A New Year for Animals?
By Abigail Klein Leichman
Just as Tu BiShvat was reinvented from a Temple-centric day marking the start of the fruit and nut tithing cycle into an ecologically conscious Jewish New Year for the Trees, the New Year for Animals on the first of Elul – when animal tithes were assessed for Temple sacrifice — could be revived as a day to study how factory farming violates Torah doctrines concerning animal welfare and environmental protection.
That is the dream of Prof. Richard H. Schwartz, author of Vegan Revolution: Saving Our World, Revitalizing Judaism.
“Renewing the ancient New Year for Animals — and building a campaign around it of promoting veganism in order to help produce a more healthy, just, humane, peaceful, and environmentally sustainable world — is an idea whose time has come,” Schwartz says.
He helped plan five related events to take place on Rosh Chodesh Elul, August 8 and 9. These include Zoom “teach-ins” featuring presentations by lay leaders and clergy in Israel, the United States and United Kingdom, as well as a Zoom meeting in which participants will read aloud Jewish texts about that have direct bearing on the theme. He’ll lead a similar event at his retirement village in Shoresh.
“Since Rosh Chodesh Elul ushers in a month-long period of introspection before the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, this is an ideal time for Jews to consider how to apply Judaism’s splendid teachings on compassion to animals to reduce the current massive mistreatment of animals on factory farms and in other settings,” says Schwartz.
The notion of “rebranding” the New Year for Animals has been floated before. The Open Siddur Project – a US-based community-contributed archive for sharing prayers and crafting original prayerbooks — notes that “beginning in 2009, the festival began to be revived by Jewish animal protection advocates and environmental educators to raise awareness of the mitsvah of tsar baalei ḥayim (obligating not causing undue suffering of any living creature), the source texts informing Jewish ethical relationships with domesticated animals, and the lived experience of animals impacted by human needs, especially in the industrial meat industry.”
Schwartz, a former professor at the College of Staten Island and president emeritus of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America, wrote four articles explaining the concept, available at www.JewishVeg.com/schwartz.
His “Top Ten Reasons for Restoring and Transforming the Ancient New Year for Animals” suggests that increased awareness about conditions at meat, dairy and egg farms could lead to dietary changes.
We’re not just talking about the billions of animals raised under cruel conditions for slaughter. Schwartz reveals brutal practices such as 300 million “useless” male chicks being ground to death at US hatcheries alone; and dairy cows being artificially impregnated annually on “rape racks” so that they will continue producing milk – not for their calves, which are taken away soon after birth, but for humans.
His research also shows that while an estimated 20 million people die of hunger and its effects annually worldwide, and almost a billion people are chronically hungry, more than 70 percent of the grain produced in the United States and about 40 percent of the grain produced worldwide is fed to animals destined for dinner plates.
And yet Judaism teaches that “God’s compassion is over all his works [including animals]” (Psalms 145:9); “The righteous person considers the lives of his or her animals” (Proverbs 12:10); farmers are not to yoke a strong and a weak animal together (Deuteronomy 22:10) nor to muzzle an animal while the animal is threshing in the field (Deuteronomy 25:4); and even domestic animals must rest on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8–11).
Some 22 organizations and 25 individual rabbis in Israel and abroad are endorsing the initiative.
“The Jewish tradition mandates that we are stewards of all God’s creation,” comments one supporter of the initiative, Rabbi David Wolpe of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles. “In our day we are increasingly sensitized to suffering of those living creatures in our care; this initiative helps us to recognize our obligation to animals and so helps us be more fully human.”
Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, former president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and author of The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays, says that this contemporary application of the Temple-era New Year for Animals is “inspired.”
“It would have a morally positive effect on our treatment of animals and the planet — as well as bring great benefits to human health in switching to a healthier diet and life enhancement eating,” says Greenberg.
For information, email VeggieRich@gmail.com.