Update on the Major Effort to Restore and Transform the Ancient New Year for Animals
In an effort to restore the ancient New Year for Animals and to transform it into a day devoted to increasing awareness of Judaism’s teachings on compassion to animals and how far current realities are from these teachings, the message below has been sent to many rabbis and other influential Jews. please help by sharing the message widely. Many thanks.
Please let us know if you are willing to sign the message below that encourages the restoration of the ancient New Year for Animals and its transformation into a day devoted to increasing awareness of Judaism’s beautiful teachings on compassion to animals and how these teachings can be applied to reduce current abuses of animals. We also encourage you to submit a brief statement as to why you think restoring the holiday is important. Some previous statements of support are below.
By signing the statement and possibly adding a brief message of support you would be adding to a kiddush Hashem that would show the relevance of Judaism’s ancient teachings, thus improving the image of Judaism and thereby helping bring some alienated Jews closer to Judaism, and would also help shift our imperilled planet onto a more compassionate, just, and environmentally sustainable path.
Thanks for your consideration.
Richard H. Schwartz, Professor emeritus, College of Staten Island, and president emeritus, Jewish Veg
Aharon Varady, Founding director of the Open Siddur Project
Here is the statement that we recommend that you indicate your support for. If you do, please add your affiliation, such as the name of a synagogue, yeshiva, or other organization that you are involved with.
The ancient Rosh Hashanah L’Ma’asar Behemah coincides with Rosh Ḥodesh Elul (occuring this year on August 22-23) and the onset of Elul Zman (the period of introspection and relationship repair also called Ḥeshbon Ha-Nefesh). On it, Jewish shepherds once tithed their flocks by marking them in a shed as they passed under their staff. On Rosh Hashanah, “all the world passes before Hashem like sheep, as it says, ‘He that fashions the hearts of them all, that considers all their doings’ (Psalms 33:15)” (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1-2). The day marks the birth of animals conceived in the spring and born before Elul (Michnah Bechorot 9).
We, the undersigned, recognize that the New Year’s Day for Domesticated Animals (behemot) is a fortuitious day for the Jewish people to concern themselves with the animals they rely upon for their lifestyle and diet (our “flock”). Exactly one month prior to our praying for our Shepherd, the Nefesh Kol Ḥai (Spirit of all life), to look after our continuity, welfare, and livelihood, as the blessed Holy One’s “flock” on Rosh Hashanah, we should act to prove we have taken responsibility for our own ‘flock.’ The day on which the shofar, the horn of a behemah, is first blown signaling the countdown to Rosh Hashanah, is a day for taking responsibility and repairing our relationships with our friends, family, and business partners. It begins by challenging us to consider our relationship with the animals we rely upon, personally, in our families, communities, in our society and in our economy — creatures that lack the voice to advocate for their own welfare. Before Rosh Hashanah it is incumbent upon us to align our relationships with those Torah values implicit in the mitsvah of tsa’ar ba’alei ḥayyim (sensitivity to the suffering of all living creatures).
We recognize the holiness inherent in all living creatures and especially our domesticated animals (behemot), a holiness implicit in the use of certain kosher animals for sacrificial offerings, and non-kosher animals for other mitsvot such as the pidyon haḥamor. The Torah quoted in the Shabbat Day kiddush recognizes that our animals are indeed part and parcel of our own community (Exodus 20:8-11). Furthermore, ḥayot (wild animals) depend upon spacious habitat and healthy ecosystems for deriving their own livelihoods. Never since the depraved Dor HaMabul (the Generation of the Flood), has the continued existence of our world’s ḥayot come to depend so much on the decisions of human beings, locally, regionally, and globally.
As Midrash Tanḥuma (Noaḥ 6) expresses: Just as the blessed Holy One’s compassion is on human beings, so to it is on animals as it is written “God’s compassion is upon all God’s work” (Psalms 145:9). We recognize the need for increased attention in developing the virtue of compassion in the Jewish people which is implicit in the mitsvah of tsa’ar ba’alei ḥayyim (Maimonides 3:48, Nachmanides on Lev. 22:27-28 and Deut. 22:6-7, Sefer HaChinukh §545 and 596, et al). The domesticated animals created on the 6th day remain sacred even after the Temple’s destruction. Their lives are intertwined with our own as we rely upon them for our lifestyle and diet, while they depend entirely upon our attention to ensure that their quality of life and welfare is guaranteed. Therefore, we begin our period of Ḥeshbon Ha-Nefesh with the Rosh Hashanah LaBehemot, a day for reflecting on our relationship with the many animals we directly and indirectly rely upon in our lives, and as a day to commit to improving and healing our relationship with them before Rosh Hashanah on Rosh Ḥodesh Tishrei.
Besides creating a great tikkun (healing), we believe that reviving this day would help to prove the relevance of the Torah’s teaching in every generation, showing own people that our Torah is a Torat Ḥesed, and bringing many compassionate yet alienated Jews lacking knowledge of the mitsvah of tsa’ar ba’alei ḥayyim back into our community.
Thanks to Aharon Varady for drafting the above statement.
More information about the restoration and transformation of the ancient holiday can be found in the Wikipedia Encyclopaedia at:
Additional background information is at:
Below are the lists of signers arranged alphabetically [we are at the VERY BEGINNING of gathering signers, so we expect this list to grow substantially.]
Rabbi Yonatan Neril, Founder and director of the Interfaith Centre for Sustainable Development
Below is a sampling of statements of support for the restoration and transformation of Rosh Hashanah LaBeheimot
“it is a beautiful idea to renew/revive a classic day … Your contemporary application … in the form of addressing humanity’s relationship to animal life and the widespread mistreatment of food animals and environmental abuse in today’s economy, marked by industrial farming and animal husbandry, is inspired.”
Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg. Author and founder and former director of Clal
“The Jewish tradition mandates that we are stewards of all God’s creation. In our day we are increasingly sensitized to suffering of those living creatures in our care; this initiative helps us recognize our obligation to animals and so helps us be more fully human.”
Rabbi David Wolpe, Author and spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles
“We live in a time when people factory farm tens of billions of animals. It is therefore an opportune time for us to re-examine our deeply flawed relationship with animals in order to live in greater harmony with creation.”
Rabbi Yonatan Neril, Founder and director, Interfaith Centre for Sustainable Development
Rosh Hashanah La’Behemot is a day to reflect upon (and begin to correct) how our choices impact all the holy creatures we share the planet with; to take responsibility for the creatures we rely upon, and who depend entirely on our choices for their livelihood, freedom, and quality of life.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, Founder and director of Uri L’Tzedek and of Shamayim v’Aretz
“What might a New Year for Animals look like? Alef Elul is when we first blow the shofar, whose raw call awakens an awareness of a world deeper and more extensive than human society alone. This cry should be accompanied by two modes of liturgy: penitence, “For the sins we’ve committed in cruelty to lives with no political voice or economic power”; and praise, “Praise God, wild and domestic animals, creeping creatures and birds on the wing” (Psalm 148). If I was brave, I would add a Council of All Being, … to help us recognise, not just intellectually but experientially, our bond with nature. Participants choose an animal, and through quiet reflection, try to imagine how life feels from inside its skin.
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Rabbi of New North London Synagogue
“One Elul is one of four Jewish new years (tractate Rosh Hashana). The Talmud tells us just as the shepherd counts and appraises his farm animals, we are to take stock of ourselves be doing a ḥeshbon ha-nefesh (an accounting of our souls), do teshuvah [repentance], do spiritual growth (aka Jewish spiritual renewal), mussar, and ready our selves for selichot and yom kippur.
Rabbi Arthur Segal, rabbi in Hilton Head:
“Rosh Chodesh Elul, the Talmudic new year for animals, is a wonderful time to reclaim our connection to our brothers and sisters of all species, examine our ethics around treatment of animals, and celebrate the ways humans are and can be in partnership with all life.”
Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD, Author, teacher, poet, essayist.
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