A Dog Named Israel?
by Rabbi Aron Moss
I was born and raised Catholic but left it as a teenager, and since I married a Jewish man I have adopted many Jewish customs. My husband is from an observant family but no longer identifies with the Jewish community. I hope this gives you some background. Now for my question:
We purchased a new dog last week from our local breeder. I love Jewish biblical names and would like to name the dog "Israel". My husband strongly objects on the grounds that his great-grandfather was a rabbi, and his name was Israel. He has compared this to him wanting to name the dog John Paul after the last pope. I told him that it wouldn't bother me at all to name the dog after the pope, I just like the name Israel.
My point is that my husband is not religious and is estranged from his family. He has had nothing to do with Judaism for more than 30 years now so I can't see why he objects to the name so much.
I'm sure you get these questions all the time.
Do you have any advice for me?
Jewishness is a funny thing. It is very hard for others to understand a Jew's connection to their identity. A Jew may be estranged from his religion for many years, but never does he lose his Jewish spark. The harshest insult is to suggest to an unaffiliated Jew that he is no longer Jewish. It isn't true, and he knows it.
There may be all kinds of reasons why your husband left Judaism, but he will never leave his Jewishness. Below the layers of hurt, anger, resentment or doubt, there is a powerful Jewish heart beating. He may have experienced a bad family life, but his family will always be his family. In a similar way, the Jewish people will always be his people, an extended family. In some ways, our bond with the Jewish people is even deeper than a family bond. It is the essence of our being.
You have good intentions in wanting to give a Jewish name to your dog. But be aware that you are touching the feelings that lie at the deepest core of your husband's soul, a part of him you may never be able to understand. You feel that you are honouring Judaism by naming the dog "Israel"; he feels it is a disgrace to his Jewish heritage. For you, the issue is labeling a dog. For him, it is a far more pressing issue: it is labeling his own soul.
Your husband can't call the dog Israel, because that's his name. There is a tag around your husband's soul, that he will never remove, and it says, "Israel".