Ways of Commemorating and Celebrating Rosh Hashanah LaBeheimot

 Ways of Commemorating and Celebrating Rosh Hashanah LaBeheimot

Since we are trying to restore an ancient holiday and transform it from its original purpose of tithing animals for sacrifices, there is no single established way to commemorate it. Hopefully, different Jewish congregations, schools, community centers, and families will adapt approaches that best suit them, as the restored holiday continues to be developed. I would very much welcome learning about people’s ideas and experiences (at VeggieRich@gmal.com), so that the later editions of this book will be more helpful in guiding people in planning and carrying out future commemorations.

    Below are some possibilities, starting with the simplest ones. For suggestions on organizing and carrying out any of the proposed activities, please feel free to email me at VeggieRich@gmail.com .

A.  A Rabbinic Sermon

      Complimentary PDFs of this complete book and my other book, Vegan Revolution: Saving Our World, Revitalizing Judaism, will be emailed to many rabbis and other influential Jews throughout the world, with the hope that many of them will  use it as a basis for sermons or other holiday events. The material in the previous two chapters, the preface, and the appendices, especially Appendix D, with many quotations about Jewish teachings about compassion for animals, should also be helpful for rabbinic sermon preparations.

B. A Class Presented by a Rabbi or Other Knowledgeable Jew

     The discussion above applies in this case as well.

C. Talk by Zoom or in Person by a Rabbi or Other Knowledgeable Jew

     Once again, the discussion above for a rabbinic sermon applies here. Having a Zoom event provides the possibility of a far bigger audience, and it can be recorded and posted on social media, so that even more people can view it.

D. Interview of a Person Knowledgeable about the Issues.

     Appropriate interviewees can be obtained using links to veg, animal rights, and environmental organizations in Appendix F.

 E. A Dialogue, Group Discussion, or Debate

    This enables the sharing of different perspectives. Again, the abundance of resources in the appendices, especially the many Jewish quotations related to  Jewish teachings on animals in Appendix D should be very valuable for preparations.

    Especially relevant I think is my article; “A Dialogue Between a Jewish Vegan Activist and a Rabbi.” It can be read at https://jewcology.org/2021/11/a-dialogue-between-a-jewish-vegan-and-a-rabbi/?fbclid=IwAR0aDN5mIBg7ypuQKsUdKA6S6XdZjuP-U476RexIA44keCyMxrddxygcEVU and my Jerusalem Report cover story in the August 9, 2021 Jerusalem Report, “Why Jews Should Be Vegans.” It can be read at https://jewcology.org/2021/07/my-cover-story-in-the-august-9-2021-jerusalem-post-on-why-jews-should-be-vegans/. I also had an article on “Why Jews should be vegans” in the Jerusalem Post on February 17, 2022. It can be read online, with the title “All Jews should be vegan: Here are six reasons why” at https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-696715

F. A festive meal, with several divrei Torah on Jewish teachings on compassion to animals, why it is important that the ancient Jewish New Year for Animals be restored and transformed, and related issues.

     This provides an opportunity for many personal conversations and for a variety of ideas to be shared by several presenters.

     Some suggestions include: Provide plant-based meat alternatives to show people many options are available and delicious. During the meal, hold a guided discussion regarding the connection of Jewish values to animal welfare.  Discuss how the ways in which animals are treated today within the food industry do not align with Jewish ideals.

G. Play Acting

An example of this is the “Council of All Beings,” a kind of play/ritual proposed by Rabbi David Mevarach Seidenberg, during which participants take on the role of an animal, or the spirit representative of some habitat or aspect of the Council of All Beings natural world, and discuss how human beings are affecting them. It is a powerful activity for developing mindful awareness that can lead us to renew our sense of responsibility for our actions that impact the lives and homes of all the creatures and communities we share this precious world with.

      Rabbi Seiidenberg has put up a Jewish-related presentation of it on his website: http://www.neohasid.org/stoptheflood/council/ . It is also on open siddur at https://opensiddur.org/prayers/lunisolar/days-of-judgement-new-year-days/for-domesticated-animals/the-council-of-all-beings-on-rosh-hashanah-labehemah/

More information about this activity can be found athttps://opensiddur.org/prayers/lunisolar/days-of-judgement-new-year-days/for-domesticated-animals/the-council-of-all-beings-on-rosh-hashanah-labehemah/and at http://opensiddur.org/2013/07/the-council-of-all-beings-on-rosh-hashanah-labeheimot-alef-belul/

H.  A Seder

Rosh Hashanah LaBeheimot is patterned to some extent after Rosh Hashanah LaIlanot, the New Year for Trees, Tu Bishvat. Since that holiday has a Seder as a central feature of its celebration, some Jewish groups might want to create a Seder for the New Year for Animals.

     Like the Passover Seder, the Tu Bishvat Seder involves the drinking of four cups of wine or grape juice. For Passover, the four cups represent four promises by God of the redemption of the Israelites; for Tu Bishvat, they represent the four Kabbalistic worlds and the four changing seasons from winter to fall, represented by changing the colors of the wine or grape juice from white to pink to ruby to red.

     Therefore, one possibility is to have a Rosh Hashanah LaBeheimot Seder also divided into four parts separated by the drinking of four cups of wine or grape juice.

     One possible approach follows:

     Before cup one, discuss Jewish teachings on compassion for animals. The many quotations in Appendix D, Rabbi David Rosen’s discussion about Jewish teachings about compassion for animals in the foreword, and several books listed in the Bibliography would be very helpful for this segment.

     Before cup two, discuss how animals are being mistreated today, very contrary to Jewish teachings; While, as considered in the previous section, Judaism has very strong teachings on compassion for animals, the realities for animals differ substantially from these teachings. For example:

·      Egg-laying hens are kept in cages so small that they can’t raise even one wing and their beaks are painfully seared off, without an anesthetic or pain killer, in order to prevent them from harming other birds due to pecking from frustration in their very unnatural conditions.

·      Male chicks at egg-laying hatcheries fare even worse, as they are killed almost immediately after birth, since they can’t lay eggs and have not been genetically programmed to produce much flesh, as so-called “broilers” are..

·      Dairy cows are artificially impregnated annually on what the industry calls “rape racks,” so that they will be able to continue ‘giving’ milk, and their babies are taken away almost immediately, often to be raised as veal under very cruel conditions.

     The following story by Dr. Michael Klaper, the author of several books, including Vegan Nutrition: Pure and Simple and Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan, dramatically illustrates the cruelty of the dairy industry: 

The very saddest sound in all my memory was burned into my awareness at age five on my uncle’s dairy farm in Wisconsin. A cow had given birth to a beautiful male calf. The mother was allowed to nurse her calf but for a single night. On the second day after birth, my uncle took the calf from the mother and placed him in the veal pen in the barn—only ten yards away, in plain view of the mother. The mother cow could see her infant, smell him, hear him, but could not touch him, comfort him, or nurse him. The heartrending bellows that she poured forth—minute after minute, hour after hour, for five long days—were excruciating to listen to. They are the most poignant and painful auditory memories I carry in my brain. Since that age, whenever I hear anyone postulate that animals cannot feel emotions, I need only to replay that torturous sound in my memory of that mother cow crying her bovine heart out to her infant. Mother’s love knows no species barriers, and I believe that all people who are vegans in their hearts and souls know that to be true.

·      Nine billion animals in the U.S. alone are slaughtered annually after being raised under very cruel conditions on modern factory farms, where all of their natural instincts are thwarted.

     Many more examples can be given, 

      More information about the mistreatment of animals can be found in several books listed in the Bibliography, as well as in the section on animals at my website, Jewish-Vegan.org. Also, the last section of quotations about animals in Appendix D has quotations about the mistreatment of animals.

     Seder participants can be asked to research examples of animal abuse and to give a brief talk about it at the Seder.

     Some questions that could be addressed during this part of the Seder, even though they may be upsetting to some people, include:

     Since Jews are to be rachmanim bnei rachmanim (compassionate children of compassionate ancestors), can we as Jewish consumers, kosher or not, justify the cruelty of factory farms to mass-produce meat that we do not really need for nourishment? Can we justify the force-feeding of ducks and geese to create pate de foie gras? Can we justify the horrible treatment of hens and dairy cows mentioned above? Can we justify artificially inseminating turkeys to get fertile hatching eggs, because the birds have been bred to get so fat they can no longer even mate naturally? Can we justify the many other ways that animals are unnecessarily exploited and mistreated in our society to meet consumer’s claimed needs?

     The kosher industry tends to focus only on the actual moment of slaughter, and the packing and preparation of the meat afterward. Very little, if any, attention is paid to how the animals are treated before slaughter. One has to wonder if this can be reconciled with kashrut, because kashrut is designed to be humane. But how can it be humane if most kosher meat, dairy, and eggs come from the same abominable factory farm conditions as does non-kosher food? Shouldn’t we be concerned — indeed alarmed —about the ways that food is being produced?

     Aharon Varady, a pioneer in restoring the New Year for Animals, put our relationships with animals into perspective:

When the second Temple stood [before 70 C.E., when it was destroyed by the Romans], the Rosh Hashanah Lmaaser LaBeheimot [the New Year for tithing Animals, as the ancient holiday was then called] celebrated one means by which Jews then believed that we elevated and esteemed the special creatures that helped us to live and to work. Just as rabbinic Judaism replaced our Temple offerings with tefillot — prayers — so too the restored Rosh Hashanah LaBeheimot challenges us to realize the holiness of the animals in our care in a time without tithes.

    The restored/transformed New Years Day for Animals is a challenge to remind us of our responsibilities to animals who depend on us for their welfare. Are we treating them correctly and in accord with the mitzvah of tsaar baalei chayim — sensitivity to the suffering of living creatures? Have we studied and understood the depth of chesed — loving kindness — expressed in the breadth of Torah teachings concerning the welfare of animals? 

   Rosh Hashanah LaBeheimot is the day to reflect on our relationships with domesticated animals, to recognize our personal responsibilities to them, individually and as part of a distinct and holy people, and to repair our relationships with them, to the best of our abilities.

      Before cup three, discuss what Jewish groups are doing in order to reduce animal abuses. Appendix F discusses and provides links to several Jewish veg, animal rights, and environmental organizations.

      Before cup four, discuss what attendees can do to help increase awareness of Jewish teachings about compassion to animals and how to apply these teachings toward the creation of a more humane, compassionate, just, peaceful, and environmentally sustainable world. Appendix H, which provides many tips for promoting animal rights and veganism, should be very helpful here.

     One possibility, if a Seder leader is knowledgeable about it, is to emulate the kabbalistic version of the Tu Bishvat Seder. That would involve the wine or grape juice cups representing the four seasons. The first cup would be white, representing winter; the second cup would be white with a small amount of red, representing spring; the third cup would be about half white and half red, representing the summer, and the fourth cup would be almost all red, with just a small amount of white, represennting autumn.

     The kabbalists regarded the four cups of wine or grape juice as representing four worlds, each of which brought people closer to God: Asiyah (the world of action); Yetzirah (the world of formation); Beriah (the world of creation); and Atzilut, the world of emanation.

      Different types of fruits, associated with the four kabbailistic worlds, would be eaten after each cup of wine was drank.  After the first cup, fruits with hard outer shells, but soft insides, such as pomegranates, nuts, oranges, and tangerines would be eaten; after the second cup, fruits with hard inner pits and soft outsides, such as dates, olives, peaches, and nectarines would be eaten; after the third cup, fruits with neither a hard outer shell or a hard inner pit, such as figs, raisins, and apples would be eaten. There is no other type of fruit, so after the fourth cup, spices that have a smell but no taste could be smelled.

     More suggestions about foods for a Seder are in Appendix I.


Other approaches are possible, and one is as follows

     Before cup one, discuss mammals and how they are mistreated on factory farms, and how they are being affected by climate change.

     Before cup two, consider birds and how they are mistreated on factory farms.

     Before cup three, discuss fishes and other sea creatures and how they are mistreated both on aquatic factory farms and in the seas and affected by climate change.

     Before cup four,  discuss how insects are affected by climate change, the threats of species extinctions, and how declining insect populations will affect future agriculture.

      If this approach was used, it could provide an opportunity to discuss the current mass loss of biodiversity. We are now in what environmentalists consider the “Sixth Extinction.” They estimate that the current extinction rate is between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate, and that humans are primarily responsible. Unfortunately, as discussed previously, even human beings are threatened by extinction, due to the effects of s rapidly warming planet.    

    Making this approach successful might require participants to do some research before the event, so that it does not involve an active leader and completely passive others.

      Still another approach is as follows:

    Before cup one, discuss the mistreatment of animals on factory farms.

     Before cup two, discuss the mistreatment of animals in laboratories for animal experiments.

     Before cup three, discuss the mistreatment of animals at circuses, rodeos, and other entertainment venues.

     Before cup four, discuss the mistreatment of animals via hunting and trapping.

    So that this approach is not all negative, some stories about the lives of animals and the many benefits they provide the world could be interspersed into the discussions.

     A Haggadah for a Rosh Chodesh LaBeheimot event produced by the Jewish Veg Society of Israel (in Hebrew) can be read at https://www.ginger.org.il/_files/ugd/481d0d_fce4b730cbaf4bf1a705409d02b44156.pdf . It was written by Israeli activist Inbal Cohen.


     For suggestions on any aspect of this book and offers to help restore and transform the ancient holiday, please contact me at VeggieRich@gmail.com.


Tips for Organizing and Carrying Out a Holiday Seder

1. Preliminaries

A New Year for Animals Seder is best held at a synagogue or a Jewish Community Center, but it can also be held at a home. Zoom can be used to reach wider audiences.

    The Seder can be publicized through flyers, synagogue announcements, email messages, Twitter, Facebook, and through personal conversations.

     If the Seder is held at a synagogue or JCC, members might be asked if they would like to co-sponsor it in honor or memory of someone by contributing to food and other costs. The names of sponsors could be announced at the Seder and/or on a sheet distributed at the event.

2. Getting Maximum Participation

Since this book is being made freely available as an eBook, Seder participants can be asked to review it prior to the Seder, bring questions and comments for the Seder, and consider delivering a short dvar Torah (Torah teaching) at the event.

     Unless there are a very large number of participants, each attendee could be asked to briefly introduce themselves and explain why they are attending.

3. Food

Since we are transforming an ancient holiday that did not directly involve eating, there is no tradition about the type of foods that should be served. And there is really no need for any food to be served, except possibly for the grape juice or wine. However, since the renewed holiday is focused on compassion to animals, no meat or other animal products should be served. It is suggested that, in the tradition of another renewed holiday, Tu Bishvat, the Seder includes foods from the seven species from Israel that are mentioned in the Torah (Deuteronomy 8:7-10): wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and date honey.

     The Hebrew Haggadah mentioned in Chapter 1 suggests putting symbolic foods on a “Seder plate”:

On the Seder plate, we chose to place products from plants, which simulate products that mostly originate in the animal food industries. These products can remind us of the exploitation of animals in the hands of humans. The meat substitutes can remind us of the birds and the cattle and sheep that are imprisoned and slaughtered for their meat. The vegetable mayonnaise can remind us of the chickens in egg industry coops. The vegan cheese can remind us of dairy cows who are mistreated.

     At the same time, the products on the Seder plate represent for us the possibility of living with animals and not, at their expense, feeding only on plants. 

     Will the future come with such products as the only evidence that, from time immemorial, humans imprisoned animals under cruel conditions to produce from them, meat,  eggs, and  milk?

4. Blessings at the Seder

Before drinking the first cup of wine or grape juice, the following blessings should be recited:

Baruch atah Adonoi, Eloheinu Melech haolom, borei pree hagorfen.

Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine. 

     This blessing should be recited only before drinking the first cup and NOT before drinking the later cups.

     Another blessing is below. It is appropriate here because it is recited by Jews on special occasions.

Baruch ataw Adonoi, Eloheinu Melech haolom, Shehhechheeyanu, vkiamornu, vheegeeyarnu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

    This should also be recited only before drinking the first cup of wine or grape juice.


The complete text of my eBook, “Restoring and Transforming the Ancient Jewish New Year for Animals: An  Idea Whose Time Has Come,” can be read at. 

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