Noah's Support Animals

A task which is too great for one person, must be divided...
— Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Genesis 2:18

If you haven't read Patricia Marx' article "Pets Allowed," and you need a good laugh - and who doesn't? - pick it up. I'll make it even easier for you. Click here.  

Marx is skeptical about people who bring pets everywhere under the rubric of being emotional support animals [ESAs], as distinct from service dogs, which are legally allowed in restaurants, stores and planes. Marx wrote to an online therapist and, for less than two hundred dollars, was awarded a letter that she had a mental health disorder that enabled her to travel with an ESA. With a letter in hand, she then borrowed five animals - a turtle, a snake, an alpaca, a turkey and a pig - and tried to take them to various places to gauge the reaction. For example, she leashed a seven-year old turtle and brought it to the Frick collection, to a high-end shoe store and then to get a pedicure for a bar mitzva. She brought the pig to the Four Seasons for high tea. Guards were confused but the letter looked very official. She wonders: "Why didn't anybody do the sensible thing, and tell me and my turtle to get lost?"

 It's a great question that speaks to the role of animals in our society today and, in many ways, takes us back to the very purpose of animals as they were conceived of in Genesis and later in the story of Noah, this week's Torah reading. In Genesis 1, God tasked humans with ruling over the animals: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth" (1:26). Humans were to be stewards of the garden and the animals in it. They were to control animals, creating a hierarchical relationship that twinned responsibility with dominance. 

 This relationship, however, is complicated because of the retelling of creation in Genesis 2, when God observed that it was not good for man to be alone and created animals to comfort human begins and alleviate their solitude. "I will make a fitting helper for him," God says, and then creates the animal kingdom and brings each animal to Adam to see if any of them will provide solace: "And the Lord God formed out of the earth all the wild beasts and all the birds of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that would be its name" (2:19). This process was terrific for taxonomy but not for dating. When Eve was created from Adam and then brought to him, he made an anatomical observation rather than a romantic one: "This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh..." (2:23). The giraffe was too tall for me. The hippo too wide. But she looks like me. We can make a life together. 

 Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch discusses God's observations on the world God created. God repeatedly felt that the pristine creation of the universe was good and said so repeatedly. But not all in the world was good because the human being God created needed a partner: "...as long as Man stands alone it is altogether not yet good, [sic] the goal of perfection, which the world is to attain through him will never be reached as long as he stands alone."

Animals were the first solution to human loneliness. In other words, God created emotional support animals. It's not clear if they were meant to be taken into restaurants, but they were there for a profound rather than a practical reason. And although Adam was given an alternative help-mate, animals return to the Genesis narrative in Noah. When humans disappointed God, God turned to the animal kingdom and replenished it. It was noisy in the ark and probably did not smell great, but the animals did not talk back to Noah. They kept him and his family company in days of rain and moral darkness, and it was the animals who first populated the world anew. They did not serve as man's ultimate company, but they still provided practical assistance and emotional support.

Tell that to Patricia Marx.

Shabbat Shalom