By Fredric Price on May 11, 2020
The Plan of the Jewish Year
“Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under heaven” (Kohelet 3:1).
The Jewish calendar, with its seasons and holidays, breathes into the Jewish experience a rhythm and ritual that connects us to each other, to our history, and to the earth. When understood and lived deeply, the Jewish calendar makes us mindful of the divine rhythm of the world.
Though many of our traditions are thousands of years old, Judaism has a resiliency that allows us to rediscover and interpret each holiday or commemoration to create a current relevancy and application in our own times and our own lived experiences.
The Torah begins with a description of time, the definition of the “week,” and the institution of Shabbat – the Hebrew word from which the English word Sabbath is derived. After leaving Egypt, the Israelites were commanded to “sanctify the new moon,” thus separating them from the solar calendar and pagan rituals of Egypt and giving them a fresh start with a lunar calendar that is filled with festivals that rejoice in the bounty of the earth while giving due thanks to God for all his gifts.
Our holy days also include seasons of fasting and prayer, making ourselves right with God and with others whom we may have harmed. But these days are always followed by feasting and sharing with others.
Through our festivals, we understand ourselves rightly in the context of the world: bound to God from whom all good things come, and bound to each other through a shared, lived experience and mutual support. Perhaps this is why our traditions and our identity as the Jewish people have remained strong after thousands of years, and through the many periods of persecution that have marked much of our history.
By studying deeply the original roots of the Jewish holy days, we can find ways to apply deeper meaning to each of the events and draw new insights, perspectives, and value from them. This is something that Abigail Pogrebin, author and journalist, did for an entire year, chronicling her experiences in her book, My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew. Abigail spends a chapter on each of the holy days and commemorations, sharing what she discovered about each, her modern perspective on them, and how she was (or wasn’t) affected by observing them.
Filled with honesty, humor, and wisdom, My Jewish Year offers a new look at the Jewish calendar with a 21st century American Jewish voice. It is a valuable roadmap for others who are seeking to observe the holidays more deeply, or perhaps for the first time.
The richness of our Jewish tradition grows with deeper inspection, reflection, and application. In the beginning of the 21st century, we have a duty to ourselves and to future generations to bring our culture alive with a contemporary understanding to deepen our roots in our Jewish identity.
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