According to Jewish tradition, we actually have four dates on the calendar considered a new year. In the same ancient text that offers the dates for the new years mentioned above, we also learn that Rosh Hodesh Elul, exactly one month before Rosh Hashanah, is the new year for the animals.
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 Rosh HaShanahs.
The first of Nissan is the Rosh HaShanah for kings and pilgrimage holidays.
The first of Elul is the Rosh HaShanah for tithing beheima. Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon say, “The first of Tishray.”
The first of Tishray 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].
In ancient times, this simply meant the date on the calendar that farmers used to mark the age of their animals – quite similar to the role of Tu biShvat for trees. Though only a handful of communities in the early 21st century choose to mark the first of Elul as a day to celebrate animals, the holiday has gained momentum in recent years due to the increasing number of year-round Jewish community farms.
Here are some suggested ways that you can celebrate the “Birthday of Animals”:
- Using the ritual designed by Rabbi Jill Hammer, gather friends, family, neighbors and pets to perform this ritual on, or near the first of Elul.
- What sort of ritual could we use to appreciate the animals in our lives? For example, Catholics have an annual “Blessing of the Animals” (see article here or here). Jewish community farms and some synagogues have similar rituals to bless animals in the community. Using the guide below, design a brief ritual that shows the animals in your community that you love and appreciate them.
Guide for designing a ritual
- Sing: Choose or write a song or poem about one or more animals. You can use the text above or other favorite Jewish stories about animals from this book.
- Look: Gather photos of or a group of local animals.
- Share: Write out 2-3 questions to discuss human-animal relationships, such as “What is something you appreciate about animals?” and encourage each participant to share.
- Listen: Blow the shofar, the familiar blast for this season of the year.