195 Ramapo Valley Road, Oakland, NJ 07436 (by appointment)
Michael C. Rudolph, Esq. P.A.
May You Be Inscribed for a Good Year
Recently one of my clients, a gentle, elderly Irish Catholic man, told me that his granddaughter had married a Jewish man. Not knowing much about Judaism, he decided to read up on it, and he liked what he had learned. Because I enjoy learning about other religions, too, I thought I would write something about the upcoming Jewish holydays, commencing with Rosh Hashanah, which begins this Sunday evening and ends on Tuesday evening, and about Yom Kippur, which begins on Tuesday evening October 11th and ends on Wednesday evening, October 12th. Space permits only the smallest bit of information.
Rosh Hashanah literally means the head (or beginning) of the year. It is the commencement of a solemn ten day period known as “the ten days of repentance” or “the days of awe,” ending with Yom Kippur. During that time, Jews around the world enter upon a period of reflection. Rosh Hashanah is sometimes known as the Day of Remembrance.” It is believed that on Rosh Hashanah, God enters the fate of everyone in a book that destines them for either life or death or something in between. Those who fall into the” in between” have ten days to set their lives on a correct path, so that, hopefully they will be inscribed in the book of life. On Yom Kippur, which means the day of atonement, God surveys the previous ten days and seals everyone’s fate. Because no one knows what God has tentatively in store for him/her, everyone is expected to participate in self-reflection and repent, pray and make acts of charity.
Rosh Hashanah cannot fall earlier than September 5th or later than October 5th. The variation in dates is due to the fact that the Hebrew calendar is based on a lunar year, which is eleven days shorter than our Gregorian calendar. We all know that an extra day is added to our calendar every four years. The Hebrew calendar adds a month every two or three years (actually, seven times every nineteen years) to achieve equanimity with the Gregorgian calendar..
Jews traditionally greet each other during this time of year by saying: “L’shana tova tikatevu (“may you be inscribed for a good year”). Although not technically correct, it is common, to say “Happy New Year.” A proper English greeting would be “May you have a good year.”
Rosh Hashanah, like all Jewish festival days (other than Yom Kippur) has a serious eating component: apples dipped in honey, to symbolize a sweet year; chicken soup, gefilte fish, a (poached mixture of ground deboned fish, such as carp, whitefish, or pike, typically eaten as an appetizer (along with grated horseradish that will clear your sinuses; brisket of beef smothered with onions; turkey or chicken; lukshen kugel (noodle pudding baked with raisins and apples); potatoes, vegetables; a variety of cakes and pastries for dessert; and, of course, wine.
Work is not permitted on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. My office has always been closed, even though the members of my staff are not Jewish. When not attending religious services, Jews are expected to rest, reflect and pray. Although Rosh Hashanah is not a celebratory day like our New Year’s Day, there is one similarity: In the West, we make new year’s resolutions, invariably to improve our behavior in one way or another. Jews reflect on their behavior of the past year and seek to improve going forward. I think the underlying premise is the same.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is unique in that Jews over the age of thirteen are supposed to fast from sundown on the eve of this most holy day of the year, until sundown when the day is over. That means no food, no water, no brushing of teeth. Individuals who are ill and at risk are excused. Medication can be taken unless abstaining would be a danger to health. In most synagogues, religious services extend throughout the day, generally concluding between 6:00 – 6:30 p.m. Breaking the fast typically includes orange juice followed by bagels, lox and other smoked fish, salads and desserts.
The most striking part of religious services are the blowing of the shofar and the chanting of Kol Nidre. The shofar is a ram’s horn blown by a member of the congregation. It looks easy to play, but it really difficult, because it does not have a mouthpiece like traditional brass and woodwind instruments have, and there are no keys or anything else to change the notes. To make the requisite clear, resounding notes, the “shofar-blower” needs to hold the tip of the ram’s horn between his teeth, get the right configuration of his tongue and cheeks and have substantial lung capacity. Children are typically invited to the front of the sanctuary so they can feel a part of the ceremony, which consists of 100 blasts, each containing one, three or nine notes of varying duration, and then one last blast that lasts as long as the “shofar blower" can hold his breath.
Kol Nidre (which means “all vows”) is chanted by the Cantor shortly after the commencement of the service on the eve of Yom Kippur. The lights in the sanctuary turned off, and the ark where the torah scrolls are kept is opened. Although technically not a prayer, it is treated as one. It asks God to allow renunciation and grant forgiveness for breaking vows or promises that might be made during the coming year. It refers to vows assumed by the individual for himself alone, where no other persons or interests are involved, in other words, vows between a person and God. Although the context makes it clear that no vows or obligations towards others are implied, many people have been misled into believing that by all their vows and oaths are annulled.
I hope this explanation will give some insight into the upcoming most important ten days of the year for Jews all over the world.
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