The domestication of dogs is as old as…well, actually, there are varying scientific opinions. The remains of what seem to be domesticated dogs appear among the fossilized remains of the earliest hunter/gatherers. Interestingly enough, this follows the view of Rav, who, in Genesis Rabbah 22:12, suggests that the “mark” that God placed on Cain the son of Adam (after he slew his brother Abel and was exiled from the Garden of Eden) was actually a dog that traveled with him and protected him.

In the era of the Talmud, dogs were frequently kept as guard dogs. The sages ruled (Baba Kamma 83b) that “One should not keep a dog unless it is kept on a chain. Those who live in a city that is near the border may keep a dog if it is restrained on a chain during the day, but the dog may be let loose at night.”

However, it seems apparent that, in those times, stray, ownerless dogs were much more the norm than actual household pets. Rabbi Yonah, Talmud Shabbat 155b, noted that since God knows that a dog’s food is meager, He ordained that a dog’s food remain in its stomach for three days. The implication being that dogs were known to be scavengers. Yet the Jews were commanded that the meat of an animal that died in the field (rendering it non-kosher) should be fed to the dogs (Exodus 22:30).

According to the Mechilta as quoted by Rashi, giving the meat to the dogs is a way of rewarding the descendants of the dogs of Egypt, who maintained absolute silence during the plague of the firstborn in Egypt, fulfilling Moses prediction (Exodus 11:6-7).

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