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Should Jewish People Celebrate the Secular New Year?

Renee Eder on Tuesday, December 29, 2015

For Jewish people, Rosh Hashanah marks the new year. In September, we dipped apples in honey to celebrate 5776. Three months later, we dip chips in salsa to ring in the secular new year. Should we be participating in such customs since we already celebrated the Jewish new year?

According to Wikipedia, January 1st as New Years day has a clearly pagan origin, as follows:

The Romans dedicated this day to Janus, the god of gates, doors, and beginnings. The month of January was named after Janus, who had two faces, one looking forward and the other looking backward. This suggests that New Year’s celebrations are founded on pagan traditions. Some have suggested this occurred in 153 BC, when it was stipulated that the two annual consuls (after whose names the years were identified) entered into office on that day, though no consensus exists on the matter. Dates in March, coinciding with the spring equinox, or commemorating the Annunciation of Jesus, along with a variety of Christian feast dates were used throughout the Middle Ages, though calendars often continued to display the months in columns running from January to December.

However, according Rabbi Michael Broyde, a rabbi and law professor in Atlanta,  the reality seems to have completely changed. New Year’s Day – like Valentine’s Day and unlike Christmas – seems to have completely lost its Christian overtones. According to Broyde, "In contemporary America, there is little religious content or expression to New Year’s Day." and "few would classify it as a religious holiday." In fact, he cites the following three reasons why it's okay to celebrate the secular New Year:

  1. The conduct the individuals engage in can be rationally explained independent of the gentile holiday or event.
  2. The pagan origins are so deeply hidden that they have disappeared, and the celebrations can be attributed to some secular source or reason.
  3. The activities memorialized are actually consistent with the Jewish tradition.

So, keep making those resolutions, kissing loved ones at the stroke of midnight, and dipping those chips! We, at the J, wish you and yours a happy and healthy secular new year! See you at the J  (to keep the gym resolution :) in 2016!

Special Offer to Keep Your Fitness Resolution

Join the J in the month of January and you'll pay no registration fee and
 receive 10% off your membership dues! Such a deal.

Cannot have been a member in 2015. Not eligible for Teen, Au-pair, J-Friend, Kehilla, and Silver Sneakers Upgrade categories.

Also, if you are already a member of the J, join us on Monday-Friday, January 4-8 for Members Matter Week: Come to the J all week for treats and giveaways. It's our way to say, "THANK YOU for your continued support and for being a part of our J family!"

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