So Many Questions and the Answers Are … In Doing Jewish 101

by Arliene Botnick, August 31, 2023

In Leviticus 23, we learn about many of the Jewish festivals and how they are to be celebrated. Our students in the Jewish Information class, the class that leads to conversion, are directed to this chapter as they begin to understand the expectations and joys of living a Jewish life as outlined in a Jewish calendar. Starting with Leviticus 23:24, we read that “In the seventh month, on the first day, you shall observe a complete rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with loud blasts”. That sounds relatively simple and, on the surface, (the p’shat -literal interpretation) we could say ok, but ok to what? We call that time Rosh Ha Shanah, the head of the year or the Jewish New year, but why in the 7th month. We will discover that there are actually 4 New Year celebrations in our calendar:

  1. Rosh Hashana – the 1st Tishrei- New year of the Kings
  2. Tu B’Sh’vat – the 15th of Sh’vat- New year of the Trees
  3. the 1st of Nisan – New Year of the Kings
  4. the 1st of Elul – New year of the tithing of cattle

Our Rabbis designated Rosh Hashanah, the 1st day of the 7th month, to be recognized officially as the New Year. Why? What is the rational of the rituals associated with Rosh Ha Shanah – wearing of white, apples and honey, prayer book (Machzor)? Why is the coming year 5784? What’s inappropriate with 2023/4? That is not answered in Leviticus.

Each of our New Year celebrations is explained in various texts ( Talmud, Responsa, Modern Commentary) and we learn what we may do or what we did in ancient times; what we may eat, wear, what sections of Torah we are to study .On Rosh Ha Shanah , in Leviticus , we are told to celebrate a sacred assembly, have complete rest, and commemorate with loud blasts.

Leviticus is only the beginning of the journey to understanding our holy days. Our ancient sages, the rabbis of old, delved deeper into the text- just that one verse – to try to explain what was meant by “holy” assembly…mikrah kodesh What makes an assembly holy? Next- complete rest… Shabbaton… What actions need to be avoided in order to have complete rest? And finally, “zichron t’ruah “remembrance of a loud blast. What exactly are we or God remembering, and why with a shofar?

There are always more questions than answers, and that’s why studying text is so enjoyable and challenging. In that one verse from Leviticus, we can discover so many possibilities. And if you are interested in doing some of that discovering, at an entry level, please consider joining our Doing Jewish Class 101, on Wed Oct 11,18,25 at Solel from 7:30 – 9 PM. Over the course of the 3 sessions, we will learn about the Jewish calendar and how it helps us live Jewishly. We will go over some of the rituals, foods, and liturgy of the holidays. Then, in session 2, we will discuss texts (Tanach, Mishnah, Gemara) and the 3rd session will be devoted to life cycles ( birth, brit nerot, bar/bat mitzvah ….) This is Judaism 101, and no question will be ignored. Every question is a learning opportunity. And there will be snacks!! Please contact Carol in the office to register.

L’Shanah tovah u’metukah to all

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