For Jews, each year is filled with numerous holidays
The Jewish faith acknowledges three types of religious holidays.
By LINDA M. LINONIS
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
BOARDMAN -- "The Jewish calendar starts out rather heavily," said Rabbi Joel Berman of Congregation Ohev Tzedek, 5245 Glenwood Ave., during an interview at the beginning of a new year of 5767.
"S'lichot, the period of time Jews start a process of reflection and asking for forgiveness, is the spiritual tune-up for the holidays," the rabbi added.
Those holidays, which just concluded, are the High Holidays: Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
Rosh Hashana was Sept. 23-24 and began the 10 days of repentance that led up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on Oct. 2, which is devoted to prayer, charity, fasting and repentance. Last year, they were different dates. It's the way the Jewish calendar works.
"For secular purposes, we use the Gregorian calendar, so we can coordinate with the rest of the world. Even Israel uses the Gregorian calendar for secular purposes," Rabbi Berman said.
"But for religious purposes, we have another calendar. The Jewish calendar organizes things in a different way, and sometimes there is confusion. It's a hybrid of a lunar and solar calendar," Rabbi Berman continued.
"In order to keep our springtime holidays in the spring and the fall holidays in the autumn, seven times during a 19-year cycle, we add a month, sort of like adding a day every four years. It's been very accurate throughout the centuries. And all the months have different, ancient names."
For Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Orthodox Jews worldwide, it's the beginning of the year 5767. Religiously, the Jewish year is a trip through the history of the people from biblical to modern times.
There are three types of holidays. Biblical holidays are deemed "major" holidays by the tradition because their observance is mentioned in the Torah or Jewish Scripture, Rabbi Berman said. (The Jewish Bible is called Tanakh. It is identical in content, but not in organization, to the Christian Old Testament).
"Each major holiday has a religious, historic and agricultural significance," Rabbi Berman said, "and there are specific prohibitions and requirements to their observance."
Rabbinic holidays are ranked more "minor" and are not expressly mentioned in Scripture but developed by rabbis and include Hannukah, Rabbi Berman said.
Post-rabbinic minor holidays mark significant events of the last 2,000 years that were not specified in Scripture or in rabbinic literature.
A tour of the calendar begins with Rosh Hashana, translated "head of the year." It signifies the time to repent for transgressions people have committed against each other and against God, Rabbi Berman explained.
The tradition has it that God decides everyone's fate during this time, and records it in either the Book of Life or the Book of Death; these books are, in the imagery of the holiday, sealed for another year on Yom Kippur.
Today is one of Rabbi Berman's favorite holidays, and it's Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. In Israel, it's more popular than in the United States but even here Jews build a temporary hut called a sukkah and eat meals there.
"They are the great equalizer," he said. A rich person's sukkah and a poor person's fare about as well in a storm, reminding everyone of the fragility of life.
Historically and religiously, the holiday recalls the time when the Jews wandered in the desert for the 40 years after the exodus from Egypt at God's mercy, and lived in booths such as these, the rabbi said. Agriculturally, it celebrates the harvest season. In biblical times, Sukkot was the major holiday.
Hanukkah, the festival of lights, will be marked Dec. 16-23 this year. "Though it sometimes falls even closer to Christmas, it [Hanukkah] is not the Jewish version of that holiday," Rabbi Berman explained.
It's a minor holiday that commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in Greco-Syrian times. The nine-branched candelabrum, known as the menorah, is lighted nightly to recall the miracle of the oil used in the Temple that burned for eight days when it should have lasted only for one.
A new popularity has come to Tu B'Shevat, the Jewish Arbor Day, in February. "Certain fruits are eaten in a certain order that recognize how God reveals Himself in this world," Rabbi Berman said.
Purim will be observed in March. The Book of Esther is read, which relates the rescue of Jewish people in ancient Persia. Costumes, merriment and gift-giving mark this event.
In April, there's Passover (in Hebrew: Pesach), the eight-day major holiday marks the Jews' deliverance from slavery in Egypt and 40-year trek to the land of their ancestors. "It's one of the biggest holidays and includes a special family meal," Rabbi Berman said.
Since the rebirth of the Jewish homeland in Israel, new days of commemoration have been born. Yom HaShoah (Day of the Utter Disaster) will be observed April 15. "It was started in 1959 to remember the Holocaust," Rabbi Berman said.
The last of the major holidays mentioned in the Torah comes exactly seven weeks from the start of Passover and is the Feast of Weeks (in Hebrew: Shavuot). Christians recognize it as the Pentecost, Rabbi Berman said. Jews regard the day as the anniversary of the revelation at Mount Sinai.
Usually in August, in the Hebrew month of Av, the mood turns somber, the rabbi said. The ninth day of Av (Hebrew: Tisha B'Av) marks the date the first Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and also the destruction of the second Temple in 70 C.E. Scriptural readings become more positive until the time of redemption has arrived, and it's back to Rosh Hashana.
If you'd like to learn more, Rabbi Berman will teach a course, "Basic Judaism," starting Oct. 24. Call Ohev Tzedek at (330) 758-2295.