I am very sorry for your loss. I once had a glimpse into how painful this must be for you when I lost my beloved dog Cookie, who was hit by a car, when I was a young boy. I vividly remember how intensely I cried and mourned her loss for weeks, walking around and collecting whatever hairs I could find. She was, at the time, the center of my life. I’m sure you are experiencing the same – and perhaps even more – pain. Pets can become part of our hearts.
Kaddish, however, is not the appropriate response to the loss of a pet, no matter how beloved the pet was and how mournful its loss. This is based upon what kaddish means as a mourner’s prayer. Let us take a new look at Kaddish.
If one takes a cursory glance at the words of kaddish, looking for the mention of the deceased and the prayer for their soul, they will be shocked to find no mention whatsoever of mourning, death or anyone’s soul! How, then, is kaddish meant to be a “mourner’s prayer”?!
The answer goes to the core of what it means to be a Jew. The primary responsibility of a Jew in this world is to effect a “Kiddush HaShem,” a sanctification of the Name of G-d. The way a Jew relates to another human being, whether in synagogue or a business setting, in public, or the privacy of one’s home, every act a Jew performs should bring nachas to the Almighty. Anyone, Jew or gentile, who observes the actions of a Jew should be inspired to become greater and emulate the respectful, caring and truthful conduct of that Jew.
Although we often fall short of that expectation and at times our conduct is less than inspirational, overall the life of a Jew who fulfills mitzvos and the will of G-d is living a life of Kiddush HaShem.
The loss of a Jew, any Jew, is empirically a net loss of Kiddush HaShem in the world. Even if their life was not so holy, their very existence as part of the Jewish people made the Jewish people stronger; the sum total of the Jewish people is a Kiddush HaShem. As a member of Klal Yisrael, the Jewish Nation, that person’s life was that of Kiddush HaShem; their demise minimized somewhat the level of Kiddush HaShem in the world.
Kaddish is related to the word Kiddush. What kaddish is all about – Yisgadal veyiskadash Shmeh Rabbah – is a proclamation of the greatness of the Name of G-d and an intense prayer that G-d should reveal His dominion over the world and to extend his reign into our everyday lives.
Kaddish is the ultimate statement of Kiddush HaShem. When a Jew leaves the world and effects a net loss in Kiddush HaShem, those the person left behind recite the most powerful statement we have for making a Kiddush HaShem.
Hence, Kaddish is not a “prayer of mourning” per say. It is rather a prayer recited by those left behind to make up for the loss of Kiddush HaShem with the loss of a Jew.
To do so also brings untold bliss to the soul of the deceased, as he or she continues to affect Kiddush HaShem in the world through those they left behind.
All of this would, of course, not apply to a pet. As much as they were beloved, they were not endowed with an eternal soul to be elevated and their existence did not affect a Kiddush HaShem, rendering the recitation of kaddish for them inappropriate.
I would, however, recommend that you attend services and pray along with others without reciting kaddish; it will be good for your own soul and will give meaning to the loss of your cat as a positive outcome will have been affected as the result of her loss.
I also recommend you contact the Jewish Family Service and see in what way you can volunteer your time to help others. That will give you the kind of meaningful, positive connection you understandably crave and can attain in a very deep, meaningful way by bringing a bit more light and happiness into the lives of others.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried