Nathan Abrams reviews a new short film about the relationship between frum Jews and their dogs.
They may be man’s best friend, but they are not a Jew’s best friend. As the saying goes, “A Jew with a dog? It’s either not a Jew or it’s not a dog.” A new documentary, currently screening as part of the UK Jewish Film Short Doc Fund, seeks to point out that this is patently not true.
The blurb for Frum Dogs of Hendon explains, “Seen as aggressive and dirty, dogs have had a bad reputation in religious Jewish circles for centuries. Dog lovers in Hendon, however, prove that being Frum and having a furry, four-legged best friend are not mutually exclusive.”
I spoke to its director Dan Jacobs about why he wanted to make this film. “I was always aware that the frummer you are, the less likely you are to have a dog. Walking my dog Molly [who is a miniature schnauzer] over the past eight years, I noticed that slowly but surely more and more frum looking people were walking dogs around Hendon. During the pandemic, this accelerated further.”
Why do you think more people are getting dogs, I asked? “I think it really comes down to it becoming more socially acceptable in the frum world, probably from baalei teshvahot having dogs as kids.”
Remarkably, he tells me, there is actually a doggie kiddish club on Shabbat in the park. “I have walked into it by accident a few times and have been offered the odd whisky (there wasn’t time to go into this in the film).” Having visions of schmaltz herring, smoked salmon and kosher doggie snacks, I probed further but, unfortunately, the reality was less exciting than it sounds. “It’s really a park meet up after shul, sometimes someone brings whiskey.”
It was this that got Dan thinking about writing a film.” Then I saw the UK Jewish Film Festival had a new short film fund and decided there was a story to tell. The point of the fund is to capture contemporary Jewish life in the UK. Often films featuring religious Jews portray cliches. I wanted to make something that told a story and gave a glimpse into both the cross-section of orthodoxy and shows them as complex people just as everyone is.”
He had met a few people in the park, walking their dogs and they agreed to be in the film. He was introduced to other owners by others in the frum dog network.
Making the film “was great fun,” he told me. “I learned a lot about the editing process which is 95% of the work.”
As a dog owner myself, I know all about the practicalities of having them, so I wondered what does one do with their poo. As there’s an eruv in Hendon, carrying dog poo is okay, Dan reassured me. “Because dogs are not human, they are therefore are not subject to Jewish law.” Dog food does not have to be kosher and the frummers do not need to make sure their dogs are “frum”. So there is your answer to whether your canine has to keep kosher.
At only three minutes, perhaps the documentary has an ambitious aim to prove that frum Jews and dogs do in fact go together but it is certainly an excellent launchpad for a longer documentary exploring the Jew-dog relationship.