Thursday, September 9, 2010

Happy New Year 5771

To non-Jews, the Jewish New Year called Rosh Hashanah is a rather odd holiday in many ways. But don't worry, it can also be confusing to many of us Jews. That's because the Jewish calendar is based on a lunar cycle wherein every month begins with the announcement of a new moon over Jerusalem. This was fixed many years ago by rabbinical authorities. Thus, every "day" begins at sundown. But it is not strictly a lunar calendar as is the case with the Islamic calendar. There is a specific passage in the Bible that prohibits the Passover celebration from being held in any other season other than Spring. Because of this, there are dechiyot (adjustments) that add an extra month in years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17 and 19 of a 19-year cycle. As a matter of fact, if there is a date in the Jewish calendar that falls on a specific day of the Gregorian calendar (i.e., 1 Tishri=Thursday, September 9), it will fall on that same day and date every 19 years. Under a strictly lunar calendar specific holidays or celebrations, as is the case in the observance of the Islamic period of Ramadan, move from one season to another. The Jewish calendar is thus both a lunar and a solar calendar and is very accurate, although not perfect in any sense of the word. Normally, one would suspect that New Year's Day would be the first day of the first month. That would be a very wrong assumption. Because the original calendar was based on an agrarian culture dealing with planting, praying for rain, reaping and harvesting, the days now reserved as Rosh Hashanah actually occur on the first two days of the seventh month. The very first month on the calendar is found in the spring in the month of Nissan, which coincides with the season when the Exodus from Egypt occurred, and was used administratively during the era of the kings. The modern celebration of Rosh Hashanah was instituted after the destruction of the Second Temple. Scholars note that the original references in the Bible to the holiday were both Yom Hazikaron ("The Day of Remembrance") and Yom Teruah ("Day of the Sounding of the Shofar"). The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur ("Day of Atonement") are called the "Days of Awe," a period of introspection and privation. It is said that the Book of Life is opened on Rosh Hashanah and closed on Yom Kippur. It is one book we all hope to be in year after year.

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