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New Year for the Animals

There are four New Years  festivals recorded in the Mishnah. You’ve probably heard of Tu B’Shvat, the new year of the trees, and Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year.  But did you know that Judaism has a New Year for the Animals? It’s called Rosh Hashanah La’Behemot, and it falls on Elul 1. In 2018, Rosh Hashanah La’Behemot begins the evening of August 11 through the day of August 12.

Just as Tu B’Shvat been revived as a Jewish Earth Day, Rosh Hashanah La’Behemot is a modern-day reminder of human relationships with animals. Animals provide humans with companionship, food, clothing and so much more.  Rosh Hashanah La’Behemot is a time for us to honor our relationships with behemot, the animals in our lives.

Think of the chicken on your Shabbat dinner table, the milk in your coffee, or the leather in your sneakers.  Ask yourself: How do animals impact your life? What are your relationships with animals?  If you start paying attention to the products you rely on everyday, you will see how much you rely on domesticated animals.  There are plenty of reasons to celebrate animals on Rosh Hashanah La’Behemot!

Rosh Hodesh Elul, the new moon festival of the month of Elul, marks the day for ma’aser behema, or the counting of domesticated animals, such as cattle and sheep, for tax purposes. During the time of the Temple, this day was the new year to determine the start date of animal tithes.

When the Temple stood, Rosh Hashanah La’Behemot celebrated one way people honored the domesticated animals that allowed people to survive.  Rosh Hashanah La’Behemot parallels  the more well-known Rosh Hashanah L’llanot (Tu B’shvat), the  New Year’s Festival that marked the day for tithing fruit bearing trees.

Rosh Hashanah La’Behemot points to the connection with domesticated animals. “Domesticated animals” include all those historically bred by humans, whether they are kosher or non-kosher, such as cats, dogs, cattle, chickens, pigs, llamas, and goats. Today, animals are  indirectly affected by humans in ways our ancestors couldn’t imagine.  Human activities like factory farming and deforestation lead to habitat loss and decreases in biodiversity.  Even animals we don’t directly interact with are being impacted by human activity

Use this day to consider the deep relationship between humans and animals of all kinds.  The holiday can serve as a chance to remind people tza’ar ba’alei hayim, the prohibition against unnecessary cruelty to animals. Rosh Hashanah La’Behemot is a perfect day to start conversations about animal welfare — and start taking action to improve the lives of animals around the world.

Rosh Hashanah La’Behemot has not been celebrated extensively since Temple times. There is room for creativity and interpretation in adapting this ancient holiday to address modern issues. Questions? Ideas about how to celebrate? Contact us at foodeducation@hazon.org.

Rosh Hashanah La’Behemot Programs:

Animal Connection Programs:

  • The Ark Project: This b’nai mitzvah curriculum from the Jewish Initiative for Animals contains a wealth of activities to explore human-animal relationships.
  • Min Ha’Aretz: Making meaning from our food: This curriculum includes texts, Jewish quotes, and questions that allow children to explore their relationship with animals in a Jewish context.
  • Meat Reduction Rap: This fun activity allows for a creative way to explore the environmental effects of eating meat, specifically beef.

Articles

Jewish Organizations Promoting Animal Welfare

  • Jewish Initiative For Animals (JIFA):  provides new ways for the Jewish community to bring its values of compassion for animals into practice and build Jewish community in the process.
  • Shamayim V’Aretz Institute: Jewish animal welfare organization that educates leaders, trains advocates, and leads campaigns for the ethical treatment of animals
  • Jewish Veg: encourages and helps Jews embrace plant-based diets as an expression of the Jewish values of compassion for animals, concern for health, and care for the environment.