Rabbi, I just read the news about a passenger who was not allowed to bring a “support peacock” onto a commercial flight and was wondering: Would someone be allowed to bring such a peacock to a synagogue?


I just read the news, too, and was wondering when how long it would take before someone would ask that very question. Clearly, not long!

As you can imagine, this is my first time ever being asked such a question, and I needed to do a little research.

Here is what I found.

Showing Our Respect

Just from the fact you’ve asked, it’s clear that you know that we must show utmost respect at the synagogue. Nevertheless, here are two teachings of our sages that emphasize the holiness and reverential nature of a synagogue:

The verse states: “Yet I have been to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they have come” (Ezekiel 11:16). Rabbi Yitzchak said: This refers to the synagogues and study halls in Babylonia.1

Rabbi Yitzchak is teaching us that that our synagogues are considered a miniature of the holiest site for the Jewish people, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Accordingly, we read that:

Synagogues and houses of study should be treated with respect . . . One may not act there with lightheadedness, such as jests, frivolity and idle conversation.2

In other words, this is a place to pray, not play.

What About Animals?

There is little direct discussion of the permissibility of bringing pets or support animals into the synagogue from the Talmudic sages. The reason is obvious: In the olden days, animals were not used as pets or as support animals.

Yet we find this in the Jerusalem Talmud:

Rav Ami told the scribes (i.e., the Torah scholars): If a person who is knowledgeable in Torah will come by you, accept him—with his donkey, and with his belonging.3

Another reference in the Babylonian Talmud centers around the childhood incident of the Babylonian sage Abaye:

[Because fear of demons in bathrooms was pervasive] Abaye’s mother raised a lamb to accompany him to the bathroom.4

This lamb would go with him wherever he went.5 As we can safely assume, Abaye spent a great deal of time in the study hall, yet the lamb seemed to accompany him there as well.

Now, it is important to note that a lamb is a kosher animals, and the donkey is not. Also note that the Talmud does not directly state that Abaye’s lamb was allowed into the synagogue. It’s just conjecture on our part.

Guide Dogs in Synagogue

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the leading halachic authorities of the last century, addressed the question: Can a blind person bring a service dog to the synagogue?

He ruled that if a blind person must use the dog in order to enter the synagogue, he should be permitted to do so, referring to both above mentioned quotes.6

He further cemented his opinion by proving that today’s synagogues in the Diaspora are built with intent to allow more flexibility in their use than the synagogues of yore, and there is even more room for leeway than there once was. Furthermore, one might argue that a guiding dog is even more acceptable than the talmudic donkey; while the donkey came in just for “parking” purposes, the dog’s presence actually provides a direct benefit—enabling the blind person to pray to G‑d. It is, however, important to limit the distraction to the community by placing the animal in an unobtrusive area.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher, a Polish-Israeli rabbi, criticized this ruling,7 arguing that a dog might be different from a donkey and should be forbidden from synagogue. The Rebbe sent him a detailed letter8 proving that that’s not the case. After quoting laws that necessitate praying in the synagogue, the Rebbe went to address a different topic—the feeling of the person with disabilities:

Regarding this question, there is another important point. This case is similar to the ruling in the Code of Jewish Law (Orach Chaim 88), regarding someone for whom not being allowing to attend shul “will cause them great pain, because everyone else is going to shul and they will be left outside” . . . If it is important for him [the blind person] to attend shul, then we must obviously look for ways to enable this.”

Even if we assume that Rabbi Kasher continued to maintain his position, it is important to note that his critique was limited specifically to dogs. He based it on the verse (Deuteronomy 23:19): “You shall not bring a prostitute’'s fee or the price of a dog, to the House of the L‑rd, your G‑d, for any vow, because both of them are an abomination to the L‑rd, your G‑d.”

However, we can presume that he would agree to permit other support animals, such as miniature horses and ferrets.

Emotional Support Animals

While the above discussion is providing direct ruling regarding service dogs, it doesn’t not address our peacock, an emotional support animal, which is quite a new phenomenon. According to Wikipedia:

Emotional support animal (ESA) is a companion animal that a medical professional has determined provides benefit for an individual with a disability. This may include improving at least one symptom of the disability.

It is possible that a person may have such severe social anxiety, that he is unable to attend services unless accompanied by a emotional support animal, including a peacock. In that case, it would be up to a local halachic authority to confirm the person’s need as well as the animal’s ability to maintain synagogue decorum and then rule accordingly. You might find it interesting to note that a peacock may very well be a kosher bird (at least theoretically).9

Whatever the final ruling, we must always remember the importance of both rules: show utmost respect to the house of G‑d, yet work hard to accommodate every person with disability since they, too, are children of G‑d.