Friday, September 19, 2014

Shannah Tovah 5775

This is the time of year when we celebrate a new year. We spend a month preparing by adding a psalm to the evening a morning services and hear the shofar every non-Shabbat morning.  This leads us to the solemn mood of the actual days of Rosh Hashana.  They are days of prayer, reflection, thanks, and appreciation of family, friends, and community.  Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the world.  The day is universal. Rosh Hashana is a fall holiday always on Tishri 1.

Before 1752 the date of the new year in the western world had several dates, January 1, March 1, March 15, March 25,  September 22, December 25, and Easter. March 25 (for the spring solstice) and Easter are close in time to the Jewish month of Nissan, which is the first of months according to the Torah.

January 1 was the beginning of the civil year in Ancient Rome beginning about 153 BCE.  It was the date the year tenure of the consuls began.  Julius Caesar introduced a solar based calendar called the Julian calendar in 46 BCE.  He decreed the new year started on January 1.  This date became consistent in the Roman world.

In the middle ages celebrations of the new year were considered pagan and unchristian.  The new year date was not consistent.   In 1582 when Pope Gregory introduced calendar reforms to correct discrepancies between the calendar date and the solar date.  10 days need to be added to the calendar.  This meant the date in England was not the same as the rest of Europe.  The Julian calendar was 11.5 minutes less than the solar year.  The Gregorian calendar differs from the solar year by 11 seconds per year. The Jewish calendar is a lunar-solar year that is corrected by adding seven leap years within a 19 year cycle. This makes the dates seem to late or early compared to the civil years,  but with the cycle the holidays always occur within correct seasons.

On September 2, 1752 British subjects including the U.S. Colonies went to bed and woke up on September 14.  The days were added to the calendar to put England into sync with those countries using the Gregorian calendar.  Russia adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1918 after the revolution.

The early Christians celebrated their new year with reflecting on past mistakes and resolving to improve, echoing their Jewish roots.  In ancient times and continuing to modern China noise and fireworks are used.  This is custom is believed to bring good luck by scaring away evil spirits.  In the United States new year is a time for parties and celebrations, football, parades, and the Times Square gathering.

I wish you a Shana Tovah, a good year full of good things and events.  May you, your family and friends, be showered by haKodesh Barechu with Gezunt (health), Parnassah (income) , Yiddishe Nachat (pride from your children and families), wisdom, and may you have the honor and respect that you deserve.  May all your Tefillot (prayers) be answered for the good and may we only share in Simachot (happy occasions) and support each other in times of need.

May we be zoche (deserving) to experience peace in our personal lives, peace in our communities, peace in Israel, and peace in the entire world for the coming year.  We should pray for peace, prosperity, and justice for all for now and forever.

Ketiva v'chatima tovah! May you be inscribed for a good year, a sweet year!  May God bless us and keep us, shine his face on us,  and send us a happy and good year for us and all those we know.

Spread the good wishes to all your friends, family, and contacts.

Comments:  Sept 21, 2014

After receiving many nice comments and discussing some of the academic points above I have additional comments.

Connection to library cataloging --  Entering the year is an important part of the catalog record.  The date helps keep editions straight.  There are well established practices for entering Hebrew dates and making sure the correct civil date is indicated.  For example from now until January 1, 2015, one must be careful about the Hebrew year of 5775.  The the year may be entered as 2014/2015.

Every year publishers will issue books with the following year on the title page.  For example the publisher puts "2015" on the title page and copyright date, but sells the book months before January 1.  The rules tell the cataloger to record the date as written on the title page and usually a note will be added to remove confusion.  Before I wrote the above piece I never thought about a difference in date on a British book when compared to the date in Europe.  We would record the date from the title page.  The first law of copyright, The Statue of Anne was effective in February 1709.  However, the year was 1710 in Europe. 

Noise making -- The sound of the shofar is loud and piercing sound.  In the month before Rosh Hashana we blow the shofar every morning.  On the morning of the 29th of Elul we do not blow the shofar with the reason given, "we want to confuse the Satan (evil spirits).  If the shofar blower has difficulty blowing on the day of Rosh Hashana the folklore says that Satan is in the shofar preventing the sound form emerging.  These ideas may be related to the noise making on new year for other cultures.  The difference is the law of blowing and listening to the shofar.  One is required to listen to 100 sound blasts. Someone calls out each sound so that the shofar blower can concentrate on the sound.   Each blast must be perfect or it must be repeated until it is correct. 

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