Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman *07 (Photo: Courtesy Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman *07)

New book: A Jew’s Best Friend? The Image of the Dog Throughout Jewish History, edited by Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman *07 and Rakefet Zalashik (Sussex Academic Press)

The editors: An assistant professor of Jewish studies and law, and of religious studies at Vanderbilt University, Ackerman-Lieberman is an expert in Jewish and Islamic Law. His forthcoming book is The Business of Identity: Jews, Muslims, and Economic Life in Medieval Egypt. Zalashik is a post-doctoral fellow at the Goldstein-Goren International Center for Jewish Thought at Ben-Gurion University and the guest professor for science and Jewish studies at the Eidenössische Technische Hochschule, Zürich.
The book: The essays in this volume explore how Jews have viewed dogs through history. The pieces look at different periods and communities and the ways that the “image of the dog has been used as a foil for Jewish otherness itself.” The image of the dog, the editors conclude, is “ultimately a mirror image of Jewish self-understanding as a marginalized group through history.” The essay by Ackerman-Lieberman illuminates the role of the dog in Jewish life in the classical Islamic world.
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Opening lines: “Humans and dogs share a long history. Dogs were the first species ever to be domesticated — DNA analysis suggests that this may have happened more than 10,000 years ago, and their domestication even preceded the domestication of any plant species. As such, dogs have occupied a particularly important role in the constellation of humankind’s relation with its world.”
Review: The “role of dogs in Jewish culture is a long and troubled one,” wrote Jonathan Kirsch of The Jewish Journal. “A Jew’s Best Friend? carries the weight and authority of academic scholarship, but it is wholly user-friendly and full of fascinating detail. Jewish dog lovers, of course, will love this book, too. Above all, the contributors manage to sustain a certain wry sense of humor throughout their work.”