Friday, September 18, 2009

Shana Tova (About Rosh Hashanah)

Reprinted from the Congregation For Humanistic Judaism

You should be written and inscribed speedily for a life of peaceful

goodness in the book of absolute tzadikim, righteous ones.

ROSH Hashanah literally means "head of the year", which we translate today as "New Year." But the words "Rosh HaShannah" are not mentioned in the Torah nor did the day mark the year’s beginning in biblical times. How then did it come to pass that Rosh Hashanah became such an important day?

At the time of Solomon’s Temple (900 BCE), Judaism was a priestly religion. The three major festivals were Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. All were agricultural in nature and used supplications to a benevolent Yahweh to assure rain and bountiful harvests. The first month, which would later be called Nissan, was in the Spring. It was the time for planting, the celebration of Passover, and the Spring equinox. An ideal time to begin the new year.

When the Temple was destroyed and the Jews exiled to Babylon (586 BCE), new forms of Judaism were developed. Without a priesthood, ritual observances became the duty of the individual. Sages and scribes, who someday would be called rabbis, collected and wrote down the ancient stories and codified what would become the Torah. Some scholars believe that a sentence was added in Leviticus: 23v24, which says: "In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, there shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation." In practice the holiday was elevated to New Year to conform to the secular celebrations of the Jews' Babylonian neighbors, who had such a pagan celebration in the Fall.

After the Persian Liberation, Jews returned to their homeland and the second Temple was built. Once more, Judaism became a priestly religion. It was the practice of the Jewish shepherds and farmers who lived outside of the city to come to Jerusalem to observe the "Great Day" (Yom Kippur) and to combine the two events into a ten-day holiday. After the destruction of the 2nd Temple (70 CE) Jews were scattered to the four corners of the world. At that time, Rabbi’s came to the fore, the Scriptures were revised to reflect their thinking and synagogues were build as meeting places. The "Days of Awe" became the most religious observance of the Jews of the Diaspora and Rosh Hashanah was born.

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