Today is Erev Rosh Hashanah, which means it is the eve of the Jewish new year. Judaism works on a different calendar than the Gregorian calendar, which was only introduced in 1582 C.E. as a modification of the Julian, or Roman, calendar. It seems so guaranteed to us, Westerners, that January 1 is the new year. It is inherent in the year, right? In actuality, January 1 was only introduced in 1752 as the new year (according to my research), as March 25th was originally the start of the next year.
Anyway, the Jewish calendar is from biblical times. Unlike the solar-based Gregorian calendar, the Jewish counterpart is lunar. The Gregorian needs to use leap years, and at one point even had to suppress 10 or 11 days in order to reach the solar year. A lunar calendar is much more accurate.
Tomorrow, Thursday, is the end of the month of Elul and the beginning of Tishrei, the new year, 5768. According to the most religious groups, specifically creationists, this calendar was begun by Adam when he was materialized by G-d. So, the world is 5768 years old. Granted, I’ve heard some pretty interesting and attractive theories on what a ‘day’ means in regard to the Creation story…but whatever your thoughts, the Jewish calendar is certainly old (and the world is certainly older). I very much love the Jewish year. It is one of the few extant unadulterated customs the world has to offer. A quality of preservation is unique to the Jewish way.
Elul, besides being the final month of the year, or maybe because of that status, is a month of intense self-evaluation. Religious Jews spend the entire month holding certain practices, like additions to prayers, in order to bring out their repentance, which begins tonight.
Rosh HaShanah lasts for 2 days – 2 days of intense prayer for forgiveness and preparation for Yom Kippur, the climax of ‘T’shuva,’ roughly meaning ‘to return,’ or atonement. Today and slightly before is the day that Jews ask anyone they know for forgiveness for any time this year that they wronged others. This time is more serious than you know, or could realize, unless you lived in Israel, a religious community, and especially in the Old City!
Tomorrow, and the day after (the second day of Rosh HaShanah), people spend about 6 hours straight in the synagogue, praying. The prayers begin, in my yeshiva, at 6:30am or so, and last until 1, or whatever 6 hours is. Then there is a meal, a break (where you are supposed to read Tehillim, or psalms), and then more praying at night. This is the day when you hear the Shofar, the ram’s horn.
The scary part is that this is a call to BEGIN repenting for your wrongdoings. After Rosh HaShanah finishes, we begin the 10 Days of Repentance, which leads directly to the heaviest day of the year, Yom Kippur. The sadness, the seriousness of T’shuva, doesn’t end until Succot, a joyous day celebrating the beginning of the rainy season in Israel.
I’ll write about the amazing rainy versus dry season of Israel when that time comes. And yes, I plan on going to the prayers – warily.