Happy New Year! Jewish New Year, that is. It's Rosh Hoshanah 2011 - or, according to the Jewish calendar (counting from when God is said to have created the world as described in the Biblical book of Genesis), 5772. "L'shanah tovah" is Hebrew for "For a good year!"
Rosh Hoshanah has several traditions, including eating apples dipped in honey for a sweet new year and walking into flowing water and emptying one's pockets, symbolically casting off sins. It's also the time of year for making resolutions for the coming year.
Here are some New Year's resolutions inspired by the principles of Judaism. You don't have to be Jewish to make these resolutions.
1. Be thankful. According to the sacred text the Talmud, the world belongs to God, and whoever enjoys it is obligated to give thanks to God for worldly pleasures. The Talmud gives numerous benedictions to be recited at such awe-inspiring moments as seeing the ocean for the first time, seeing the first blossoms of spring and even seeing a beautiful woman.
2. Relax. It's one of the Ten Commandments: take one day a week to refrain from work, spend time with family, meditate - and yes, give thanks again. Rosh Hoshanah is another holiday when work is forbidden. Yet the rest period is not just a time for following a strict set of prohibitions; it's a festive time of rejoicing. FYI, for the purposes of the Sabbath, sex is not considered work; in fact, it's encouraged.
3. Think before you eat. Kashrut, the set of Jewish dietary laws, specifies which kinds of animals and fish can be eaten and how they should be eaten. There's more to eating kosher than avoiding pork and shellfish, though. Its purpose is not only set to kosher-observing Jews apart from their neighbors, but also to make each bite of each meal sacred. Food choices must be carefully thought out, preparation methods carefully planned, and social justice must be factored in to obtaining nourishment. If you're concerned about the effects of mass cattle ranching operations on the environment, so you avoid beef, you're practicing a kind of kashrut. If you choose to go vegetarian or vegan for ethic reasons, you're practicing the spirit of kashrut. Kashrut is like an early draft of Skinny Bitch!
4. Fix the world. While many Christians believe they exist to avoid Hell and gain entry into Heaven, Judaism has no consistent tradition of believing in an afterlife or in reincarnation. Jews generally believe they were created for the purpose of fixing the world, "Tikkun Olam." Every person should strive every day not only to be thankful for the world, but to make it a better place for one's fellow human beings to live in. Since there is no guarantee of an afterlife, we must create paradise right here, right now.
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Photo: Gilabrand, Creative Commons license