Jewish holidays confuse me

Jewish Holiday OK, let me admit my ignorance that Jewish holidays confuse me. I know I’m not alone… I’ve also heard of Americans being confused by it too.

Think about it: If you’re a kid with grandparents from a traditionally catholic family, but brought up by Jewish parents, you’ve got a lot of important days to remember!

It was Hong En’s email that reminded me of the Jewish holiday called Rosh Hashanah which starts from Monday 6pm to Tuesday 6pm.

Now, other than that fact that no classes are running on Tuesday (unless you have a nite class like me!), here’s the significance of Rosh Hashanah (as seen on Judaism 101):

Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first and second days of Tishri. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means, literally, “head of the year” or “first of the year.” Rosh Hashanah is commonly known as the Jewish New Year. This name is somewhat deceptive, because there is little similarity between Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year, and the American midnight drinking bash and daytime football game.

There is, however, one important similarity between the Jewish New Year and the American one: Many Americans use the New Year as a time to plan a better life, making “resolutions.” Likewise, the Jewish New Year is a time to begin introspection, looking back at the mistakes of the past year and planning the changes to make in the new year. More on this concept at Days of Awe.

OK, so the Jews have their own calendar, like how we do with the Chinese calendar. Now this is what they have to do on this holiday:

No work is permitted on Rosh Hashanah. Much of the day is spent in synagogue, where the regular daily liturgy is somewhat expanded. In fact, there is a special prayerbook called the machzor used for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur because of the extensive liturgical changes for these holidays.

That first line pretty much took me by surprise… they seriously meant NO WORK, which they define clearly as: Activities involving creation or exercise of control over the environment, which are prohibited on Shabbat and certain holidays. So what do they do as a custom on this day?

Among the many traditions of Rosh Hashana are:
* dipping of bread into honey after kiddush and ha-Motzi, as a symbol of the hope that the new year will be sweet.
* dipping pieces of apple into honey, for the same reason. Also, the apple is said to symbolize the Divine Presence.
* use of round loaf of bread instead of the usual braided hallah. Some say the round shape symbolizes a crown.
* avoidance of nuts (I don’t mean people who think they saw Elvis on the subway, but actual “nuts.” This is because the numerical value of the Hebrew word for “nut” is the same as the word for “sin.”)
* Tashlikh ceremony, in which “sins” are ceremoniously tossed into a river and washed away, as penitential prayers are said.

Anyhow, thought you learnt a thing or two like I did… now back to my regularly scheduled research paper writing which would have been easily to write if not for noisy, silly neighbors “Woo-Hoo-ing” all night as if they were on crack. They’ve been at it for hours!!