Technically I shouldn’t be sitting here, blogging right now. I should be in synagogue, because it’s Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (now 5773). The holiday started last night, at sunset, and it ends tomorrow evening, at nightfall.
I’m home by choice.
While I am spiritual (much more so since my trip to India), I am not particularly ‘religious’. I never have been. I am not an ‘observant Jew’ and don’t therefore, follow the laws, like keeping kosher, for example. It is, in fact, the ‘laws’ that have always been the issue for me. I am fine with ‘traditions’, but have a problem accepting that a set of restrictions and obligations must be observed, even if the reasons for them are no longer relevant.
So, to my mind, for me to go to synagogue one time during the entire year is hypocritical. So here I am, at home.
When I was little my parents, who were not religious either, did give me a chance to make up my own mind. They joined a synagogue and took me to the High Holiday (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) services for several years; until I said I didn’t want to go any more, actually. They asked me if I wanted to go to the regular Saturday services. They told me that I could go to Sunday School, explaining what I might learn, introducing me to some of the students so I could hear their views, and asked if I was interested in going. I was not.
We weren’t total heathens. We did observe the Shabbat, significant holidays and some of the traditions, but we did it in our own way. Not with a ‘ceremony’. But by getting together with family and, often, close friends as well. Huge numbers of us having dinner, and sometimes, lunch together.
Back to Rosh Hashanah.
In case you’re not familiar with it, don’t confuse our New Year with the one that happens at midnight on December 31st. Over the next two days, there’ll be no football or champagne at midnight. The only similarity is that we also use this time to look back at the last year, to acknowledge what mistakes we made, and plan to do better in the coming year. Making resolutions, in other words.
In the Talmud it states that, during Rosh Hashana, three books of account are opened, to record the fate of the wicked, the righteous and those who aren’t quite as bad as the truly wicked. If you were one of the good guys, your name was inscribed in the book of life. If, on the other hand, you were a real bad guy, you were removed from the book of life, forever. The rest were given until Yom Kippur (10 days) to reflect, repent and become righteous. To clean up their act, so to speak.
There is some disagreement as to how many days of celebration there should be. The Torah says one. Since 70 CE and the time of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, it became two. There is some evidence to prove that Rosh Hashana was celebrated on a single day in Israel as late as the 13th century CE. Now, in most communities, it is two, although many Reform Jews only observe the first day.
Regardless of how many days you celebrate, all of our wishes are the same: Our hope for our families, friends, larger community and ourselves, is for all to enjoy a sweet year. Which is why, in most homes what you’ll see as soon as you come in, is a plate of apples to be dipped in a small bowl of honey.