ask You to bless those who care for our animals.
Shower Your love on those whose loving hands nurture our dear pets.
Bless these caregivers by the power of Your love and enable them to live fully in the light and warmth of Your presence.
Blessed are you, Adonai, our God who has created all the animals of the world.
Bless the caregivers whose loving hands and hearts connect with the animals of the world, who give them love, attention and care.
Bless each person who has rescued a lonely, abandoned cat or dog. Bless each person who has opened their homes and their hearts to the neediest animals among us.
Shower every pet caregiver with patience, warmth and blessings. May these wonderful men, women and children live with their beloved animals in the light of your love. AMEN