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Things My Dog Has Taught Me: About being a better human by Jonathan Wittenberg

24 November 2017

Pat Ashworth, on the same page as a dog-loving rabbi

“He’d never been near a Christmas tree before. The silence . . . was excruciating”: one of Barbara Jackson’s illustrations from tTings My Dog Has Taught Me

“He’d never been near a Christmas tree before. The silence . . . was excruciating”: one of Barbara Jackson’s illustrations fro...


BEING without a dog myself for the first time in 18 years, I am more than moist-eyed at the end of Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg’s tender and insightful tribute to his own dogs, Safi and Mitzpah, and all the other dogs he has encountered in his life and ministry.

He is wholly in agreement with the man who said, “If there aren’t any dogs in heaven, I’m not going.” They embody the age-old Jewish toast, Lechayim — “To life!” — he says, and their sense of companionship transcends the solely human. It is a fellowship “shared by the horses in their dark fields, too, their warm breath rising like thin mist. It draws me close to whatever the source may be of both Mitzpah’s life and mine, and of everything that exists.”

Dogs are intuitive, forgiving, unconditionally loving, understanding “the invisible art of enabling the tattered skin to grow back over the bleak and bleeding inner places of the soul” — and fun, of course. And occasionally embarrassing.

In Safi’s defence, he writes, in a Jewish household where he hadn’t encountered a Christmas tree indoors: “The tell-tale evidence of his misdemeanour was dripping from the ribbons and wrapping paper of an entire pile of presents. The silence while I wiped them down with an undersized tissue was excruciating.”

Dogs are not good at words: when they come and put their head next to yours while you are weeping, they are offering a gift “for transforming silence into love”. Wittenberg’s dogs embrace the rabbinical lifestyle: trained to offer a paw at the Friday-night blessing of the loaves, Shabbat Shalom, and lying on the study floor during a prayer meeting, “eyes closed, for all the world immersed in the liturgy of praises to God who made heaven and earth. . .”

A wise and beautiful book, heartily recommended for the dog-lovers in your life.


Things My Dog Has Taught Me: About being a better human
Jonathan Wittenberg
Hodder £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30

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