Rabbi Peter Rubinstein, senior spiritual leader of Manhattan’s Central Synagogue, has blessed uncounted congregants during his decades as a pulpit rabbi.
One recent afternoon he had the chance — for the first time — to bless some dogs and cats. And other animals.
Rabbi Rubinstein lent an interfaith aspect to the annual Blessing of the Animals at Christ Church on the East Side, sponsored by the ASPCA, Live Oak Bank and newspaper columnist/animal lover Cindy Adams.
Invited by the church’s Rev. Steven Bauman, the rabbi stood on the altar as lines of people with pets in hand or on leashes approached.
“I spoke to the animal so that the owner could hear of my wish that the goodness and love the pet embodies and represents for the owner becomes life lessons for the people who love the animal,” Rabbi Rubinstein says. “I also expressed a wish for health and long life for everyone in the family,” adding a traditional Hebrew blessing for ill members of the family.
“We have always been especially cognizant of animals from the time of Noah, and guidelines in our tradition demand that our concern for the well-being of animals transcends personal feelings about the animal’s owner,” says Rabbi Rubinstein, who was recently named the third most influential rabbi in the United States by Newsweek and The Daily Beast.
The Brooklyn Youth Choir performed at the event, and the ASPCA collected toys for homeless pets.
His participation “suggests that rabbis and synagogues are increasingly involved in events like this,” he says. “It was a very sweet occasion in which some people, some of whom had no other family, talked about their love of their pets.”
“The annual Blessing of the Animals is an event that both the two-legged and four-legged members of the family can enjoy together,” says ASPCA President Ed Sayres. “This is a special occasion for animal lovers to focus on the important role that pets play in our lives and to celebrate their being during the holiday season.”
The practice of formal blessing of animals, at first a Catholic and Episcopalian rite, has spread to the Jewish community in recent years, especially around the Shabbat when the Torah portion of Noah, rescuer of the world’s flood-threatened animals, is read in synagogue. Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park, Pa., is the first known synagogue to do this, in 1996. Today about two dozen shuls or other groups in 10 states have their own Blessing of the Animals programs.