Rosh Hashanah literally means Head (rosh) of the (ha) Year (shanah) or New Year. The holiday starts at sundown on Wednesday, Sept. 8 this year.
The holiday is celebrated on the first day of the month of Tishrei, the seventh month of the year on the Jewish calendar.
So what’s up with that crazy Jewish calendar? Well I thought I’d answer some questions you might have been too polite to ask in the most smart-ass, but accurate, way.
How do I wish someone a good holiday?
That’s the No. 1 I’m asked every year.
Happy New Year.
Happy Rosh Hashanah.
Have a good few days off! See you Monday!
Are you getting together with your family?
You going to Florida for a few days?
Tell me again, is this a happy holiday?
Doesn’t God frown on taking a cruise during the holidays rather than going to temple?
You god damn Jews get so many holidays. (However, that’s the one I’ve been greeted with many times by well-meaning … well, you know who you are).
Why do we eat apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah?
Every holiday has a food. Except for Yom Kippur, when we fast. Apples and honey symbolize a sweet year.
Why do we blow the shofar, the ram’s horn?
The shofar makes lots of noise when properly blown. The story is that they blew the shofar from one mountaintop to let people in the next village know it was the holiday. Someone from that village would go up the next hill to let people in the next village know. Getting a sound out of a shofar used to take a lot of practice and lung-power. Today, there’s an app for that.
Why do Jewish holidays begin at sundown, the night before the holiday?
Because on the Jewish calendar the new day begins at sundown. When the Jews were wandering in the desert and making up all these crazy rules, they left their watches in Egypt. So they didn’t know when it was midnight, but they did know when it was sundown. So while Reform Jews go to Shabbat services on Friday night, it’s really already Shabbat, the Hebrew word for Saturday.
Why don’t the holidays fall on the same day every year?
They do. The same day on the Jewish calendar. Rosh Hashanah is always on the first of Tishrei. Yom Kippur is always on the 10th of Tishrei.
The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar. The moon revolves around the earth once every 28 ½ days so months are either 28 or 29 days. To keep the calendar in sync with the solar year, seven of every 19 years are leap years. During leap year, an extra month is added after the month of Adar, which occurs sometime around March. The extra month is called Adar 2, The Sequel.
Why the lunar calendar?
Because you can see when the moon is full. The sun looks the same every day.
Why not just look at the date on your watch?
Left it in Egypt before exodus-ing.
What if it’s cloudy or raining on full moon day?
It doesn’t rain much in the Middle East.
Why sync it to the solar calendar?
Because the holidays are actually all harvest holidays and are timed to occur before or after we haul our crops in, except Sukkot, which occurs during the harvest. Sukkot is basically Jewish Thanksgiving when we remember that at one time we dressed less stylishly than the Pilgrims. We build a sukkah, or booth, in the backyard where we have our meals for a week. No one actually does that anymore. But we pretend to. It occurs the week after Yom Kippur.
So the harvest has to coincide with the solar year.
The Moslem calendar, by the way, is also lunar, but they do not add leap years since their calendar is a religious calendar. That’s why their religious month of Ramadan moves back about 10 days each year, relative to the solar calendar we use.
So why does Rosh Hashanah — New Year’s — fall on the first day of the seventh month?
Because, just like Conan O’Brien’s show, the holiday that originally took place on the first day of the first month got canceled, so New Year’s had to move.
Originally, there were four different New Year’s celebrations:
The religious New Year — Rosh Hashanah
The New Year of Trees — Tu b’Shvat — literally the 15th of the month of Shvat, the 11th month, in January or February
The New Year of Tithing Animals — the first day of Elul, the sixth month, in August
The New Year of Kings — the first of Nisan, March or April
The new year of kings was celebrated on the first day of the first month, Nisan.
Jews don’t celebrate holidays that honor a person. Holidays only honor God. Well, actually the holidays are all really harvest holidays, but we say they all honor God. Passover and Shavuot are timed to the spring wheat and the barley harvests. Sukkot is the fall harvest. The others — Purim, Channukah, Tisha b’Av — are the “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat” holidays.
Also, we celebrate Passover on the Nisan 15. That’s the holiday that remembers when Jews fled slavery, left their watches in Egypt, came up with this stupid calendar and baked tasteless flatbread that causes a week of constipation as they followed Charleton Heston across the Red Sea that he parted and then took 40 years to schlep across the desert because they walked instead of driving a Nissan. Cairo to Jerusalem is the same distance as Dallas to Houston, a five-hour drive. But they took the scenic route and meandered and kvetched for 40 years. Lesson? Jews, like gay men, don’t stop and ask directions.
So with everybody busy getting ready to celebrate Passover by making really bad food following even more complicated rules than we follow the rest of the year, and with us realizing the New Year of Kings was an un-religious holiday since it honored people, and with Rosh Hashanah not really getting the attention it deserved, we moved New Year’s to September.
Which was pretty convenient. It’s the beginning of the school year. It occurs right after Last Splash. There’s nicer weather to go to Times Square to watch the ball drop.
And, according to Talmudic interpretation, it’s also the anniversary of when God created Adam and Steve. So it worked out nicely.
So those are my answers about the Jewish calendar. Now, please don’t ask why Adam and his boyfriend were created on the first day of the seventh month if creation only took six days.
Even though I’m obviously a fundamentalist, as you can tell by my literal Biblical interpretations here, we really don’t know. The Bible starts on the 22nd day of Elul, apparently. That’s the day God created the heavens and the earth. What was she doing from the first of Toyota until the 21st of Elul? Probably consulting with architects and designers. You don’t just have a big bang and expect things to neatly fall into place by themselves without a gay decorator. But the Torah doesn’t tell us and the Talmud doesn’t explain.
So happy New Year. On Sept. 9, it’s the year 5771.
And remember, the holiday starts at sunset, so the ball drops at 7:17 p.m. Eastern Time in New York, 6:17 Central, plenty of time to watch Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Rosh Hashanah Eve before running off to services.
Beth El Binah, Dallas’ Reform congregation with an outreach to the LGBT community, conducts Rosh Hashanah services at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, Sept. 8 at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 9 at 10 a.m. and Tashlich service on Sept. 10 at 1 p.m. at a private residence in Richardson. Yom Kippur services begin Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 18 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Everyone is welcome.