06 Jul DO YOU KNOW, LET ALONE CELEBRATE, YOUR HEBREW BIRTHDAY?
Jews of diverse backgrounds, denominations and levels of o b s e r v a n c e seem to all observe yahrzeits of their loved ones based on the Hebrew calendar, not the Gregorian one. And yet, when it comes to birthdays and anniversaries, it seems few Jews—even observant ones—know, let alone commemorate, the Hebrew date their lives. One explanation is that a yahrzeit comes with observances and rituals like lighting a candle and saying Kaddish. However, the principle is the same. It is the Jew-ish calendar that should inform our time consciousness and awareness and on which our major milestones and observances should be kept. Jewish time is not linear with the past behind us, the present happen-ing now, and the future off ahead. Rather, Jewish time is cyclical. We believe that points in time have energy and character and while time is not a loop in which we meet ourselves from last year, it is a spiral in which we advance but along the same recurring cycle. Rosh Hashana contains the en-ergy of new beginnings, Pesach carries the possibility of liberty and freedom, and Chanukah is the time of miracles. When we observe these holidays, we aren’t simply commemorating an event of the past, but rather the historical event revealed for us the special quality of those days that we seek to tap into now, baya-mim ha’heim, u’bizman ha’zeh, in those days and at this time. What is true for our national holi-days is equally important for our personal and individual milestones. Our birthday is a time to reconnect with our having been created and what we uniquely can contribute to the world. Our anniversary is a day with another and what we as a couple can achieve together. While the Gregorian days corresponding with those events are lovely to acknowledge, it is only the Hebrew date that inherently has meaning for us as we revisit those energies year after year. Sadly, many if not most observant Jews are unfamiliar with these sig-even name all of the months of the Hebrew calendar. I am not suggesting that this is the greatest challenge facing the Jewish people and our most urgent problem at this time. However, conceding our time consciousness to the Gregorian calendar and abandoning our own is an expression of how assimilation even effects the committed, observant Jewish community and it is something relatively easy to repair. When we study the exodus, we are reminded that the Jewish people merited redemption because they never gave up their identity. The Midrash tells us that they maintained Hebrew names, language (they only spoke Hebrew among themselves), and distinctive clothing. In a time of great assimilation and in a society and world that welcomes us to integrate fully with open arms, we would do well to reinforce our distinct identities within a foreign culture by promoting use of the Hebrew calendar and staying mindful each day of the Hebrew date. – ceived was HaChodesh hazeh lachem, the gift of controlling time by sanctifying the new moon. The Ramban understands that the commandment is not sim-ply to observe Rosh Chodesh, but to count according to the Jewish calendar. Indeed, the Chasam Sofer wrote, “Those who begin their let-ters with the year of the birth of the Christian messiah, are writing and signing away their portion in the world to come.” According to the Chasam Sofer, there is a prohibition against using secular dates, includ-ing days of the week, the months of the year, and the year itself. We follow the opinion that there is no prohibition to use the secular date, but nevertheless, there cer-tainly is a great preference to date our documents using the Jewish date. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef summed it up well when he wrote, “It is therefore clear that there is no pro-hibition whatsoever in using the secular date. Nonetheless, there remains a virtue of using the Jew-ish date, and whenever there is no great need, the months and years should be written according to the dating of Israel—and particularly in our holy land. When there is a need to write the secular date, it is good to also make mention of the count of years from Creation.” As Jews, it is the Hebrew calendar that best captures our most auspi-cious moments. Marking these events on a uniquely Jewish calen-dar will undoubtedly strengthen the Jewish people and help us maintain an identity and lifestyle that will please God merit the redemption yet again.