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A Jew’s Best Friend?

The Image of the Dog throughout Jewish History

Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman is Assistant Professor in the Program in Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University. An expert in Jewish and Islamic Law, his most recent work has been as section editor for the Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World.

Rakefet Zalashik is Visiting Fellow in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia, as well as Württemberg Guest Chair in Israel and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Heidelberg. Her first book, ‘Ad Nafesh, chronicles the development of the field of psychiatry in Israel.

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.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-401-7
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $65.00
Release Date: February 2013
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-402-4
Paperback Price: £22.50 / $34.95
Release Date: February 2013
Page Extent / Format: 304 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes


Rakefet Zalashik and Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman, “Introduction”

Meir Edrey, “Dog Cult in Persian Period Judea”

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

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

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

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

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

Susan M. Kahn, “Rudolphina Menzel: The First Zionist Dog Trainer”

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

Rakefet Zalashik, “An Israeli Heroine: ‘Azit the Canine Paratrooper”

Iftah Biran, “Adam Resurrected: A Dog’s Journey from the Circus to the Asylum through the Concentration Camp”

Aubrey Glazer, “Taking the circumcised dog by the throat: A Critical Review of Contemporary Rituals for Dogs in America”

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


A Jew's Best Friend? 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, The 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. From the Exodus through the First and Second Temple periods on to the Diaspora and back to modern Israel, this volume guides the reader by blending cultural, natural, literary and intellectual history that entertains as it educates us about a largely unexplored, unexpected and underappreciated chapter of inter-species co-evolution and the remarkable epic of Jewish history.
Glenn Yago, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and The Milken Institute, Los Angeles

On the one hand, traditionally Jews have expressed hostility toward the dog population; this is expressed in a range of classical Jewish sources. However, at the same time there have been ties of mutual affection and nurturing between Jews and dogs. The range of essays in this volume includes such topics as dogs in the biblical, mishnaic and talmudic periods, the dog in the mindset of the Jews of medieval Islam, and dogs in Yiddish proverbs. Original and learned, this collection of studies provides a fascinating insight into a hitherto unexplored dimension of Jewish life.
Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Emeritus Professor of Judaism, The University of Wales

Reviewed in The Forward Newspaper, by Benjamin Ivry:

Reviewed in Princeton Alumni Weekly:

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