By Rabbi Steven Bayar
It has often been said that our Jewish identities are forged in the tension between our personal observance of the secular and religious holidays. We see this in our lives on a regular basis. How we observe the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah is but one example of the calendar dilemma.
This week we have an interesting confluence of circumstance: Thursday January 1, New Year’s Day, falls on the 10th of Tevet, a minor “fast” day. The 10th of Tevet commemorates the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army in the 6th century B.C.E.
The Jewish calendar devotes several days to the events which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. The day after Rosh Hashanah is called Tzom Gedalia (minor fast). It is so named to recall the death of Gedalia, the Jewish governor placed over Judea by the conquering Babylonians. The 10th of Tevet began the siege; on the 17th of Tammuz (minor fast) the walls of Jerusalem were breached; and the Temple itself was destroyed on the 9th of Av (major fast).
A minor fast is one in which the tradition requires us to fast from sunrise to sunset. A major fast lasts 25 hours.
So January 1, one of the happiest days of the (secular) year falls on a (religious) minor fast – in which we recall the political situation that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem almost three thousand years ago. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel, in order to make the day more relevant to present generations, has suggested that we remember those who died in the Holocaust – and that a commemoration in Tevet (January) is more appropriate than the Spring (Yom Hashaoah) for a variety of reasons.
I have always found fasting as a way of achieving personal observance and sensitivity to issues that are of import to me. With the current situation in Israel, the precarious politics of today – it seems fitting to blend the historical with the present and take some time of abstinence for personal reflection.
Consider the possibility of devoting some part of New Year’s Day to a Jewish sensitivity: Think of Israel, our history and our people.
My thanks to Mark Goldenthal for suggesting and researching this topic.