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☞   Rosh haShanah la-Behemah

This is an archive of prayers and ritual activities prepared for, or relevant to, Rosh haShanah la-Behemah, the Jewish New Year’s Day for [primarily, Domesticated] Animals (Behemot), celebrated on Alef b’Elul, the first day of the month of Elul in the Jewish calendar. The day is one of the four New Year’s day festivals (Rosh Hashanot) in the Jewish calendar as explained in the Mishnah (Seder Moed Rosh Hashanah 1:1). During the Second Temple period, this was a day on which shepherds determined which of their mature animals were to be tithed for offerings. The day coincides with Rosh Ḥodesh Elul, exactly one month before Rosh Hashanah.

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.

Click here to contribute your own prayers, song, or resource for an activity or ritual for Rosh haShanah la-Behemah!


Looking for something else?

For public readings selected for or relevant to Rosh haShanah la-Behemah, go here.

For an overview of Rosh haShanah la-Behemah, find this article on Wikipedia.

For an introduction and deep dive into the history and cultural context of this day, past and present, find this sourcesheet by Aharon Varady on Sefaria.

For Rosh haShanah la’Behemah seder haggadot, please visit here.

For prayers composed for Rosh Ḥodesh Elul, visit here.

For prayers composed for Rosh haShanah la-Ilanot (a/k/a Tu biShvat), go here.

For prayers composed for Rosh haShanah l’Maaseh Bereshit (a/k/a Rosh Hashanah), go here.

For prayers composed for Rosh haShanah la-Melakhim, go here.

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

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 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 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?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. . . .

The Council of All Beings, an activity for all ages on the Jewish New Year’s Day for Animals, Rosh haShanah la-Behemah, on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul

Domesticated animals (behemot) are distinguished from ḥayot, wild animals in having been bred to rely upon human beings for their welfare. As the livelihood and continued existence of wild animals increasingly depends on the energy, food, and land use decisions of human beings, the responsibility for their care is coming into the purview of our religious responsibilities as Jews under the mitsvah of tsa’ar baalei ḥayyim — mindfullness of the suffering of all living creatures in our decisions and behavior. Rosh haShanah la-Behemah is the festival where we are reminded of this important mitsvah at the onset of the month in which we imagine ourselves to be the flock of a god upon whose welfare we rely. The “Council of All Beings” is an activity that can help us understand and reflect upon the needs of the flock of creatures that already rely upon us for their welfare. . . .

Kavvanah before Shofar Blowing on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul for Rosh haShanah la-Behemah (the Jewish New Year’s Day for Animals)

The text of this ritual shofar blowing for Rosh Ḥodesh Elul on Rosh haShanah La-Behemah developed as part of the annual ceremony taking place at the dairy barn on the campus of the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center beginning in 2009 under the auspices of Elat Chayyim Center for Jewish Spirituality and the Adamah Farm & Fellowship. The first Rosh haShanah ritual ceremony was co-developed by Rabbi Jill Hammer and Kohenet Sarah Chandler. My contribution of the kavvanah came a year later in 2010. The text presented here was built upon that ceremony and was presented first at the Hazon Detroit Jewish Food Festival in 2016. . . .

הגדה לסדר אלף באלול, ראש השנה לבעלי־החיים (זנגביל)‏ | Haggadah for the Alef b’Elul Seder, the New Year’s Day for Animals (Ginger House 2013)

ראש השנה לבעלי־החיים – על מה ולמה?‏ מקורו של ראש השנה לבעלי־חיים הוא באותה משנה שבה המקור לט”ו בשבט: “ארבעה ראשי שנים הם: באחד בניסן ראש השנה למלכים ולרגלים. באחד באלול ראש השנה למעשר בהמה; רבי אלעזר ורבי שמעון אומרין, באחד בתשרי. באחד בתשרי ראש השנה לשנים לשמיטים וליובלות, ולנטיעה ולירקות. באחד בשבט ראש השנה לאילן, כדברי בית שמאי; בית הלל אומרין בחמישה עשר בו”. (משנה ראש השנה א, א).‏ . . .

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

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). . . .

A Prayer for the Earth, by Rabbi David Seidenberg (neohasid.org)

God of all spirit, all directions, all winds You have placed in our hands power unlike any since the world began to overturn the orders of creation. . . .

ברכות | Bringing blessing to all life on Earth, a d’var tefilah on making blessings over foods by Rabbi David Seidenberg (neohasid.org)

The Talmud (Brakhot 35a-b) teaches that eating food without saying a brakhah (a blessing) beforehand is like stealing. A lot of people know that teaching, and it’s pretty deep. But here’s an even deeper part: the Talmud doesn’t call it “stealing”, but מעילה ׁ(“me’ilah“), which means taking from sacred property that belongs to the Temple. So that means that everything in the world is sacred and this Creation is like a HOLY TEMPLE. . . .

A Blessing for the Bugs on the Jewish New Year’s Day for Animals, Rosh Hashana La-Behemah, by Trisha Arlin

I have come to see That we are not the only creatures who are B’tzelem Elohim, We are all in God’s image. So today, on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul, On the New Year of the Domesticated Beasts, Let’s give thanks to the bugs Like the four questioning children Wise and snarky and simple and oblivious, Like the four worlds of the kabbala The earth, the sky, the heart and the spirit We give thanks and acknowledge The bugs we have domesticated The bugs who serve us in their wild state The bugs that hurt us or gross us out And the bugs who live only for themselves, without any reference to us. . . .

תהלים ח׳ | Psalms 8, a mizmor of David (translated by Isaac Gantwerk Mayer)

The 8th psalm of the book of Psalms in Masoretic Hebrew accompanied by an English translation. . . .

ברכת המזון לראש השנה לבהמה | Birkat haMazon Supplement for Rosh haShanah la-Behemah, by Isaac Gantwerk Mayer

This is a poetic text for Birkat haMazon, signed with an alphabetical acrostic and the name of the author, to be recited on the first of Elul. It celebrates the variety of God’s creation as exemplified by the natural diversity of species, as well as alluding to the livestock tithes traditionally assigned on the first of Elul. . . .

Wormicide, a poem by Rabbi Alter Abelson (1931)

The poem “Wormicide” (1931) by Rabbi Alter Abelson. . . .

תְּהִלִּים ס״ה | Psalms 65, a mizmor sung by David (trans. Aharon Varady after JPS 1917)

Psalms 65 with an English translation updated from the 1917 JPS Tanakh. . . .

צער בעלי־חיים | Tsaar Baalei Ḥayyim [It is forbidden to cause] suffering to a living creature, a song in Yiddish

“Tsaar Balei Ḥayyim” ([It is forbidden to cause] suffering to a living creature), source unknown. Many thanks to Tiferet Zimmern-Kahan for recording the niggun for the song and to Naftali Ejdelman and The Jewish Daily Forward for providing the lyrics. . . .

ליקוטי תפילות חלק א׳ תפילה קמ״ה | Prayer for Sukkot (Liqutei Tefilot I:145), by Reb Nosson Sternhartz of Nemirov (early 19th century)

A prayer for Sukkot linking the theme of home building and receiving Torah with a warning not to eat animals and to extend ones compassion to all creatures. . . .

פֶּרֶק שִׁירָה | Pereq Shirah, a litany of verses spoken by the creatures & works of Creation (after the arrangement of Natan Slifkin)

Talmudic and midrashic sources contain hymns of the creation usually based on homiletic expansions of metaphorical descriptions and personifications of the created world in the Bible. The explicitly homiletic background of some of the hymns in Perek Shira indicates a possible connection between the other hymns and Tannaitic and Amoraic homiletics, and suggests a hymnal index to well-known, but mostly unpreserved, homiletics. The origin of this work, the period of its composition and its significance may be deduced from literary parallels. A Tannaitic source in the tractate Hagiga of the Jerusalem (Hag. 2:1,77a—b) and Babylonian Talmud (Hag. 14b), in hymns of nature associated with apocalyptic visions and with the teaching of ma’aseh merkaba serves as a key to Perek Shira’s close spiritual relationship with this literature. Parallels to it can be found in apocalyptic literature, in mystic layers in Talmudic literature, in Jewish mystical prayers surviving in fourth-century Greek Christian composition, in Heikhalot literature, and in Merkaba mysticism. The affinity of Perek Shira with Heikhalot literature, which abounds in hymns, can be noted in the explicitly mystic introduction to the seven crowings of the cock — the only non-hymnal text in the collection — and the striking resemblance between the language of the additions and that of Shi’ur Koma and other examples of this literature. In Seder Rabba de-Bereshit, a Heikhalot tract, in conjunction with the description of ma’aseh bereshit, there is a clear parallel to Perek Shira’s praise of creation and to the structure of its hymns. The concept reflected in this source is based on a belief in the existence of angelic archetypes of created beings who mediate between God and His creation, and express their role through singing hymns. As the first interpretations of Perek Shira also bear witness to its mystic character and angelologic significance, it would appear to be a mystical chapter of Heikhalot literature, dating from late Tannaitic — early Amoraic period, or early Middle Ages. . . .

תְּהִלִּים ל״ו | Psalms 36 by David (trans. Aharon Varady after JPS 1917)

Psalms 36 with an English translation updated from the 1917 JPS Tanakh. . . .