It's a Jew Thing

What's it like growing up an observant Jew in a modern non-Jewish world? Read on...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

L'Shanah Tovah!

Translation? Happy New Year! Well literally it means “for a good year” which is shortened from the whole greeting L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatemt, “may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.” Right now I am at home in Boston with my family for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It began Monday night at sundown and will end Wednesday night at sundown. The reason for the sundown stuff is because that’s how Jewish days work. The Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar and new day starts at nightfall (which is the same reason why Shabbat is from Friday night at sundown Saturday night).

Although I have seemed like the be-all in Jewish knowledge to this point, I will forewarn you all that my explanation may be splotchy so I invite you to ask questions. The Hebrew calendar has now begun a new year, with Rosh Hashanah literally meaning “the first of the year.” It is one of the holiest days of the year and marks a new beginning, a clean slate for the New Year. For this reason, white is a sort of symbolic color for the holiday. The clergy (Rabbi and Cantor) wear white robes (they don’t usually wear robes at all) and the Torah scrolls are dressed in white (as apposed to the usual colored coverings). The white symbolizes purity and reminds us of G-d’s promise that our sins shall be made as white as snow.

Rosh Hashanah begins the 10 Days of Repentance, leaving up to Yom Kippur, the absolute holiest day of the Jewish year. During this time it is traditional for Jews around the world to ask those around them for forgiveness for anything that they have done during the year that has caused hate or sadness to other people. I was always taught that you can’t just go and ask G-d for forgiveness because you committed the “sin” against other people. You are supposed to ask the person for forgiveness and if they say no ask again, only after they do not forgive you and you have given wholehearted effort can you then ask G-d for forgiveness instead. It is really not uncommon this time of year for me to get an email from friends stating something similar to what I offer you now: If I have done anything to hurt, upset or harm you in the past year, I ask you forgiveness and tell you that I strive to be a better person in the coming year. Since you are supposed to ask for forgiveness in the days leading to Yom Kippur, which literally means “The Day of Atonement” on that day your “fate” for the coming year is sealed in the book of life and happiness for the coming year (which is where the greeting that I opened this post with comes from). Even people who usually don’t attend services go on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is pretty much the strictest amount strict days and it is one day that I take very seriously. Part of this day (which this year falls October 13th) is a 25 hour fast from all food and drink for all those in physical health to fast and those over the age of 13. Also, you are supposed to reframe from all work (like “Shomar Shabbat” like I described in the previous post). I do follow this practice on Yom Kippur even though I don’t during the rest of the year. On Yom Kippur I won’t ride in a car or use electricity. Even “weirder” is that on Yom Kippur you aren’t supposed to bath (relax guys its only 24 hours), anoint oneself (like by wear fragrances and perfume) or wear any leather. These are all things I fallow because to me this is the most important day on the Jewish calendar. When I am at home we pretty much stay in temple most of the day but since I will be at school this year I am not positive what I am going to be doing.

Even though this post is amazingly long already (as usual) I am just going to leave you with a couple more traditional things I have been doing since it’s Rosh Hashanah. First off there is the blowing of the Shofar, the ram’s horn (which is the animal sent for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son Isaac), which is pictured below.

(ps this isn't a picture of my dad or anything, I just found it online haha). Although the bible doesn’t exactly say why we blow the Shofar is blown on both days of Rosh Hashanah for 100 “notes” and to end Yom Kippur and it is traditional said it was used to gather people together in the olden days so they’d know it was time to gather and repent. Next there is the tradition of Tashlikh (“casting off”), which I have myself done only twice. It involves a symbolic casting of our sins into a moving body of water (like that little river just past Ray Street down North College; I did it there two years ago), usually done with bread crumbs. Lastly is the tradition of apples and honey. This is to symbolize the sweetness of the holiday and the sweetness to come with the new years.

Alright, that’s all I have for now and I appreciate you reading all the way through. L’Shanah Tovah everyone!!


  • At 3:55 PM, Blogger Kara said…

    Thank you so much for explaining everything about the holidays so well! I now have all of my roommates interested in learning more about Judaism and the customs and beliefs! Either they steal my computer and read your blog or I read it to them! I knew of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur but I had no idea of the traditions and actual meanings. I think it’s great that you get to go back to Boston and be with your family for this time. I really find it interesting how these are the ten days of repentance and how you go about asking for forgiveness. This may seem like sort of a dumb question, but if this is your new year do you still celebrate January 1st and the fiscal new year? After you fast for 25 hours on Yom Kippur do you have any type of religious meal or certain things to eat? Thank you so much for answering my previous questions, and as always I really look forward to reading your blog!

  • At 6:40 PM, Blogger carah said…

    Happy New Year! I just got back from being home for Rosh Hashanah. Unfortunately I was unable to attend services today because I had to go to class. I would have been excused but I was nervous about missing any important material. But I did have a nice time at home with my family, and I am still stuffed from all of the good food we ate. I actually enjoy going to services during the High Holidays. First off, it is a time that EVERYONE goes home so it is nice to see everyone at shul that I grew up with. Also I really do not mind the actual services and I love to hear the blowing of the shofar. I am looking forward to going home again for Yom Kippur and spending time with my family. I agree with you that Yom Kippur is the most important holiday, my family takes it pretty seriously (but we do shower haha). Enjoy the holidays!

  • At 11:50 PM, Blogger Shayna said…

    Actually, N0T a stupid question, I get asked a lot about what holidays I do and don't celebrate. I celebrate all of the American Holidays as well as Jewish (so I celebrate like New Year's and Thanksgiving). As for the end of the fast, there is nothing particular. When I was growing up we always went to my neighbor's house and she'd have like 50 people over and serve bagels and blinses and other "Jewish" type foods. By the way, is your roommate who is stealing your computer to read my blog L.Stein? Just curious :)

  • At 4:59 PM, Blogger Kristen said…

    Thanks for finally explaining these Jewish Holidays to me. I never really knew what they were or what they meant. I had no idea that Rosh Hashanah was the Jewish New Year. Do you still celebrate New Year’s Eve in January or do you not believe in it? I think the beliefs behind Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are great, I wish the catholic religion had some holidays that were so specific and rich in tradition. But I do have a few questions about them. Besides fasting, are there any other dietary constraints, like a certain meal that has to be eaten at the end (like at Passover?). And also do you know why it was chosen to be celebrated in October, is there any significance with like the harvest or anything?

  • At 11:26 AM, Blogger Tara Raphael said…

    I think it's really great the way that you explain everything, from what kosher is, your real life, and the holidays. While at school I find it difficult to really celebrate these holidays. In past years I went home for the holidays, but this year, I had important classes, that I really couldn't get out of in the middle of the week. Considering this is a public school and they know that there is a significant Jewish community here, you would think that they would think about giving you a day off. Hope your holidays went well and thanks for the additional info!

  • At 1:32 PM, Blogger Meredith said…

    That’s was a great explanation Shayna you really know your stuff. Seriously though I didn’t know that was why they wore white robes to symbolize purity but know that you said that it makes total sense. When I use to go to temple when I was younger all those things you were talking about I would notice but I never knew what they symbolized and know I fully understand. I also didn’t know that you couldn’t just ask G-d for forgiveness. I mean it sounds silly but I ask him to forgive me often but it makes so much more sense to contact that person and try to have them forgive you first. I guess G-d will forgive you when you have made more of an effort I think that’s something that they should teach or explain in temple or at least mine. I think that many people ask G-d for forgiveness on these holidays without truly making an attempt to fix or rectify things.


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