by Richard H. Schwartz
Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of the month before Rosh Hashanah, when the shofar is blown at weekday morning services (except on Shabbat), and Jews are to examine their deeds and consider how to align their lives more with Jewish values.
When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, Rosh Chodesh Elul was a New Year for Animals, a day devoted to tithing for animal sacrifices. After the second temple was destroyed in 70 CE, there was no longer a need for this holiday and today very few Jews even heard of it.
Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) is working with others in efforts to restore this holiday and to transform it into a day devoted to increasing awareness of Judaism’s beautiful teachings about compassion to animals and how far current treatment of animals on factory farms and in other settings is from these Jewish teachings. JVNA hopes the renewed holiday can serve as the beginning of a tikkun (healing) for the current widespread mistreatment of animals.
Jews are to be rachmanim b’nei rachmanim, compassionate children of compassionate ancestors, and to imitate God, whose “compassion is over all His works” (Psalms 145:9), JVNA hopes that restoring the New Year for Animals will lead to greater emphasis in the Jewish community in applying these and other Jewish teachings to the reduction of animal suffering.
In 2012 there were celebrations of the renewed holiday in Israel and several US cities, and plans are underway to have some also in 2013. JVNA is preparing background material and proposed rituals and will seek additional supporting statements from rabbis and other Jewish leaders in a major effort to get the holiday onto the Jewish agenda starting in 2014.
JVNA hopes that restoring and transforming the holiday, thereby increasing knowledge of Jewish teachings on animals and how far current realities for animals are from these teachings, will lead some Jews to shift to vegetarianism. JVNA believes that this diet is most consistent with Jewish teachings on preserving human health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment, and helping hungry people, and they hope that dietary shifts will improve the health of Jews and also help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path.
In addition to reinforcing Jewish teachings on compassion, restoring the New Year for Animals would show the relevance of Judaism’s eternal teachings to current issues, thereby helping revitalize Judaism and potentially bringing many idealistic Jews back to Judaism.
Restoring the holiday is also consistent with the Elul theme of teshuvah, since it involves repentance for actions inconsistent with tsa’ar ba’alei chaim, the Jewish mandate to avoid harming animals.
For more information about Jewish teachings on animals, please visit the JVNA website (www.JewishVeg.com) and/or contact JVNA. There are four articles related to the restored holiday at www.JewishVeg.com/schwartz.
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 200 articles and 25 podcasts at JewishVeg.com/schwartz. He is President of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV). He is associate producer of the 2007 documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World.”