Halacha Date: 29 Cheshvan 5777 November 30 2016
Question: May a blind man bring his seeing-eye dog into a synagogue?
Answer: The Gemara (Megillah 28a) states: “Our Sages taught: One may not engage in frivolity in synagogues, neither may one eat or drink or drink in them or use them for one’s own purposes.” The Rishonim explain that one must behave with reverence in the synagogue similar to the reverence that must be displayed in the Bet Hamikdash. Some say transgressing this law is a Torah prohibition.
Regarding bringing a dog into the synagogue, we must analyze whether or not this constitutes a transgression of behaving with reverence in the synagogue. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l has not discussed this matter in any of his works but we will nevertheless discuss this matter based on what appears in the works of the Poskim.
Clearly, the sanctity of the Temple Mount and front courtyard of the Bet Hamikdash is more than that of our synagogues. Thus, if we find a proof that animals were brought onto the Temple Mount, we will be able to derive that it is permissible to bring them into synagogues as well. Indeed, the entire Jewish nation would ascend the Temple Mount with their animals in order to offer them as sacrifices upon the Altar. If so, it seems that there is not prohibition to bring animals into the Bet Hamikdash and there is certainly no prohibition to bring them into a synagogue. This is certainly true since this is being done for the purpose of prayer in order for the blind man to come to the synagogue and pray. The Mishnah (Shekalim, Chapter 7) explains that people would bring animals onto the Temple Mount in order to sell them to other Jews during the tri-annual pilgrimage to the Bet Hamikdash. This proves that there was no prohibition to bring animals into the boundaries of the Bet Hamikdash and this applies to synagogues as well.
Some wish to rule stringently on this matter by claiming that a dog is a lowlier animal than other animals which can be brought into the synagogue. Nevertheless, since we find no specific prohibition to bring a dog into the synagogue mentioned in the works of the Poskim, it seems that bringing a dog in does not cause any more transgression of the laws of reverence in the synagogue than any other animal. We have searched the words of the Poskim who discuss this issue and we have not found anyone who makes a clear distinction between bringing dogs or any other animal into the synagogue. Indeed, Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l writes in his Responsa Igrot Moshe (Orach Chaim, Chapter 45) that in a case of need and when there is no other option, a blind man may enter the synagogue with his seeing-eye dog. He proves this based on a passage in the Talmud Yerushalmi. Although there is room to rebuff the Igrot Moshe’s proof, we still find that it is permissible to bring animals onto the Temple Mount and this certainly applies to a synagogue and there is no explicit distinction between dogs and other animals recorded in the Poskim. This is certainly true when there is no other alternative. Thus, if the dog is quiet and well-behaved in the synagogue and the congregants are not frightened by its presence, there is no reason to prevent a blind man from coming to the synagogue and bringing his seeing-eye dog along with him.
The great Rishon Le’Zion, Hagaon Harav Yitzchak Yosef Shlit”a, rules likewise in his Yalkut Yosef (Hilchot Bet Ha’Kenesset) and writes that it is preferable to leave the dog outside but if there is no other choice, it is permissible to bring the dog into the synagogue.