Meat and Feathers: We Confess, a vidui for Rosh haShanah la-Behemah (the Jewish New Year’s Day for Animals), by Trisha Arlin

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(leader)
I feel the Presence
Of what today I call God
Tomorrow I may call nature–
The Fierce Mystery
All around us,
This connection that must know everything because it is everything.

During Elul we must confess to people before we confess to God
And perhaps on Rosh HaShanah LaBehemah we must confess to animals before we confess to people.

So let us begin.

We acknowledge our debts to and our transgressions against
The domesticated beasts,
Our food, our clothes, our decoration.
They are
Our property, our friends, our victims.

And we ask that they hear our confessions and our blessings:

(together)
Cattle
Sheep
Pigs
Goats
Chickens
Ducks
Geese
Peacocks
Horses

We celebrate the many gifts you give us, willingly and unwillingly.

(leader)
We eat you,
We eat your bodies and reminisce over the best parts,
We share recipes.

We eat your children,
We drink the milk and the honey you make to feed those children,
We eat your eggs before they can even be children.

We keep ourselves warm with your skin
And steal your beauty to enhance our own.
We cultivate you for your fur and feathers and kill you whenever we need them.

We like the way you look.
We make art and poetry to celebrate you in the fields and farms
Just before we slaughter you.

For thousands of years
We have used your bodies to plow our fields and mill our grain,
We have used your bodies to ride from place to place
And now that we don’t need you quite as as much
We use you for sport or dog food.

We bless your memory.

(together)
Cattle
Sheep
Pigs
Goats
Chickens
Ducks
Geese
Peacocks
Horses
We acknowledge how we have abused you.

(leader)
We imprison you.
We torture you.
We test our make up and drugs on you.

We ride you.
We train you.
And we discard you when you’re old.

We enclose herd animals alone in stalls instead of with their own kind,
We cram you into metal enclosures that won’t allow any movement,
We raise thousands in spaces fit only for hundreds.

We murder you.
We wring your necks.
We behead you.
We bang you on the head.
We shoot you.
We pluck you.
We skin you.
We chop and grind you up.

We acknowledge our cruelty and ask for your forgiveness.

(together)
Cattle
Sheep
Pigs
Goats
Chickens
Ducks
Geese
Ostriches
Peacocks
Horses

We confess how we have lied to ourselves about what we do to you.

(leader)
We call you
Porterhouse Steak
Buffalo Wings
Venison
Mutton
Camembert
Yogurt
Leather
Feathers
Down
Sunny Side up.
Anything but what you really are.

We buy slabs of meat in transparent packages that don’t look like you
So we don’t have to think about how you were raised and slaughtered.
You are a breast or a leg or a steak,
You are a hamburger, a wing or a bucket.
We tool and dye your skin and call it leather
So we don’t have to acknowledge we’re wearing your skin.
We arrange your feathers artfully
And admire the beautiful colors,
Ignoring why you have them in the first place.
We put your feathers in our pillows
And we sleep well.

We give thanks for denial, without which we could not get through the day.

(together)
Cattle
Sheep
Pigs
Goats
Chickens
Ducks
Geese
Peacocks
Horses
Forgive those of us who cannot give you up.

(leader)
You domestic beasts are all vegetarians, why is that?
Why don’t we eat predators?
Is it because you are docile and easy to domesticate?
Or is it because predators remind us of ourselves?

Maybe some of us here don’t eat you
Maybe some of us here don’t wear you.
Maybe none of us should.
But many of us do.

(optional)
I do.
I eat meat. I love meat.
I love eggs, honey, yogurt, chicken, steak.
I wear leather. I’m wearing it on my feet right now.
My pillow is filled with down. I slept okay.
I know all about how you suffer and still I partake of it all.
I don’t eat veal. That’s it. Not much.
I think about helping you.
But i don’t.
So I can’t ask for forgiveness
because I’m not going to change.
This month, anyway.

(optional) Are there any other confessions, besides mine? anyone? ((wait)

(together)
Cattle
Sheep
Pigs
Goats
Chickens
Ducks
Geese
Peacocks
Horses

We could try to make at least small changes.

(leader)
We can eat less meat.
We can wear less leather.
We can refuse to wear real fur.
We can refuse to eat veal.
We can only buy grass fed and pasture raised poultry and meat, if we can afford it.
We can stop wearing feathers.
We can use alternative down feather pillows, though that’s plastic and not so good for the environment.
(optional) What else can we do? (wait for suggestions)

Maybe we become vegetarians or vegans,
Maybe we don’t.
But we can do a little.
We can start.

(together)
Barukh Atah Adonai
Brukha At Shekhinah

Blessed Yah,
Breath of Life,
Remembering us in Death,
The Fierce Mystery:
We acknowledge, celebrate, and give thanks for all the ways the animals have made our lives possible.
We confess to cruelty and hypocrisy.
We ask your forgiveness for all the wrongs we have done our domestic beasts,
We are blessed by their lives.
May we learn to be a blessing to them.
And we wish them a Happy New Year and a Ḥodesh Tov

And let us say,
Amen

Trisha Arlin first published this prayer for a communal confession on Rosh Hashanah LaBehemot on her liturgy site, here. Elements of this vidui (confession) are derived from the Kavvanah before Blowing the Shofar on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul for Rosh Hashanah LaBehemot (New Year’s Day for Domesticated Animals).

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