By Niraj Warikoo
Detroit Free Press Religion Editor
With four fish, three cats, two dogs and a hamster as her pets, Helene Rubin of Bloomfield Township loves animals a lot.
But as an Orthodox Jew, she also loves her faith and wants to follow its rules.
And so when Passover — an eight-day Jewish holiday that has specific dietary rules — rolls around every year, she makes sure to follow them not only for herself, but also her animals. That’s because even feeding your pets the wrong kinds of food during Passover could violate the laws of Judaism.
“I try to keep kosher for Passover as much as possible,” said Rubin, 60.
Now, a store in Beverly Hills makes it easier for Jewish pet owners such as Rubin to find the right foods for their pets during Passover, which begins at sundown today.
This year, Premier Pet Supply became what its owner said is the first pet store in Michigan to sell kosher-certified pet food for Passover that has been approved by a rabbi.
Mike Palmer is not Jewish (he’s half Chaldean, half Italian), but almost half of his customers are Jewish. And so with the help of Rabbi Jason Miller of Farmington Hills, he put together displays and markers to signify what pet food is kosher for Passover. While some Jewish customers are familiar with the details of kosher for Passover, others are unsure and so need to rely on others.
The holiday requires that all chametz — a term that refers to leavened grains like wheat and barley — be removed from the house before the start of Passover. Jews can’t eat, own or benefit from chametz during the holiday. Some perform ritual burnings of chametz.
Since many types of pet food contain chametz, Jews with animals have to come up with ways to follow the law.
Jewish customers “really look for guidance during the Jewish holiday,” Palmer said. Having certified kosher pet food “takes the guesswork out for people, helps to give them a sense of comfort during the holiday.”
The store’s new kosher certification is the latest way that Jews in metro Detroit and across the U.S. deal with the issue of how to treat pets during Passover.
Some owners give their pets to non-Jewish friends during the eight days. Others will conduct a fictional sale of the pet under Jewish law that symbolizes the pet has been sold, said Rabbi Aaron Bergman of Adat Shalom synagogue in Farmington Hills; that allows the pet to stay with the owner, because it (temporarily) belongs to someone else.
Another option is to feed dogs or cats in the garage, which some say gets around the chametz ban since some say the garage is not part of the home. (Others frown on this practice, arguing that the garage is technically part of a home.)
For Rubin and others, the best way is to make sure the pet food doesn’t have chametz in it. In the past, Palmer relied on the advice of a rabbi’s wife to select pet food that was kosher for Passover, but he lost touch with her and so turned to Miller last year for help.
Miller runs Kosher Michigan, a certification agency that inspects food places that want to keep kosher. New York and Illinois are some of the states that already have kosher-certified pet food in stores.
Miller notes that the rules for kosher outside of Passover are different and not as stringent for pets. Throughout the year, you can feed shrimp to your fish or nonkosher beef to your dog; both products would not be kosher for humans, but are OK for pets.
The rules can be confusing at times, but the Jewish community consider them important to follow.
The chametz ban is rooted in the ancient story of Jewish people fleeing the Egyptian pharaoh in such haste that they didn’t have time for their bread to rise. The unleavened bread is seen as a symbol of freedom and of humility because it’s not puffed up like leavened bread.
Rabbi Bergman said he approves of the pet food made kosher for Passover if it makes things easier for people during the holiday. But, he quipped, “I don’t know any cats or dogs who can speak Hebrew.”
Jokes aside, Bergman said, “One of the main ideas of Passover is getting arrogance out of your life.” The unleavened matzo cracker that many eat during Passover “is a symbol … that you can live in a more humble way.”
That’s why Rubin closely follows the laws of Passover. And that’s why she will be feeding her pets food that’s kosher certified.
“I try to keep the laws of Judaism,” she said. “It’s important for me.”
Contact Niraj Warikoo: 313-223-4792 or firstname.lastname@example.org