Askmoses-A Jews Resource
How many Shabbat-candles should I light?
Browse our archives

The Scholar is ready to answer your question. Click the button below to chat now.


Scholar Online:

Type in your question here:

Click the button below to either CHAT LIVE with an AskMoses Scholar now - or - leave a message if no Scholar is currently online.

CHAT or LEAVE A MESSAGE

Happy (11th of Tevet) New Year!

by Rabbi Adin (Steinsaltz) Even-Yisrael

  

Library » Miscellaneous » The Jewish Calendar | Subscribe | What is RSS?


PRINT EMAIL COMMENT

When the New Year comes, some celebrate in an uproarious fashion: some just change the calendar. What about American Jews? They do just what the others do.

It is easy to ignore the fact that New Year’s is a commemoration of the beginning of another religion. Many ignore the religious connections, though the Roman Catholic calendar calls Jan. 1 “the circumcision of the Lord.” The real problem is not that we use the civil calendar: the question is how much we use our own calendar. Although a certain measure of acculturation has been present in Jewish life in every age and place, it has generally been offset by the existence of a robust Jewish culture.

The use of the civil calendar is just a detail. It is a detail, however, that is one of so many details of the same kind: names, language, customs, and habits. This is more than a religious problem: It is a question about the whole of Jewish culture and, in a deeper sense, about Jewish identity. The Jew who counts the time in the same ways as the society that surrounds him, and has a name that blends in nicely with that same society, and speaks only the society’s language, and has no custom or way of a different lifestyle – What remains of his identity as a Jew, beyond an empty word that may still, somehow, adhere to him?

The Jew who counts the time in the same ways as the society that surrounds him, and has a name that blends in nicely with that same society, and speaks only the society's language, and has no custom or way of a different lifestyle - What remains of his identity as a Jew, beyond an empty word that may still, somehow, adhere to him?
Some of the early 20th century Jewish socialists who immigrated to the United States were ideologically atheists. They might have eaten pork on Yom Kippur, but they derived intense pleasure from doing so. They counted their money in Yiddish and sometimes enjoyed listening to a Chazzan. Their grandsons, however, are no longer Yankel or Berel. They watch baseball on Yom Kippur and often do not even know that the day is Yom Kippur. For them, it is just a date somewhere in September. The old-timer worked hard to obliterate his Jewishness; his sons and his grandsons don’t have any need to do so.

The life of a people, like the life of an individual, is not created only of big deeds and exalted ideas. Small details contribute powerfully towards an identity. Most human beings have a nose, a mouth, a pair of eyes: we recognize individuals by tiny details that together create individual faces. The late Isaac Asimov (who was not, by any means, an observant Jew) wrote in his autobiography that p’tcha (an Eastern European food made of calves’ foot jelly) is the real ambrosia of the gods. One cannot build an identity on p’tcha and a Jewish name, but these things help.


ADD A COMMENT

Please email me when new comments are posted (you must be  logged in).

COMMENTS

Dates & Names

Posted by: Joshua (Yehoshuah), LA, CA on Dec 27, 2006

I think Jewish names are really cool. You know, in some names it gets people breaking their teeth on the hard H as in Chabad! It feels cool to have a name that connects you to an entire Jewish history and biblical heritage!

Shalom

Posted by: Shalom Shalom on Dec 27, 2006

Shalom is one word many non Jews know, it's strange that when a non Jew sees someone distinctly Jewish, he will say shalom, whereas the Jew himself doesn't even use the word!

The Hebrew language

Posted by: Aron Pfeiffer, Salt Lake City, Utah on Jan 01, 2007

I proudly go by the name Aron and just as Rabbi Steinsaltz wrote, whenever my name is called it reminds me of my saintly grandfather who perished in the Holocaust along with his whole family.

This article unfortunately says so muuch about American Jews today.

Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
Mezuzah
A rolled up scroll containing certain verses from the Torah which is affixed to the right-hand doorpost of doorways in a Jewish home.
Tevet
The tenth month on the Jewish calendar. Falls out in mid-winter.
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Isaac
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Chazzan
A cantor, or any individual who leads the congregation in prayer.
Yiddish
Language closely related to German commonly spoken by European Jews.