Rosh Hashanah

September 29, 2011
September 17, 2012
September 5, 2013

Happy New Year!

It’s New Year’s in the Jewish calendar, but you won’t hear Jews counting down to midnight, or dropping a big sparkly ball from the Western Wall.

For one, the Jewish day—and thus all Jewish holidays—begin at sundown the night before. Second, Rosh Hashanah is not so much a time of celebration as a time of reflection and repentance.

Despite its name, “Head of the Year”, Rosh Hashanah actually marks the beginning of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. The first month is known as Nisan, which falls in the spring.

The Hebrew Calendar actually has four “New Year’s”:

1. In Winter, Tu B’Shevat is the New Year of Trees, originally the day farmers took inventory of trees for tax purposes.

2. In Spring, Jews welcome Nisan as the “first” month of the year, as God commanded Moses in the Jewish holy book, the Torah.

This month hall be considered by you as the First of the Months; it is the First for you of the months of the year.” — Exodus 12:2

3. In Summer, Rosh Chodesh Elul is the New Year of Animals, during which animals and property were counted.

4. Yet, it’s in the Fall that the big New Year is celebrated. According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah marks the sixth day after creation, the birthday of humanity. Thus, the beginning of the relationship between God and man.

Just as Tu B’Shevat and Rosh Chodesh Elul call for an inventory of property, Rosh Hashanah requires an inventory of the soul. Some scriptures say it’s during this time that God sits upon a throne with a book entailing the deeds of each human life. Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of a ten-day period of introspection, collectively known as the High Holy Days, which culminates with the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur.

During this time, practicing Jews attend special services at their local synagogue where Rosh Hashanah is marked with the blowing of a ram’s horn known as a shofar. Traditional Rosh Hashanah foods include apples and honey, previously collected this season, to symbolize sweetness in the coming year.

This year Rosh Hashanah marks the first day of the year 5771 in the Jewish calendar.

Tisha B’Av

9th of Av (August 8-9, 2011; July 28-29, 2012)

One of the most tragic dates in the Hebrew calendar, the ninth day of the month of Av commemorates not just one but several tragedies that befell the Jewish people on that date, from the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.

According to the Bible, the First Temple was built by King David’s son and heir Solomon in the 10th century BC, with materials and assistance from King Hiram I of Tyre and under the direction of Tyrian and Phoenician master-builders.

Model of Solomons Temple
Model of Solomon's Temple

It was said to house the Ark of the Covenant, which was moved from the tent in which King David had deposited it. The Temple stood for six centuries.

The siege of Jerusalem in 589 BC ended with the razing of the Temple three years later.

The building of the First Temple has been studied by religious leaders and Freemasons alike (Solomon’s Temple is considered the symbolic foundation of Freemasonry). However, few remains of this era have been excavated from the site on which it once stood*. This may be partly because construction on the Second Temple began only 50 years after the fall of the first one, and partly because excavation on the Temple Mount is forbidden: In addition to being sacred to Judaism, the Temple Mount is the location of the Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, two of the holiest sites in Islam, where Muhammad ascended to heaven (Isra wal Miraj) and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son to God (Eid al-Adha).

The building of Second Temple was sanctioned by the Persian King Cyrus the Great and completed under Darius I in 516 BC. This temple stood for five centuries and was completely rebuilt around 16 BC by King Herod.

In 67 AD Judea rebelled against Roman occupation. Roman general (and future Emperor) Titus laid siege to Jerusalem. The siege culminated with the complete sack of the capital, the expulsion of the Jews, and the final destruction of the temple–again on Tisha B’Av (the ninth of Av) in 70 AD.

Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans - David Roberts
"The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70"- David Roberts, 1850

Tisha B’Av begins tonight at sunset and continues until nightfall tomorrow.

Freemasons and the Temple of the Solomon

Temple Mount Excavation Conflict

Crystalinks – Solomon’s Temple

*An October 2007 construction project unearthed remains believed to date from King Solomon’s Temple.

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We Gotta Lotta Haggadah


And this day shall become a memorial for you, and you shall observe it as a festival for the Lord, for your generations, as an eternal decree shall you observe it. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove the leaven from your homes … you shall guard the unleavened bread, because on this very day I will take you out of the land of Egypt.

— Exodus 12:14


We were slaves to pharaoh in Egypt
The year was 1492
Hitler had just invaded Poland
Madonna had just become a Jew…

— Passover according to Wikipedia,
They Tried to Kill Us (We Survived, Let’s Eat)
by Jewmongous

This week Jews across the world have plenty of Haggadahs to choose from.

The Haggadah is the book by which Jewish families at the Passover table recite the stages of the seder meal. The Haggadah details the exodus of Hebrew slaves from Egypt and asks the religion’s most famous question:

Why is this night different from all other nights?

The question begets four more:

  1. Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either leavened bread, but on this night we eat only matzoh?
  2. Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?
  3. Why is it that on all other nights we do not dip our food even once, but on this night we dip them twice?
  4. Why is it that on all other nights we dine either sitting upright or reclining, but on this night we all recline?

The questions are asked by the youngest child at the dinner able to do so.

But for those Jews who just don’t have the time (or patience) to go through the entire Passover ceremony, Michael Rubiner has created the Two-Minute Haggadah:

“Overview: Once we were slaves in Egypt. Now we’re free. That’s why we’re doing this.

Four questions:

1. What’s up with the matzoh?

2. What’s the deal with horseradish?

3. What’s with the dripping of the herbs?

4. What’s this whole slouching at the table business?

For the sake of brevity, is going with Rubiner’s answers:

1. When we left Egypt, we were in a hurry. There was no time for making decent bread.

2. Life was bitter, like horseradish.

3. It’s called symbolism.

4. Free people get to slouch.

Of course, for those secular Jews who would still like a little more meat on their shank bone, there’s the Liberated Haggadah. Developed by Rabbi Peter Schweitzer of the City Congregation of Humanistic Judaism in New York, the Liberated Haggadah seeks to involve Jews who consider themselves “culturally” Jewish, but not necessarily religious.

One of the Liberated Haggadah’s questions:

“Why is there an orange on the seder plate?”

[The orange is not one of the traditional six items on the seder plate, which normally include maror (bitter herbs), chazeret (lettuce), charoset (apples & cinnamon), a lamb shank bone, parsley, and a hard-boiled egg.]

The answer:

“To remind us that all people have a legitimate place in Jewish life, no less than an orange on the seder plate, regardless or gender or sexual identity…And to teach us, too, how absurd it is to exclude anyone who wants to sit at our table, partake of our meal, and celebrate with us the gift of life and the gift of freedom.”

The Liberated Haggadah also grapples with some of the more neglected questions of Passover. Like why the main event in the formation of the Jewish faith, Moses’ leading the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt, has yet to encounter any historical evidence to back it?

Even the role of the Old-time Hebrew God is all but removed from the narrative. A step even reform Jews may have difficulty with.

Or for those who don’t want any shank bone, there’s Roberta Kalechofsky’s vegetarian haggadah, “Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb“, which reaffirms the traditional Hebrew God, but with an animal-friendly perspective:

“In lovingkindness You instructed Noah to build an ark
and save each kind from among Your creatures.
Neither are we so hardhearted as
to believe that the earth was created
for us alone…
Teach us to live likewise
So that every living creature,
Every beast of the field and fowl of the air
May praise You, and our voice be among them.”

There’s a Haggadah for Poets, a Haggadah for Women. There’s even a Haggadah for Christians.

But regardless of which Haggadah you use, remember, it ain’t a Haggadah if it ain’t got the Frog Song.

Sarajevo Haggadah: Jewish Manuscript Saved by Bosniaks Muslims

Facebook Haggadah: Moses is departing Egypt

In Haggadah de vida, honey
Don’t you know that I love you?
In Haggadah de vida, baby
Don’t you know that I’ll always be true?

— Iron Butterfly

Passover, Part 2

Where we last left off, six plagues had devastated Egypt, dealing mainly with water, animals, and disease.

The third of the three plague trilogies moves to the meteorological arena and has its most damaging effects on agriculture:

#7: Hailstorm of fire.

Described as fiery hail in the Bible, it’s also interpreted to mean lightning and hail. This hailstorm which was said to be so violent it would kill any person or animal left outdoors. The Bible makes an unusual parenthetical here (such as this one) to explain how the early crops of flax and barley were destroyed while the wheat and spelt, which were still in the ground, were unaffected.

#8: Locusts.

To the modern urbanite this sounds to be a plague of inconvenience. Who wants to scrub dead grasshoppers off your windshield every time you get gas? But to an agrarian society whose water, fish, livestock, and half their crops depleted, this was the kiss of death. To give you an idea of the damage locusts can do, a swarm of locusts in Ethiopia in 1958 cost the country 167,000 tons of grain—enough to feed a million people for a year. (The Desert Locust in Africa and Western Asia)

#9: 3 Days of Darkness.

In modern times, explosions from crashing meteors such as Tunguska 1908, and volcanic eruptions such as Tambora 1815, sent out ash particles that covered the earth’s atmosphere for months. (1815 was called the Year Without Summer.) Exodus doesn’t give much to go on, other than the strange weather pattern of the previous two plagues.

All this said there really is no explanation for the deadliest of the plagues, number 10 in which

…I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. — God, Exodus 12

No known plague or disease makes any distinction as to birth order.

One theory is that the “first-borns” that were killed originally referred to the first-born crops, not the people. And that may make sense if, for nothing else, the events in the story of Exodus are not mentioned in any ancient Egyptian text of the supposed time. You would think a massive slave revolt and exodus, unprecedented horrors, plagues, and the killing of the first-born in every house would have at least garnered a footnote on a papyrus scroll. But nope.

The real miracle of Passover may be that it is one of the oldest continuously observed holidays ever. On Passover Jews gather around the table, and the youngest asks the elders “Why is this night different from all other nights.” The story of the Exodus is retold, and Jews continue to follow the instructions laid down in Exodus.

And this day shall be unto you for a memorial, and you shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations…Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread…

Jews eat matzoh during Passover in memory of their ancestors who left Egypt without time to bake their bread, which hardened in the hot sun on their backs.

Though Abraham the monotheist is considered the father of the Judeo-Christian religions, long before Moses walked the earth, the moment the Hebrews left Egypt is considered to be the beginning of codified Judaism as it is recognized today. (Note: It was a Passover meal that Jesus and the disciples observed over a thousand years later during the Last Supper.)

After escaping Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, the Jews spent 40 years roaming the desert for their homeland. Proof that even then Judaism, like Christianity and Islam, was a patriarchal society.

No one asked directions.