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Explanation and ritual for the Jewish New Year’s Day for Animals, Rosh haShanah la-Behemah on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul

https://opensiddur.org/?p=3498 Explanation and ritual for the Jewish New Year’s Day for Animals, Rosh haShanah la-Behemah on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul 2011-08-28 02:00:12 Once upon a time when the Temple still stood, the Rosh haShanah la-Behemah 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 <em>tefillot</em> -- prayers -- so too the Rosh haShanah la-Behemah challenges us to realize the holiness of the animals in our care in a time without tithes. The Jewish New Year's 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 mitsvah of <em>tsa'ar baalei ḥayyim</em> -- 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?haShanah la-Behemah 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. Text the Open Siddur Project Aharon N. Varady Aharon N. Varady https://opensiddur.org/copyright-policy/ Aharon N. Varady https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/ Rosh haShanah la-Behemah Rosh Ḥodesh Elul (אֶלוּל) shofar blowing eco-conscious animals Compassion animal welfare צער באלי חיים tsa'ar baalei ḥayyim בהמות behemot ḥeshbon nefesh behemah
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Source (Hebrew)Translation (English)
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 Roshei Shanim/New Year days.
The first of Nisan is the Rosh HaShanah for kings and pilgrimage holidays.
The first of Elul is the Rosh HaShanah for tithing behemah.
Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon say, “The first of Tishrei.”
The first of Tishrei 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 mas’ar behemah — the tithing of domesticated animals. Rosh haShanah la-Behemah parallels Rosh Hashanah la-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 teshuvah — an intense tikkun of all of our living relationships, culminating with the New Years Day for the Maasei Bereshit (the works of Creation).[1] The idea that Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of humanity follows the tradition that Rosh Hashanah on Rosh Ḥodesh Tishrei is the sixth day after the first “day” of creation — Elul 25.  

What a better way to begin a month dedicated to humbling ourselves and repairing our relationships than by reflecting first on our relationship with behemah — the domesticated animals which depend on us for their care and sustenance. The category of behemah 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] The legal categories of wild and domesticated animals are examined in the Talmud through an animal which contains aspects of both, the “koy”.   If we can imagine, empathize, and understand the dependency of behemah in our care, how much better can we realize our relationship with blessed Holy 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-Behemah 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-Behemah 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 mitsvah of tsa’ar baalei ḥayyim — 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’behemah 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-Behemah is a day to reflect on our responsibilities and relationships with behemah 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.

Liturgy

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

The Talmud Bavli Rosh Hashana 8a gives Psalms 65:13 as the source-text for when the New Year’s Day for tithing domesticated animals occurs.

A prayer of R’ Nathan Sternhartz of Nemirov for Sukkot with an overarching concern for the welfare of animals, adapted from the teachings of Rebbe Naḥman of Bratslav, cites Deuteronomy 28:4 (see Liqutei Tefilot I:145).

Rituals

Two rituals for the day are the Kavvanah Before Blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul, and a roleplaying activity for all ages — the Council of All-Beings.

Songs

From Naftali Ejdelman, the following Yiddish song, “Tsaar Balei Ḥayim,” (source unknown unfortunately) feels relevant.

Further Study

For the sourcesheet, “Introduction to Rosh haShanah la-Behemah,” find Aharon Varady’s compilation of texts on Sefaria.

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Also find:

  • Tsaar Baalei Ḥayyim in the Talmud Bavli: Bava Metziah 32a
  • Rabbi Dovid Fink’s Eight session course on the Laws of Kindness Towards Animals at WebYeshiva
  • David Sears’ “The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism In Jewish Law and Mysticism” (Orot, 2011)[3] Thanks to Dr. Richard Schwartz of Jewish Vegetarians of North America for sharing Sears’ great effort  

Notes

Notes
1The idea that Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of humanity follows the tradition that Rosh Hashanah on Rosh Ḥodesh Tishrei is the sixth day after the first “day” of creation — Elul 25.
2The legal categories of wild and domesticated animals are examined in the Talmud through an animal which contains aspects of both, the “koy”.
3Thanks to Dr. Richard Schwartz of Jewish Vegetarians of North America for sharing Sears’ great effort
 

 

5 comments to Explanation and ritual for the Jewish New Year’s Day for Animals, Rosh haShanah la-Behemah on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul

  • The Hierophant

    Major shout out at Beit Avi Chai from Rabbi Dalia Marx, liturgy scholar, who wrote an article sharing this idea for Hebrew readers. You can read her article here.

  • […] Chandler and Rabbi Jill Hammer had created a blessing and ritual for the day. Last year, I posted a sourcesheet on the day hoping it would in the very least begin to spark others imaginations. I contacted […]

  • […] Everyone at Isabella Freedman will be invited to our goat pen for a short ceremony including listening intently to the voice of the shofar. We will then engage in a role-playing exercise introduced to the Teva […]

  • […] opportunity to consider the awesome interdependence of all living creatures. Prompting new rituals, prayers, and reflections on animal rights and ethics, the New Year For Animals has inspired a rich […]

  • Let’s Celebrate!

    The Hebrew month of Elul starts today. It is the month preceding Rosh Hashanah, which is commonly referred to as THE Jewish New Year. The Mishnah (Oral Torah, first major work of Rabbinic literature) offers four new years’ on the Jewish calendar. The first of Elul (today) is Rosh Hashanah Behemot, the New Year (or birthday) of domesticated animals. The four New Years are:

    1st of Tishrei (7th month):

    Rosh Hashanah is seen traditionally as the date when the world was created, the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, and when the Jewish calendar advances.In ancient times it was also used for calculating certain tithes, such as those for vegetables, and for calculating the start of Shmita and Jubilee years (when land was left fallow).

    15th of Shevat:(11th month):

    Tu B’Shvat: New year for fruit trees.According to the Torah laws of Orlah, fruits cannot be consumed from trees less than three years old, and in the fouth year were offered at the Temple. Tu B’Shvat was considered the birth date of the trees for this purpose.

    1st of Nisan (1st month):

    New year for counting the years of the reigns of kings in ancient Israel.It is revered as the day when the Israelites left Egypt and began their journey to freedom and closely tied to our festival of Passover.

    1st of Elul (6th month):

    Rosh Hashanah Behemot: New year for determining animal tithes, thus considered a birthday for all the animals. It was used to determine the start date for the animal tithe to the priestly class.Marks the beginning of preparations for Rosh Hashanah, where daily ritual practice might include blowing the shofar every morning, reciting Psalm 27, or reciting selichot.

    Ahron Varady writes in the Open Siddur Project:“Rosh Hashanah la-Behemah parallels Rosh Hashanah la-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. Just as rabbinic Judaism found new ways to realize our Temple offerings with tefillot — prayers — so too the Rosh haShanah la-Behemah challenges us to realize the holiness of the animals in our care in a time without tithes.” There has not been similar interest in reclaiming this holiday of domesticated animals as much as a holiday of fruit trees because of our disconnect to our food system. Further, most often Tu B’shvat is celebrated as a holiday of all trees, a Jewish Arbor Day, and any connection to tithing is lost in the four worlds of a Kabbalistic seder.On this first day of Elul, we also begin a month long process of teshuvah (introspection) and consideration of our relationships with all Maasei Bereshit (works of Creation). The letters of Elul form an acronym for the words in the verse Anile‑dodi ve‑dodi li–“I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” (Song of Songs 6:3). Commonly understood to refer to our relationship with the divine, we also have the opportunity to focus on this relationship of love with all of Creation.The 1st Lebovicher Rebbe, Shneur Zalman of Liadi, refers to G!d as being accessible “in the field” during the month of Elul, similarly to the way that the King would meet subjects in the field before returning to his palace.

    Holiness is accessible in the fields this month and it is a time ripe in the Jewish calendar for communing with divinity.

    We’re reminding of these in the words of members of members of the Jewish Volunteer Gardening Brigade of the way gardening makes people feel:

    Tending to a garden is a peaceful and meditative activity and the garden can be a contemplative place.I love working with the earth to produce new things and an artist so I love anything that allows me to be more deeply involved in all stages of production.That you can look outside and be interested and happy anytime.

    These days, as people are more grounded in place, many are spending time in outside places and increasingly have started to garden. What an opportunity to embrace during Elul!

    As you celebrate or prepare for a New Year, and a new season, may you spend time out in the fields, with your beloved.

    Shabbat Shalom,Leora MallachCo-Founder and DirectorBeantown Jewish Gardens

    P.s. We’ve got mentors in waiting looking to support new gardeners. It’s not too late to join the Jewish Volunteer Gardeners Brigade if you’re looking for support and peer community.
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