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Monday, September 14, 2015

What year is this? (Also: the Jewish vuvuzela, Sadie Hawkins Day and Chinese food)

Today is the Jewish New Year's Day, "Rosh Hashanah" in Hebrew. (The o is long and the a's are short so its vowel sounds rhyme with "bo hahaha." 

"Rosh Hashanah" is a transliteration of the Hebrew words meaning "Head (of) The Year." "Rosh" means "head," "Ha" means "the" and "Shanah" means "year." "Of" is understood, so it doesn't have to be written.

As with most languages, Hebrew has varying pronunciations. Some pronounce the "Rosh" as "rawsh." A less-formal (and perhaps more Yiddish-like) pronunciation of "Rosh Hashanah" is Rusha (like Limbaugh) shunnah (like shunner).

Hebrew and Arabic are similar Semitic languages. The Hebrew "shalom" (which is used for "hello," "goodbye" and "peace") is "salaam" in Arabic. The Islamic New Year's Day is "Ras as-Sanah" and will be celebrated on October 14th. That's when the year 1437 begins.

The picture up above shows a "shofar." It's a ram's horn used to make toots and squeaks to celebrate the Jewish new year. It's kind of a Jewish vuvuzela. Some shofar humor is here and here.

The common New Year's greeting is "Shanah Tovah." (It rhymes with blah-blah nova.) There are longer greetings, too.
  • In Hebrew the word for "she" is pronounced like "he" and the word for "he" is pronounced like "who." The word for "who" is pronounced like "me." The word for "fish" is pronounced kind of like "dog." (And you thought English was confusing?) My first name in Hebrew is "Mee-cha-ail." means "who is like God." I'm not sure if it's a question or a comparison. Maybe my parents chose the name because they thought I was divine prenatally.
Today is the first day of the Jewish year 5776. Like every other day, it's also the first day of the rest of your life, and my life. In the Jewish calendar, "days" (and holidays) start at sundown -- not a microsecond after midnight.

Adapted from jewfaq.org: The Jewish calendar is based on three astronomical phenomena: the rotation of the Earth around its axis (a day); the revolution of the moon around the Earth (a month); and the revolution of the Earth around the sun (a year). These three phenomena are independent of each other, so they have no direct correlation. On average, the moon revolves around the Earth in about 29½ days. The Earth revolves around the sun in about 365¼ days -- about 12.4 lunar months.

In the Jewish calendar, months have either 29 or 30 days, corresponding to the 29½-day lunar cycle. Years have either 12 or 13 months, corresponding to the 12.4 month solar cycle -- which creates a problem.

A 12-month lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than a solar year and a 13-month lunar year is about 19 days longer than a solar year. The months drift around the seasons on such a calendar. To compensate for this drift, the Jewish calendar uses a 12-month lunar calendar with an extra month occasionally added.

Instead of the February 29th Leap Day (also known as Sadie Hawkins Day, when women are allowed to propose marriage to men) the Jewish calendar can have a leap month.
  • Jewish holidays that have fixed dates in the Jewish calendar have changing dates in the western "Gregorian" calendar. Most western Christian holidays, like Christmas, have fixed Gregorian dates. Easter, on the other hand, moves around. Supposedly Jesus's "last supper" was a Passover seder. Passover and Easter are usually close. Christmas and Chanukah (often inaccurately called the "Jewish Christmas") may be very close together, or weeks apart.
The year number on the Jewish calendar represents the number of years since creation, calculated by adding up the ages of people in the Bible, back to the beginning. This does not necessarily mean that the universe has existed for fewer than 6,000 years of about 365 days each. Even religious people readily acknowledge that the first six "days" of creation are not necessarily 24-hour days. A 24-hour day would be meaningless until the creation of the sun on the fourth "day."






There is no universally agreed upon starting point for the Chinese calendar. Tradition holds that the calendar was invented by Emperor Huang-di in the 61st year of his reign in what is now known under the Gregorian calendar as 2637 BCE. Many people have used this date as the first year of the first 60-year cycle of the Chinese calendar, but others use the date of the beginning of his reign in 2697 BCE as the start. Chinese Americans use 2698 BCE as the basis for numbering the years. Some Chinese people are 60 years ahead (or behind) others.

Adapted from chinese.new-year.co.uk: The Chinese Lunar Calendar names each of the 12 years after an animal. Legend has it that the Lord Buddha summoned all of the animals to come to him before he departed from Earth. Only 12 came, and as a reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived. The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound influence on personality.



The Chinese calendar provides leap months, like the Jewish calendar. Jews and Chinese have much in common -- emphasis on family, education, entrepreneurship and love of Chinese food. During World War II, some Jewish refugees from Nazi-dominated Europe found safety in China. Shanghai Ghetto is a great movie about that period.
  • So, if according to the Jewish calendar, the year is 5776, and according to the Chinese calendar, the year is 4712, what did Jewish people eat during the 1064 years (the dark ages) until Chinese restaurants appeared?
Happy New Year!

2 comments:

  1. Nice, needed explanation. Thanks.

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