September 5, 2013
Tapuach bedvash (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Wasn’t one enough?
In the Diaspora (outside of the land of Israel) many Jewish holidays are celebrated for two days. That’s because in ancient times, the Jewish calendar was originally based on the observation of the moon from the Temple Mount. It took a long time to get the announcement of the New Moon to Diaspora communities, so there was uncertainty about holiday dates.
But Rosh Hashanah is observed for two days even in Israel! The reason for this is that the the moon’s cycle is 29 1/2 days. Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah, might have had 30 or 31 days, depending on exactly what the moon was doing that year. So there were two days of Rosh Hashanah, just to be sure to get it right.
Now, you may be wondering why it is that we do this even though we have calendars that know the exact dates years, even centuries, in advance. The answer is that the custom became established very early, at least before the year 70 of the Common Era and perhaps much earlier. Many Jews are reluctant to alter a custom that is so old, and refer to the two days of Rosh Hashanah as a Yoma Arichta, Aramaic for “one long day.”
However, as with many things in Jewish life, there is another custom, in some Reform communities, to celebrate Rosh Hashanah only on one day, now that we can calculate the New Moon accurately. They argue that the Torah prescribes one day of Rosh Hashanah, so they celebrate for one day.
By the way, if you need a Jewish calendar, there is a good one at the Hebrew Jewish Calendar website.
September 2, 2013
Apples and Honey (Photo credit: slgckgc)
This post is part of an ongoing series “Especially for Beginners” in which I will try to give simple explanations for words and concepts in Jewish life. There is always a lot more to learn than in these little posts. If you want more, follow the links. To see what other topics I have covered in this series, click “Especially for Beginners” in the Category cloud on the right side of your screen.
Things to know about the Days of Awe:
- The Days of Awe are the ten days from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to the end of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
- The Hebrew for the Days of Awe is Yamim Noraim [yah-MEEM no-rah-EEM].
- The Days of Awe are a time for concentration on teshuvah [turning, repentance], for mending relationships and adjusting the trajectory of our lives.
- Many Jews approach others during the Days of Awe to apologize for misdeeds, slights, and misunderstandings in the previous year.
- The teshuvah of the Days of Awe should be not only personal, but communal. Jewish groups, and the Jewish People as a whole confess their wrongdoings and make changes.
- Sometimes the Days of Awe are referred to as the Days of Repentance.
- The Shabbat that falls during the Days of Awe is called Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Repentance.
- Synagogue services during the Days of Awe are unusual. They have their own music, and they are frequently much longer. They are not typical of services the rest of the year. Hence this is not a good time to “shul-shop” [look for a synagogue.] During services, someone may sound the shofar, the ram’s horn.
- Synagogues often charge or sell tickets for the most crowded services, but most larger communities have services that are free or low-cost. Call a local synagogue or Federation to find out about your options, and do so well ahead of time (a month ahead is about right.)
- The simplest greeting for the Days of Awe is “Shanah Tovah!” [sha-NAH toe-VAH]. It means (roughly) “Happy New Year!”
How can a beginner participate in the Days of Awe?
- Attend services. If you cannot find a free service and do not want to pay, know that many services do not charge for some of the less-attended services: Selichot, Second Day of Rosh Hashanah, or Yom Kippur afternoon services. Shabbat services (other than Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur) are open to visitors as they are all year long.
- Read about the Days of Awe, either online or in a book. The Beginner’s Guide to the High Holy Days is a place to begin.
- Participate in making teshuvah. For more about that, read Teshuvah for Beginners and The Jewish Cure for Guilt.
- Eat the traditional foods of Rosh Hashanah: Apples, honey, sweets, pomegranates (for a sweet new year.)
- Fast all or part of the day on Yom Kippur. See Tips for Fasting on Yom Kippur.
- Wish your Jewish friends “Shanah Tovah!”
- Consider signing up for a Taste of Judaism or Intro to Judaism course at your local synagogue. They often begin right after the High Holy Days.
I wish you a Shanah Tovah, a Sweet and Good New Year!
August 26, 2013
A man sounds a shofar at a synagogue in Minnesota.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We’re in the season of the shofar.
If you go to a synagogue with weekday services, you’ll hear it: the primitive sound that comes from a raw-looking piece of animal horn. It’s meant to wake up your soul. When you hear it, just shut your eyes and let yourself feel it. Let the vibrations shake you up.
Jews have listened to that sound since the earliest days; there are records of the shofar sounding in the Torah, as the Hebrews traveled through the desert. We know the shofar was blown in the Temple. The sound echoes down the centuries.
On Thursday, Sept 5, 2013 we’ll hear it again: there’s a whole short service dedicated to it in the Rosh Hashanah Day service.
Here are some basic facts about the shofar:
- The singular is SHOW-far, the plural is show-fa-ROTE.
- The commandment for Rosh Hashanah [New Year's Day] is to hear the sound of the shofar.
- No, you do not have to blow it yourself.
- Do not ask to blow someone else’s shofar. It’s as personal as a toothbrush (and full of their spit.)
- The shofar is usually a horn from a ram or kudu, but never a cow.
- Most shofarot are plain, with no decoration or separate mouthpiece.
- A man who blows the shofar is a Ba’al Tekiah (bah-AHL Teh-kee-YAH).
- A woman who blows it is a Ba’alat Tekiah (bah-ah-LAHT Teh-kee-YAH.)
- Decorated shofarot are not used for services.