Thursday, January 6, 2011

Blessing Animals In Synagogue? In Pennsylvania, Texas, And Now In California

We thought we'd heard it all when we posted stories last year about Orthodox communities having a Petter Chamor ceremony to redeem a firstborn donkey and present it to the Kohen.

Now comes a story from JTA that Dor Chadash, a Reconstructionist synagogue in San Diego, will hold a Blessing of the Animals on Tu b'Shevat, the holiday commemorating the New Year for trees.  This year the holiday falls on January 20.

Here is the complete article, as released by JTA:
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.
(NOTE TO JTA:  Tu b'Shevat falls on the 15th day of Nissan???  Please answer these questions:
1. In what Jewish month does the 15th day of Shevat fall?
2. Who's buried in Grant's tomb?)
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.”
The Petter Chamor ceremony is mentioned in the Torah.  But blessing of the animals?  We had to do a little research to track this one down.  According to Michael Croland, who writes the Heeb'n'Vegan blog,
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.
In 1997, after Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom conducted a blessing of the animals ceremony at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, Matt Nesvisky wrote an opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post, from which we quote the following, just to be fair and balanced and to remember that we are a Jewish humor blog:
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.
We're not taking a position on whether or not rabbis and synagogues should lay their hands on animals and pronounce Hebrew blessings on them.  We're just noting that the desire to do so has been cropping up in congregations from Reconstructionist to Orthodox more than we realized.  

How do you feel about it?  Take a look at this video of giving Birkat Kohanim (the priestly blessing) to dogs at Temple Emanuel in Dallas in 2007 and let us have your comments.

1 comment:

  1. Shalom!

    This is fine (although religious people tend to cover up all sins with prayers and blessings)... i.e.: the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan, NYC (and many others) blesses animals annually on October 4th which marks the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, to honor the saint who’s best remembered for being a champion of animals and the environment...but I’ve seen animals (and humans) in an overcrowded space. Worse yet, I’ve seen large animals from donkeys to elefants!!! made to go up the many cement steps of the church with great effort. This is a thrill for the animal guardians – NOT for the animals who are probably thinking “when oh when will she/he take me back home???” REAL help to animals is to separate them from the expoitative humans:

    How about stop eating them and their products?
    How about stop wearing them?
    How about stop experimenting on them?
    How about stop domesticating wild animals?
    How about stop making them work, and work under most atrocious conditions?

    And the list is a thousand times longer than this...