By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
The Gemara in Shabbos teaches us that one is not allowed to expend any effort on Shabbos to feed animals that are not his. The Mishnah Berurah therefore questions the custom some have of feeding the birds on Shabbos Shirah. Many families have opted to fulfill the custom by putting out bird food before Shabbos. The Aruch HaShulchan, however, defends the practice and explains that the real reason we feed the birds is to recall the miracles of Keriyas Yam Suf and the manna. Feeding the birds is just a device to encourage us to contemplate our history. Therefore, since we are feeding the birds for our own sake, it is permitted on Shabbos.
The Gemara offers one exception to the above rule. One is allowed to feed wild dogs on Shabbos. Often their food supply is limited and it is considered an act of compassion to feed them. Interestingly enough, the Magen Avraham even considers it a mitzvah to feed wild dogs. However, the Gemara makes clear that this should not be done on a constant basis, and only a small amount of food should be offered to them. To help dogs deal with scarcity of food resources, Hashem created them with slow digestive systems. A dog’s body can take up to three days to digest food. Apparently, this relieves the dog’s suffering by making it feel fuller longer.
As Pesach is approaching, the following dog-related halachah comes to mind: All chametz must be destroyed or sold except if it’s no longer fit for consumption by a dog. The range of what a dog will consume is pretty wide. For example, a somewhat common complaint that veterinarians hear from dog owners is that their dog has given up on dog food and only dines on the human variety. Of course, dog owners themselves are generally to blame for this phenomenon. They offer their dogs their own delicious food and then they expect their dogs to go back to eating dry tasteless bits.
A veterinarian suggested offering the finicky dog canned cat food, which is moist. The dog may find it to be more palatable than his own dried food. Otherwise, she offered this piece of advice: Set up dinner several nights in a row with nothing but dog food on all the family’s plates, and pretend to eat it. Offer the dog a piece of the dog food every few minutes. Then, when the dog is out of the house—out of “nose range”—have the family sit down to savor something a bit more tasty. Apparently, some dogs don’t fall for this, but it’s worth a try. (Of course, putting dog food on your table raises kashrus issues, as dog food is not kosher. You’ll have to serve on plastic that night.)
The dog that is used to eating gourmet food is obviously not to be used in determining when a food item is still classified as chametz. The dog that Chazal were referring to is a wild dog with a limited food supply. They’ll eat almost anything. Therefore, one should not be too quick to say that a particular food item is not chametz due to its inedibility by a dog.
The Ohr L’Tzion pointed out that the fact that dogs eat almost anything can actually lead to a leniency. Although chametz can be destroyed in many ways, the custom is to burn it. This fulfills the opinion of Rebbe Yehudah, who holds that the only way to fulfill the mitzvah of biur chametz is by burning it. Some people put lighter fluid or a similar accelerant on their chametz before burning it. One could argue that they already destroyed their chametz by rendering it inedible due to the poisonous nature of the substances, and they aren’t fulfilling the custom of burning their chametz, as it was no longer considered chametz when the lighter fluid was poured on it.
However, the Ohr L’Tzion suggests that some dogs will eat the food even with the accelerant on it. Consequently, even after chametz is covered in lighter fluid, there is still an obligation to get rid of it. Hence, burning that chametz still fulfills the custom.
This ruling brings to mind an incident that once occurred. A homemaker found some cake in her house after her boys went off to burn the chametz. She proceeded to pour bleach on it and then threw it in the trash. And then a dog came and ate it!
The Ohr L’Tzion suggests a way to avoid this question entirely—by pouring lighter fluid on only some of the chametz. One will then certainly fulfill the custom of burning chametz with the still-edible food.
Unfortunately, every year some people are injured during biur chametz because they didn’t follow proper fire safety. In our area, fire stations have set up public biur chametz locations, and that is a safe alternative. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and offers a program to help children with ADD increase focus and concentration. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.