August 01, 2005.
Allentown Morning Call, Pennsylvania.
Q: I'm a guide-dog user and saw one of your shows where you featured a dog in training. Rabbi Gellman, I'm very impressed that you've raised guide dogs from The Guide Dog Foundation in Smithtown, N.Y., although I've gotten all my dogs from The Seeing Eye, Morristown, N.J. I'm currently using my fourth guide dog, Emmy, a black lab.
I have a question related to guide dogs that's been bothering me a lot.
I converted to Judaism, feeling strongly that this was the right path for me, but I'm disturbed by my synagogue's views on allowing my guide dog to accompany me up to the bima (the raised area where the Torah is read to the congregation). It's apparently not kosher in our synagogue to allow animals on the bima because ''they are not holy,'' or because, ''other folks might be upset'' if my dog accompanied me.
These seem like flimsy excuses to me. Perhaps I'm all wrong, but I believe God created my dog, so she cannot be unacceptable! I, personally, think she's just as ''holy'' as I am. It hurts me that I can't participate totally as a Jew in this congregation just because they don't want to change to accommodate new circumstances. Or is it really true that I can't have my dog lead me to the bima ever, anywhere? Is this situation true in all Jewish houses of worship?
I've almost stopped going to services because this treatment hurts so badly. My friends can't find any ''rulings'' to support my view that Emmy can be my eyes and lie proudly on the bima while I recite the Torah blessing, or give a sermon!
P., via e-mail.
A: The God Squad is not only on your side, but God is also on your side. We read God's word regarding your situation and urge you to read these words to the morons who run your synagogue (of course, we mean ''morons'' in the most loving sense of the word).
The Book of Leviticus, Chapter 19, verse 14 states: ''You shall not curse the deaf nor place a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God - I am your Lord.'' By preventing Emmy from accompanying you to the bima, the leaders at your synagogue are literally placing a stumbling block in front of you, in direct violation of the word of God. Which means they're the ones who are not holy. Which means you and Emmy can keep them off the bima!
We often encounter churches and synagogues that pervert and distort the word of God, and it's always painful to hear some new example of discrimination in a religious institution. Fortunately, the vast majority of houses of worship in our country offer a safe and welcoming shelter in the storm of life.
Moses was a shepherd, and that's why he was chosen to lead; the people in your synagogue are sheep, and that's why they were not. Marc says that if you're ever in New York, he would be honored to call you and Emmy up to the bima to read from the Torah and be reminded that Leviticus was not just meant for then; it's meant for now and always.
P.S.: If you're interested in raising guide dogs during their first year, when they're too young to be trained, please call your local guide dog foundation.
Send questions only to The God Squad, Telecare, 1200 Glenn Curtiss Blvd., Uniondale, NY 11553; post them on the God Squad Web site: http://www.askthegodsquad.com ; or e-mail them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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