The month of Tevet, falling in late December – early January, contains the fast day of the 10th of Tevet (this year, Thursday, January 5) commemorating the start of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia and culminated in the destruction of the Temple. In 1951, the Israeli chief rabbinate decided to turn this day into a memorial day for Shoah victims whose date of death is unknown. Despite this, in 1954 the Israeli Keneset passed a law creating a Holocaust Memorial day on the 27th of Nisan, a day approximately midway between the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the celebration of Israel Independence Day. Nevertheless, the 10th of Tevet remains the official Yahrtzeit day for victims of the Shoah whose actual Yahrtzeit is unknown.
Sometimes, Jews complain that Judaism has too many holidays. I sympathize. However, I think the human being has an psychological need to mark and celebrate time. Freethinkers have a calendar of events that often include seasonal celebrations, such as winter solstice parties, as well as regular gatherings. I sometimes wonder whether the over-commercialization of Christmas is related to the relative paucity of sacred days of the Christian calendar. If our calendar doesn’t give us enough of a variety of days to celebrate, then we will take the celebrations that we have and expand them.
Sacred days are event magnets. Rarely does a holiday commemorate only one event. Most Jewish holidays, like the 10th of Tevet, have multiple associations. The Biblical festivals, which began as Harvest festivals, accumulated additional layers of meaning. the 9th of Av, the day on which both Temples were destroyed, is also the day on which Jews were exiled from Spain in 1492 as well as other national calamities and exiles.
As Americans, we live our lives by the rhythm of the secular calendar. The day of the week often determines when we will wake up, where we will go, and what we will do. We know what the next holiday is because that gives us a break from our routine to look forward to.
To live a dedicated Jewish life, we live our lives by the rhythms of the Jewish calendar. We are aware of the number of days until Shabbat, and that determines when we wake up, where we go, and who we see. If we know the day of the month, then we also know the phase of the moon and approximately how many days until the next holiday, which not only breaks our routine but also most likely will require some preparation to celebrate properly.
The Jewish calendar ought not be something to resent (or worse, to ignore). Rather than seeing it as an intrusion on our lives, we might see it as an opportunity to examine a different dimension of our lives. In the short, cold days of winter, isn’t it nice to have Tu Bishvat (February 8), Purim (March 8), and even Pesah (April 7) to look forward to?
Really enjoyed this article, so many salient points well put. Yes, you are right about the Christian calendar having a paucity of sacred holidays, and as a ‘failed Christian’ I have always envied the rhythm of the Jewish lunar based calendar, which brings families together in celebration throughout the year – a constant reminder of why you believe what you believe. Thank you for your perspective.