Can the zodiac be integrated into the Jewish tradition?
When my great-nephew Owen arrived in the world in January, there was a collective spate of “Your constellation is good!” OK, we shortened the sentiment to “mazal tov!” but the meaning was the same. We were congratulating the new parents on their mazal (from Akkadian, “location of a star”), luck that’s credited to the stars and has nothing to do with merit. Which begs the question: Is there mazal for Jews?
Israel’s smallest religious minority offers Jews a glimpse of what might have been.
What would the Jews look like had they not been exiled to the four corners of the earth, had they gone untainted — but also unenriched — by the cultures in which they tarried? Imagine Jews who retained their fierce attachment to the Torah and the faith of their fathers, but without the rabbinic response to displacement.
Rosh Hodesh, Susan B. Anthony and the teenage girl.
Rabbi Anne Ebersman
I recently attended my daughter’s fifth grade American Heritage Ceremony. The students researched how various important documents from American history were created and then wrote and performed in skits about what they learned. One group was assigned the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
In perfecting Judaism’s complex, lunisolar calendar, the Rabbis likely relied on advanced mathematics.
David E. Y. Sarna
Passover, the Bible tells us (Exodus 34:18), is Hag Hamatzot (Holiday of The Matzot) whose time is Mo’ed HaAviv, a spring festival, that begins on the 15th day of Nisan, on the night of a full moon after the vernal equinox (“Tekufat HaShana”), following the Passover sacrifice on the 14th.
It’s an unusually precise specification. To ensure that Passover did not start before spring, the tradition in ancient Israel held that the first day of Nisan would not start until the barley is ripe, that being the test for the onset of spring.
Jewish eating connects us, literally, to our roots in the land.
It was on a trip to the Sinai many years ago around the time of Shavuot that my eyes were opened to the fascinating cycles of the year. Kids and lambs were everywhere, nursing from their mothers. Bedouins were busy making cheese from the leftover milk, which they later dried and salted to save for the long winter when little milk would be available. Little tufts of green herbs — what we would call weeds — peeked out through the earth, to be consumed by the animals and people in the area. In the desert where so little grows, life is so deeply appreciated when it finally appears.
On April 11, 1961, the theater of Beit Ha’am, Jerusalem’s brand-new cultural center, was packed. Over 700 people filled the room for the trial of a man accused of being the chief operational officer of the Final Solution.
Elisheva Carlebach rediscovers the lost art of ‘sifrei evronot,’ Jewish calendar booklets.
Harriet R. Goren
Tucked into a corner of the Columbia University campus at the end of a long hallway, Elisheva Carlebach’s book-lined office is as quiet and serene as a library. But as soon as she begins to speak about her new book, “Palaces of Time” (Harvard), we’re transported to a world where few things are fixed or organized — not even the concept of time.
Seeking a coherent life with the holiday cycle as our compass.
Shelly R. Fredman
When I was a child, the Jewish holidays burst upon my days with no discernible pattern or connection. In St. Louis, as a young girl, I am a Megillah, parading around United Hebrew Temple, my skinny 9-year-old self sandwiched between two yellow poster boards with “The Story of Queen Esther” glued and glittered on the front. And then, some weeks later, returning home from services with my mom and my sister — dad was at work — we ate our Passover feast: crunchy sheaves of matzah slathered with cream cheese and Welch’s grape jelly.
Sunday, Oct. 28 was Bess’s first birthday. The festivities began two weeks earlier with a collective party for my local moms’ group’s entire brood — Bess won our first annual crawling race by a mile! — and culminated with an immediate-family-only party featuring homemade frosted pomegranate layer cake. (Rimona, Bess’s middle and Hebrew name, is the feminized form of rimon, or pomegranate.)
We’ve just begun the Hebrew month of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish year. Not to be confused with Tishrei, the seventh month on the Jewish calendar and the time of Rosh HaShanah, when the year rolls over into the next. Tracking time in different ways, synchronizing stories and seasons, keeps us ever mindful of its passing.
This month, our writers look at days, months and years; the movements of sun and moon; how the celestial cycles manifest in the rhythms of our days and in the calendars we tuck into our pockets, whose full pages connote full lives.