Rosh Hashanah, the start of a new year on the traditional Jewish calendar, begins at sunset on Sunday, Sept. 25. This week’s clergy discuss how the celebration of the Jewish New Year both differs from and is similar to the secular holiday.
Cantor Irene Failenbogen
The New Synagogue of Long Island, Brookville
Rosh Hashanah (literally “head of the year” in Hebrew) and Jan. 1 are celebrated differently because of the rituals and culture associated with each holiday. But both celebrations also have a lot in common in that they offer inspiring opportunities to change and transform into a better version of ourselves.
Rosh Hashanah awakens the spirit of all human beings. It asks us to take notice that, at this time of year, nature starts the process of letting go. We embrace that emptiness by releasing all the klipot — the Hebrew word for spiritual shells that were built up in our past year, causing us to ignore our connection with the light of the divine. When we hear the haunting sounds of the shofar, we return to the core of our existence and its complexities.
On Dec. 31, with resolutions in mind, our spirit also counts down to zero. We hope that beginning Jan. 1, we'll also become a better version of ourselves. Beyond differences in traditional meals and family gatherings, both holidays call us to reflect on our mistakes in the past year, absorb the wisdom of nature in seasonal changes and hope for the light.
Rabbi Michael Stanger
Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation
The essential difference is that Jan. 1 represents the start of the new, secular year according to the universal calendar, whereas, for us as Jews, Rosh Hashanah is completely religious.
The secular New Year is for personal celebration; the Jewish New Year is a time for spiritual reflection. Rosh Hashanah has its origins in the Hebrew Scriptures (Leviticus 23:23-25) and as such is a pure mitzvah, or commandment, which we as Jews must observe. It is a day to refrain from work and to sound the shofar (ram’s horn). Rabbis recite voluminous amounts of liturgy from a special prayer book known as a Machzor. Rosh Hashanah has even been extended into a two-day observance throughout the Jewish world. It has traditionally been viewed as the launch period for the entire fall festival season, which also includes Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, and Sukkot, our Feast of Tabernacles.
The rabbis also refer to Rosh Hashanah as the day of judgment, a prelude to Yom Kippur and a pivotal point in the penitential period whereby our souls are judged for the New Year and we are (hopefully) written and inscribed in the Book of Life.
Rabbi Tuvia Teldon
Regional director, Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island
Judaism emphasizes the importance of building a personal relationship with God. We do this through our prayers, our good deeds, our daily activities and the many commandments from the Torah that we fulfill. In this way, we try our best to sanctify space and time.
We sanctify space by making our home, community and place of work welcoming to God's presence. We sanctify time by observing the many holidays that mark our days, weeks, months and years. These holidays all provide different paths to build (or rebuild) our personal relationship with God.
The Jewish New Year provides a unique opportunity to put the entire coming year on a solid footing. It is a day for introspection, prayer, resolutions and celebration with loved ones. All of this helps to ensure that we are getting off to a good start. This New Year, 5783, is special because it is also a hakhel year, or year of gathering, which occurs every seven years, and commemorates the time more than 2,800 years ago when the kings of Israel would address all of the Jewish people together in the Temple of Jerusalem.
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