Ringing in 5777: Be a superhero for animals this New Year

The 10 holiest days of the year are among us, Jewish Trojans. This past Sunday, the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, marked the start of the High Holy Days. In addition, this coming Wednesday, the break of the fast on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, will conclude this period. These 10 days are a time for introspection, ultimately leading to the repentance for one’s sins of the previous year on Yom Kippur. Motivated by the possibility of not being written in the Book of Life for the coming year, it is custom to commit acts of “teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah,” or repentance, prayer and charity during the days leading up to Yom Kippur.

Aside from reconciling broken relationships with friends, family members and God, one very vital relationship not commanded to reconcile is one’s relationship with animals. That is not to say that one’s relationship with animals is not completely disregarded. Instead, the reparation of this relationship is implicitly hinted at. On Yom Kippur, for instance, wearing leather shoes is prohibited, since it’s quite reprehensible to wear the skin of a dead animal while asking God for mercy. It’s also customary to wear white on the Holiest Day of the Year, to not only show one’s optimism about being judged, but to be pristine and pure, calling upon the state of perfection epitomized by The Garden of Eden’s inhabitants, Adam and Eve, who were vegan. Let me explain.

In the beginning of Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve during their first conversation, “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat” (Genesis 1:29). Here, God explicitly commands Adam and Eve to strictly eat plants. It isn’t until Eve disobeys God and eats an apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that the first act of animal exploitation begins. After Eve’s act of rebellion, God curses Eve with childbearing pain, commands that Adam will rule over her, and skins animals and makes them into clothes for the two. However, it isn’t until the time of Noah that God commands the consumption of animals. “Every creature that is alive shall be yours to eat; I give them all to you as I did the green plants. Only flesh with its lifeblood still in it you shall not eat” (Genesis 9:3-4).

So, the paradise that is the Garden of Eden before Eve audaciously eats the apple, as persuaded by the Serpent, is the ideal we should strive towards — to live in harmony with all living beings. What’s notable is that this harmony encompasses the absence of a patriarchy. Adam and Eve initially stand in front of each other naked without shame, because they did not realize their differences. Paradoxically, once a patriarchy is established and animals are skinned, chaos ensues and Adam and Eve are kicked out. Wearing white then is a marker of one’s purest state, before preconceived notions of a gender hierarchy and of speciesism.

So, fellow Jewish Trojans, I ask you to continue your days of repentance with a few things in mind.

First, please consider refraining from wearing or purchasing leather. As Rabbi Moses Isserles states, “How can a man put on [leather] shoes, a piece of clothing for which it is necessary to kill a living thing, on Yom Kippur, which is a day of grace and compassion?” There is no reason to wear a product made out of animal skin, that’s been produced at the cost of a life, when there are so many sustainable, comparable faux-leather alternatives.

Additionally, try going vegan or vegetarian. Aside from fueling your body in the cleanest way, going vegan tackles the patriarchy by refraining from the exploitment of female animals. Also, dine at Hillel or Chabad this Shabbat, where they offer delicious vegan options at their weekly Shabbat dinners!

Following these steps will ensure you a sweet New Year because there is no sweeter way to commence year 5777 than widening your sphere of compassion to all living beings and modifying already existing ones to love and respect.

Tessa Nesis is a sophomore majoring in NGOs and social change.  Her column, “The Sentient Bean,” runs on Thursdays.