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אלף באלול | Explanation and ritual for the New Year’s Day for Domesticated Animals (ראש השנה לבהמות)

"Feeding the Goat at Ark Animal Sanctuary, Twyford, Evesham" (credit:  Fimb, license: CC-BY 2.0)

Feeding the Goat at Ark Animal Sanctuary, Twyford, Evesham” (credit: Fimb, license: CC-BY 2.0)

ראש השנה פרק א משנה א
Seder Moed: Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 1

ארבעה ראשי שנים הם.‏
באחד בניסן ראה השנה למלכים ולרגלים.‏
באחד באלול ראש השנה למעשר בהמה. רבי אלעזר ורבי שמעון אומרים, באחד בתשרי.‏
באחד בתשרי ראש השנה לשנים ולשמטין וליובלות, לנטיעה ולירקות.‏
באחד בשבט, ראה השנה לאילן, כדברי בית שמאי. בית הלל אומרים, בחמשה עשר בו.‏
There are four Rosh HaShanahs.
The first of Nissan is the Rosh HaShanah for kings and pilgrimage holidays.
The first of Elul is the Rosh HaShanah for tithing beheima. Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon say, “The first of Tishray.”
The first of Tishray is the Rosh HaShanah for years, Shmitah, Yovel, for planting and for vegetables.
The first of Shvat is the Rosh HaShanah for [fruit-bearing] trees, according to Beit Shamai. Beit Hillel says it is on the fifteenth [of the month of Shvat, Tu biShvat].

Rosh Ḥodesh Elul, the new moon festival of Elul, also marks one of the four New Year festivals recorded in the Mishnah — the New Years day for ma’aser beheima — the tithing of domesticated animals. Rosh Hashanah La’behemot parallels Rosh Hashanah L’Ilanot (Tu BiShvat), the day for tithing fruit bearing trees — the day on which ribbons were tied around the buds of almond trees indicating which would be its first fruits. These two annual census were essential for upholding the institution of the Temple and the caste of families serving as its priests.

In the millenia after the Temple’s destruction, Tu biShvat was re-established by Jewish mystics as a special day of tikkun — a day to reflect on and pray for healing our relationship with trees and by extension, the whole of life-nurturing Earth. Similarly, Rosh Ḥodesh Elul begins in earnest a month-long process of teshuva — an intense tikkun of all of our living relationships, culminating with the New Years Day for Humankind.1

What a better way to begin a month dedicated to humbling ourselves and repairing our relationships than by reflecting first on our relationship with beheima — the domesticated animals which depend on us for their care and sustenance. The category of beheima includes all animals historically bred by humans as domesticated creatures, both kosher and non-kosher, e.g. cats and cattle, dogs and donkeys, goats, pigs, chicken, and llamas.2 If we can imagine, empathize, and understand the dependency of beheima in our care, how much better can we realize our relationship with Holy Blessed One, and the infinite chain of inter-dependencies uniting all living relationships in reflection of this Oneness.

Once upon a time when the Temple still stood, the Rosh Hashanah La’behemot celebrated one means by which we elevated and esteemed the special creatures that helped us to live and to work. Just as rabbinic Judaism found new ways to realize our Temple offerings with tefillot — prayers — so too the Rosh Hashanah La’behemot challenges us to realize the holiness of the animals in our care in a time without tithes. The New Years Day for Animals is a challenge to remind and rediscover what our responsibilities are to the animals who depend on us for their welfare. Are we treating them correctly and in accord with the mitzvah of tza’ar baalei chayim — sensitivity to the suffering of living creatures? Have we studied and understood the depth of ḥesed — lovingkindness — expressed in the breadth of our ancestors teachings concerning the welfare of animals in Torah? Rosh Hashanah La’behemot is the day to reflect on our immediate or mediated relationships with domesticated animals, recognize our personal responsibilities to them, individually and as part of a distinct and holy people, and repair our relationships to the best of our ability.

Rosh Hashanah La’behemot is a day to reflect on our responsibilities and relationships with beheima and perhaps, by extension ḥayot — non-domesticated or wild animals, as well. In the story of Noaḥ, the activity of humankind was such that the survival of all creatures on Earth were disrupted and ultimately depended directly on Bnei Adam (the children of Adam) for their survival. Today, our massive disruption to the land resources and food web of ḥayot, certainly places a certain onus of responsibility on us — a responsibility we are reminded to heed with the sounding of the horn of a ram, the shofar, on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul.

There is a longstanding minhag (tradition) to check one’s mezuzot during the month of Elul. Being mindful that we rely on the skins of animals to prepare our mezuzot upon which the Shema is written, is perhaps the first step to becoming sensitive to our relationship with other creatures. Even if we don’t perceive an immediate and personal relationship with non-human animals, we still have a precious and holy connection with them. Reappraising our relationship with these creatures that ultimately depend on us for their care and survival is the first step towards understanding the essential relationship which ensures our own survival, as individuals for the coming year, and as a people on this Earth.


Given the valence of teshuvah on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul and the major theme of Rosh Hashanah La’behemot, R’ Dalia Marx recommends Psalms 36 for its reference in verse 7 to the Holy Blessed One saving all creatures: “אדם ובהמה תושיע ה׳.”

תְּהִלִּים לו

1 לַמְנַצֵּ֬חַ ׀ לְעֶֽבֶד־יְהוָ֬ה לְדָוִֽד׃

2 נְאֻֽם־פֶּ֣שַׁע לָ֭רָשָׁע בְּקֶ֣רֶב לִבִּ֑י
אֵֽין־פַּ֥חַד אֱ֝לֹהִ֗ים לְנֶ֣גֶד עֵינָֽיו׃

3 כִּֽי־הֶחֱלִ֣יק אֵלָ֣יו בְּעֵינָ֑יו
לִמְצֹ֖א עֲוֺנ֣וֹ לִשְׂנֹֽא׃

4 דִּבְרֵי־פִ֭יו אָ֣וֶן וּמִרְמָ֑ה
חָדַ֖ל לְהַשְׂכִּ֣יל לְהֵיטִֽיב׃

5 אָ֤וֶן ׀ יַחְשֹׁ֗ב עַֽל־מִשְׁכָּ֫ב֥וֹ
יִ֭תְיַצֵּב עַל־דֶּ֣רֶךְ לֹא־ט֑וֹב
רָ֝֗ע לֹ֣א יִמְאָֽס׃

6 יְ֭הוָה בְּהַשָּׁמַ֣יִם חַסְדֶּ֑ךָ
אֱ֝מֽוּנָתְךָ֗ עַד־שְׁחָקִֽים׃

7 צִדְקָֽתְךָ֨ ׀ כְּֽהַרְרֵי־אֵ֗ל מִ֭שְׁפָּטֶךָ תְּה֣וֹם רַבָּ֑ה
אָ֤דָֽם־וּבְהֵמָ֖ה תוֹשִׁ֣יעַ יְהוָֽה׃

8 מַה־יָּקָ֥ר חַסְדְּךָ֗ אֱלֹ֫הִ֥ים
וּבְנֵ֥י אָדָ֑ם
בְּצֵ֥ל כְּ֝נָפֶ֗יךָ יֶחֱסָיֽוּן׃

9 יִ֭רְוְיֻן מִדֶּ֣שֶׁן בֵּיתֶ֑ךָ
וְנַ֖חַל עֲדָנֶ֣יךָ תַשְׁקֵֽם׃

10 כִּֽי־עִ֭מְּךָ מְק֣וֹר חַיִּ֑ים
בְּ֝אוֹרְךָ֗ נִרְאֶה־אֽוֹר׃

11 מְשֹׁ֣ךְ חַ֭סְדְּךָ לְיֹדְעֶ֑יךָ
וְ֝צִדְקָֽתְךָ֗ לְיִשְׁרֵי־לֵֽב׃

12 אַל־תְּ֭בוֹאֵנִי רֶ֣גֶל גַּאֲוָ֑ה
וְיַד־רְ֝שָׁעִ֗ים אַל־תְּנִדֵֽנִי׃

13 שָׁ֣ם נָ֭פְלוּ פֹּ֣עֲלֵי אָ֑וֶן
דֹּ֝ח֗וּ וְלֹא־יָ֥כְלוּ קֽוּם׃

Psalms 363

/36:1 For the Leader. [A Psalm] of David the servant of YHVH.

/36:2 Transgression speaks to the wicked, methinks—
There is no fear of God before their eyes.

/36:3 For it flatters them in their eyes,
Until their iniquity is found, and they be hated.

/36:4 The words of their mouth are iniquity and deceit;
They have left off to be wise, to do good.

/36:5 They devise iniquity upon their bed;
They set themselves in a way that is not good;
They abhor not evil.

/36:6 Your lovingkindness, YHVH, is in the heavens;
Your faithfulness reaches unto the skies.

/36:7 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains;
Your judgments are like the great deep;
Adam and beheima you preserve, YHVH.

/36:8 How precious is your lovingkindness, Elohim!
And the children of Adam take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

/36:9 They are abundantly satisfied with the fatness of your house;
And you make them drink of the river of your pleasures.

/36:10 For with you is the fountain of life;
In your light do we see light.

/36:11 O continue your lovingkindness unto them that know you;
And your righteousness to the upright in heart.

/36:12 Let not the foot of pride overtake me,
And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away.

/36:13 There are the workers of iniquity fallen;
They are thrust down, and are not able to rise.


From Naftali Ejdelman, the following Yiddish song, “Tsaar Balei Ḥayim”, source unknown. Many thanks to Tiferet Zimmern-Kahan for recording the niggun for the song.


Tsaar balei ḥayim, tsaar balei ḥayim,
me tor nisht makhn a booboo far a ḥaye,
Vayl oyb me makht a booboo far a ḥaye,
Haybt zi on tsu vaynen
Vay, Vay, Se tit mir vay (3x)
Me tor nisht makhn a booboo far a ḥaye

Tsaar balei ḥayim, tsaar balei ḥayim,
One may not make a booboo for an animal
Because if one makes a booboo for an animal,
She begins to cry
“Woe, woe, it hurts me” (3x)
One may not make a booboo for an animal


The one prominent custom on Rosh Hodesh Elul is the blowing of the shofar at the end of Shacharit. At Tel Shemesh, Rabbi Jill Hammer adopts this custom in crafting a ritual specific to Rosh Hashanah La’behemot.

The first of Elul, according to the Talmud, is the new year for animals—the time when farmers counted all of their animals a year older for purposes of tithing.4 Perhaps this was in preparation for the new year of Tishrei, the new year for people—to remind us that animals were created before us. Another explanation: the first of Elul, one month before the first of Tishrei, reminds us that to discover our humans selves fully we must first discover our animal selves—what our instincts are telling us, and whether we are aware of our most basic needs and feelings. Only when we discover these things can we begin to plan for change.

Blessing of the Animals on the New Moon of Elul by Rabbi Jill Hammer


The new moon of the month of Elul, according to Mishnah Rosh haShanah 1:1, is the new year for the animals, just as the full moon of Shevat is the new year for trees. This ritual celebrates and reflects on the human connection to animals.

(Gather in a place where pets can gather too, or where you can see wildlife. Begin with a niggun or song. You can also begin by invoking the four elements.


We have become tyrants on this planet, using its resources for ourselves and driving animals into the corners of the earth. Before we can make amends to one another at the new year, we must first make amends to the vulnerable creatures who live among us. As we hear the cry of the shofar for the first time, may we hear in it the cry of all life. May the One who is the breath of life guide us to protect the earth and make room in it for other creatures to thrive.

(The shofar is blown once, a single tekiyah/blast.)

We are grateful for all the good we get from animals. Some of us eat animals, some wear their skins, some eat eggs and cheese, some use medicines and even organs that come from animals, some wear wool and silk, some write on Torah scrolls, wear tefillin, and blow shofarot that come from animal’s bodies. Some of us do none of these things, but we benefit from the bee that pollinates the flowers and the worm that softens the earth. May the One who is the breath of life cause us to be mindful of these gifts and never to waste them or take them for granted.

(The shofar is blown a second time.)

We bless the creatures we are privileged to live with on the earth: the loving companion animals who live in our houses, the birds at our windows and in the forests, the burrowing creatures under our feet, the fish in the waters of our streams and oceans. May the One who is the breath of life bless all living things that we love and strengthen them.

(Bring forward or turn toward any creatures you wish to bless. Recite the blessing over seeing unique creatures.)

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֶלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, מְֹשַֹנֶּה הַבְּרִיּוֹת:‏

Masculine: Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melekh ha’olam, meshaneh haberiyot.
Feminine: Beruchah at shekhinah, eloheinu ruach ha’olam, meshanah haberiyot.

Blessed are You, Infinite Presence surrounding and filling the world, who makes many kinds of creatures. May we hear their voices and delight in them.

(The shofar is blown again, and all sing [Bill Staines’] “All God’s Creatures Got a Place in the Choir,6 or some other song.)

Further Study

Tza’ar Baalei Chayim: Genesis 1, Genesis 6; Exodus 33:1-33; Talmud Bavli Bava Metziah 32a;
David Sears’ “The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism In Jewish Law and Mysticism” (Orot, 2011)7 Numbers 22 (Bilaam’s Donkey)
Midrash Tehillim for Psalms 36
Talmud Bavli Rosh Hashanah 8a (on the disagreement between Rabi Meir and Rabbi Elazar & Rabi Shimon on the exact date of Rosh Hashanah L’Maaser Beheima)
Many more resources avalailable from Jewish Vegetarians of North America

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