SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) -- A Southern California synagogue is having its third annual “blessing of the animals.”
Congregation Dor Hadash in San Diego holds the event in honor of Tu b’Shevat, the 15th day of Nissan, which this year falls on Jan. 20.
Pet owners are invited to bring their pets to the Reconstructionist shul by noon Sunday, Jan. 9, where they will be blessed by Rabbi Yael Ridburg. Furred, winged and swimming creatures are all welcome -- from cats to turtles.
Tu b’Shevat is known as the new year of trees, and is one of four “new year” celebrations on the Jewish calendar. Some Jews expand the holiday to include blessings for all living things produced by the earth, including plants and animals.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, last year’s blessing ceremony included the audience responding: “May they never suffer from ick, and may their fins and scales always sparkle in the light of your sunshine.”
At least 21 synagogues or other Jewish groups in 10 states have held blessing of the animals ceremonies, with rabbis (and at least one cantor) coming face to muzzle with a wide swath of the animal kingdom, including many animals that Jews do not consider kosher to eat. Although dogs and cats are the most common attendees, clergy have also recited blessings for livestock (goats and sheep), small mammals (hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, rabbits, and ferrets), birds (parrots, ducks, and geese), reptiles (snakes and turtles), amphibians (frogs), fish (goldfish), shellfish (hermit crabs), and insects (at least one cricket and one millipede). Some organizers of these events have based their practices on Christian blessing of the animals ceremonies.
Sure, we should be kind to our critterly companions - Israelis especially still have a lot to learn in that regard. But making blessings over their heads? Nah. Not unless we're about to prepare them for the table. Or for sacrifice. That's the Jewish way.
And where could it all lead, this Jewish Dr. Doolittling? Next thing you know, there will be a move to count animals in your minyan. And it won't stop there. Egalitarians will demand mixed seating - you know, my lion sharing a bench with your lamb. An elephant demands an aliya. A moose seeks membership in the Men's Club, a seal joins the sisterhood, a beaver runs for election to the governing board. And how long before the beasts seek pulpits of their own?
I'm getting visions of something like George Orwell's Animal Shul. "Two legs treif, four legs kosher." And once the animals seize control of the kashrut cartel, it won't be long before we're all condemned to vegetarianism. Forget about the chicken soup and pot roast on Friday night. Get ready for the tofu cholent on Shabbat. Ridiculous? I agree. Likewise with the blessing of the animals.