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Happy New Year (Jan 2017)

“Jews don’t say ‘Happy New Year,’”  according to an article on, the website of Aish HaTorah, an Orthodox organization.


I disagree.  I do agree that we shouldn’t be wishing each other “happy new year” during Rosh Hashanah (this was the context of the Aish article).  On that holy day the appropriate greeting is “Shanah tovah u’metukah”: “May you have a good, sweet year.”  But as we approach the secular new year, I find “happy newyear” to be quite appropriate.


Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionism, taught that we American Jews live in two civilizations—the American civilization and the Jewish civilization.  We are fortunate that these two civilizations are compatible and not in conflict, and we can and do live comfortably in both of them.  Our identities include elements of each.  We observe and celebrate Sukkot and Thanksgiving, July 4 and Israel Independence Day, American Memorial Day and Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day.  So too, Rosh Hashanah and January 1 are both part of our calendar and our celebration.


Our two new years share some common elements.  Both, for example, are about new beginnings and new possibilities.  Each is joyful in its own way.  Yet they are very different in tone, mood and purpose.  Rosh Hashanah, along with Yom Kippur, are days of awe and trepidation, while New Year’s Eve and January 1 are much more celebratory and carefree.  Rosh Hashanah is about the pursuit of meaning, while the secular new year is about pursuing happiness.  Rosh Hashanah is a holy day, while January 1 is a holiday. 


A reading which I have used occasionally on Rosh Hashanah highlights the gap and differences between our two new years:


“On holidays we run away from duties.

          On holy days we face up to them.


On holidays we seek to let ourselves go.

          On holy days we try to bring ourselves under control.


On holidays we try to empty our minds.

          On holy days we attempt to replenish our spirits.


On holidays we reach out for the things we want.

          On holy days we reach up for the things we need.


Holidays bring a change of scene.

          Holy days bring a change of heart.”


Rabbi Brad Hirschfield offers some suggestions for bridging this gap and “turning January 1 into a Jewish-themed celebration.”


As we approach 2017, Carol and I want to wish our entire Beth Tikvah mishpacha (family) a happy, and healthy, new year.  And may it be a much better yearthan 2016!

Fri, July 12 2024 6 Tammuz 5784