I for one won’t. This year, that is. I’ll be packing suitcases. And given the current situation in Israel, I know many of you won’t either.
JÃ¼dische Allgemeine contrasts two different views on whether Jews should celebrate New Year’s Eve or not. Lena Gorelik, a Munich author, represents the pro-, Rabbi Avichai Apel (Orthodox, Dortmund) represents the contra-position.
Briefly put, Ms Gorelik thinks that celebrating New Year’s Eve was something Jews could participate in as it wasn’t really a religious holiday anymore, unlike Christmas, and compared it to joining birthday celebrations and pointed out that most Jews abided by the Gregorian calendar all over the world [I only know very few Chasidim that make appointments going by the Jewish calendar]. Rabbi Apel on the other hand claims that chiming in with those New Year’s celebrations conflicted with Jewish identity and that the background of that day was too Christian to ignore the roots.
Oy. To set this straight, indeed, 31st December is known as Silvester / Sylvester in many parts of this world because of a pope. Guess what? Catholic Christianity (which includes the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches of all varieties plus the Anglican / Episcopal church) has got saints assigned to every single day of the year. There are biblical saints, e.g. Abraham and Sarah, whose saint day was set to be on 9th October. There are people who suppposedly lived an extraordinarily virtuous life (compares to the Chasidishe admiration for tzaddikim). There are people from ecclesiastical history, e.g. Nikolaos (6th December) and in this case Pope Silvester (one of four ones to be exact).
Now, it might be worth noting that the ecclestical year does not quite coincide with the Gregorian calendar as it begins on the first Sunday in Advent (that’s when the cyclus of lectures starts all over again). Also, a letter by Cicero documents that the Romans would celebrate the night preceding 1st January (with considerable quantities of alcohol). In the Soviet Union, people were permitted to celebrate on 31st December as that date was considered undoubtedly secular – as opposed to 24th / 25th December and 6th / 7th January.
So, to not discredit Rabbi Apel, I can understand his point that celebrating the beginning of a year the number of which was (more or less) determined by the supposed birth year of Jesus of Nazareth made him feel uncomfortable. Then again, most Jews believe as little in the messiahhood of Jesus of Nazareth as they believe in that the world was created literally according to the biblical stories of creation and less than 6,000 years ago. My suggestion is that if you do believe in the biblical stories of creation and the later implemented Jewish calendar, don’t celebrate New Year’s Eve. If you do believe in the possible messiahhood of Jesus of Nazareth and still are Jewish, don’t celebrate New Year’s Eve. If you don’t believe in either, then take an adult decision.