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New Year Of Trees: Parashat “Re’e” and Rosh Hodesh Elul

0 Comments 14 August 2012

Vinoth Chandar / CC BY 2.0
Vinoth Chandar / CC BY 2.0

The Jewish calendar marks many special days, among them Tu B’Shvat,the New Year Of Trees, that in recent years has become a day for caring about the environment.  But there is no day dedicated to animals. Why do we not mark in the calendar our partners in this world who go on fours, accompany us in our loneliness, guard our houses, make us happy with their singing in the mornings, whose milk and whose meat nourishes us? How is it that we mark the new year of the trees, but are silent about animals, species which resemble us much more? 

Meat is allowed, blood forbidden

Our parasha, parashat “Re’eh” deals, among other things, with the laws of Kashrut.  Moshe allows Israel to eat meat and forbids them to eat blood (Deuteronomy XII, 20-23).  Following this, the Torah deals with animals which are allowed to be eaten, first with pure animals and the criteria of pure animals: “And every beast that parteth the hoof, and hath the hoof wholly cloven in two, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts” (XIV,6) and the criteria of animals living in water, in the end there is a list of birds which are clean and permitted to be eaten.  The parasha about clean animals ends with a prohibition:  “Thou shall not see the a kid in its mother’s milk” (XIV,21).

This prohibition is different in character from the preceding prohibitions – here we are not talking about an animal that itself is forbidden: a kid and the milk of a goat are permitted but not when consumed together. “Thou shall not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk” appears three times in the Torah, and it was so extended, that in the halakha it is the basis for the prohibition on mixing milk and meat. Here I will deal with just one aspect of the statement: The combination of the intention of the Torah, which understands that human beings like eating meat and the understanding that the pleasure that humans take in eating meat is bound up with causing suffering to animals.  The empathy towards animals is especially touching, the Torah acknowledges that they also love their offspring and are hurt by their loss.  From this derives the prohibition on combining milk, a nourishing and reviving liquid, with meat, which is bound up with the taking of life.

Repairing our relationship with plants

The Book of Deuteronomy that, in what follows, will demand that we protect plants     (XX,19) and requires that we also let the animals in our house rest on Shabbat (Deuteronomy, V,14), provides another call for us to have mercy on animals, when it demands that we recognize that our enjoyment of meat is bond up with causing harm to animals.

Perhaps, just as the Kabbalists of Zefat determined that Tu B’Shvat should be a day devoted to repairing our relationship with plants and in this way repair the whole world, so we need to set aside a day to repair our relationship with animals, that share our world? Maybe, in these days, when many people ask themselves what they should eat and how they should nourish their bodies, we should allocate time for a way to relate to animals (domestic, wild and farm animals)?

And here the same Mishnah from which our forefathers formed Tu B’shvat, the Festival of Trees, that since then has taken different forms, gives us an opening to establish this day:

The four new years are:

  • On the first of Nisan,the new year for the kings and for the festivals;
  • On the first of Elul, the new year for the tithing of animals;
  • Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shimon say, in the first of Tishrei
  • On the first of Tishrei, the new year for years, for the Sabbatical years and for the Jubilee years and for the planting and for the vegetables
  • On the first of Shevat,the new year for the trees, these are the words of the House Of Shammai;

The Houseof Hillel says, on the fifteenth thereof. (Mishna, Rosh Hashana, I,I).

The trees’ new year

Comparing with Tu B’shvat (the fifteenth of Shevat), which over the years has become the new year of the trees, it has recently been suggested to turn the first of Elul, the new year of the tithing of animals, into the New year of animals. It is true that in the Mishna it is not an especially festive day but rather a day which determines the number of animals for the tithing, a kind of tax day, and it is true we are talking about a number for the needs of sacrificing animals and not for protecting them and about sacrificial animals and not about other animals. However, this is the way of Judaism, to renew and create in line with past frameworks (so it was in the case of Tu B’Shvat), and to pour new nactar into old vessels. So, in the past it was the new year of the animals marked for sacrifice that a man had to set aside from his other animals, but today this day can mark compassion  and responsibility towards animals.  And the issue suits the prohibition “Thou shalt not seethe the kid in its mother’s milk,” which can be understood not only as a law of halakha but also as a general call to be watchful when eating the flesh of animals.

Next Sunday, the firstof Elul (19.8.12) we will mark for the firs time the new year of animals. You are invited to join us for Rosh Hodesh Elul:  The new year of animals, which will take place in the Or Zamenhof Garden, in Jerusalem, at 17:00.

Shabbat Shalom

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  1. Kol hakavod to Rabbi Dr. Dalia Marx for her pioneering effort to transform the ancient New Year for Animals into a modern holiday to consider Judaism’s beautiful teachings on animals and how to apply them to reduce the current widespread abuses of animals. I wish her and others involved much success and I hope many will attend the historic event to commemorate the renewed holiday on Sunday.

    For more information, a link to an article being distributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) is

    http://www.jta.org/news/article/2012/08/14/3103901/op-ed-at-the-new-year-lets-give-jewish-animals-a-new-jewish-chance

    I have four articles in a special section on the New Year for Animals right after the section on the Jewish festivals at JewishVeg.com/schwartz.

  2. It is urgent that the ancient New Year for Animals become a part of Jewish life today because the treatment of animals is so far from Jewish teachings about avoiding tsa’ar ba’alei chaim, and because production and consumption of meat and other animal products violate basic Jewish mandates to preserve human health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, and help hungry people. Also, animal -based diets and agriculture are causing an epidemic of diseases in Jewish and other communities, and contributing significantly to climate change and other environmental problems that threaten all of humanity. I believe it is essential that the Jewish community address these issues to help shift our imperiled planet to a sustainable path

  3. Dan Brook says:

    Richard Schwartz, above, will be conducting a New Year for Animals seder in NYC, I will be conducting one in San Francisco, there will be one at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in CT, and there will be two in Jerusalem, possibly one in LA, and hopefully many elsewheres.

    Shanah Tovah!


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