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The first Mishna in Rosh Hashanah says that 1 Elul is the new year for livestock, i.e. I can only tithe one year's "crop" of livestock at a time, so 1 Elul delineates the herds. (Update: we follow the latter opinion, that it's a month later, 1 Tishrei.)

According to an IRS publication:

Most ranchers schedule breeding to allow for late winter/early spring calving. ... Summer born calves are in greater danger of death due to heat stress. Some ranchers also calve in the fall (September to October)

So you'd have calves born in September, October, February, March, April. It would then make sense to put the line at the end of the summer, as that's when fewest calves are born. (Just as the International Date Line is drawn mostly in the middle of the ocean.)

Okay that would be my explanation given one datum.

  • Was that trend also true in Mishnaic Israel?
  • Is there a similar trend for sheep and goats?
  • Is there a more-obvious explanation that I'm missing here?
  • It isn't. See Rambam Bechorot 7:6. – Double AA Aug 16 '12 at 7:42
  • @DoubleAA: ah thank you, didn't realize we pasken like R' Elazar and R' Shimon, not the Tanna Kama. The question remains, at least for the Tanna Kamma. – Shalom Aug 16 '12 at 7:49
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Rosh HaShanah 8a gives reasons for the opinions of both Tanna Kamma and R.El'azar/R. Shim'on. Rava's interpretation (which the gemara seems to accept as final) is as follows:

  • Everyone believes that sheep conceive in Adar, and lamb in Av (five months later).

  • Everyone compares tithing animals to tithing crops.

  • Tanna Kamma holds that just as the new year for tithing crops (1 Tishrei) immediately follows the end of the crop-producing process (during Elul), so too the new year for tithing animals (1 Elul) immediately follows the end of the lambing season (in Av).

  • R. El'azar and R. Shim'on hold that just as the new year for tithing crops is in Tishrei, so too the new year for tithing animals is in Tishrei.

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