Archive for the ‘Jewish Year’ Category

Friday is Yom Yerushalayim – the day (by the Jewish lunar calendar) that Jerusalem was re-taken / conquered / liberated / occupied in the 1967 “Six Day War“. In Jerusalem they are having all the celebrations tomorrow because Friday is a short day. However the real day is Friday.

In the circles I mix in it is considered a (rather) minor religious festival although in Israeli society at large it generally unnoticed outside of Jerusalem and the religious zionist community.

In honor of this (and for want of better inspiration), my next picture will be a Jerusalem one. Yesterday I bought the canvas (100×40 cm)  and this evening I hop to make a start, even if only to gesso the canvas ready for work.

The picture is a view of the Old City of Jerusalem taken from the lookout in the Citadel also known as Migdal David (The Tower of David). BTW the tower was most definitely not built by anyone called David. This is just a misnomer that has stuck and it has become a Jewish religious symbol of Jerusalem despite it being a mainly muslim and the tower itself is the minaret of a mosque.


This is the picture. I know it look kind of weird and what are all those “Demo” notices on it? The picture is a mosaic of pictures from my phone – I took a whole 360° panorama there. I then perspective-corrected it using some free demo-wear add in the Paint Shop Pro and this is the result.

I still have to think about exactly how I’m going to do this painting as there is a lot of detail and I am not feeling so photo-realistic right now. It will get some kind of impressionistic treatment. Keep tuned.

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Tonight is the (very) minor festival of Lag Ba’Omer. Lag Ba”omer is such a minor festival that no one really knows why we celebrate it. There are three theories (that may be connected in some way):

  1. Rabbi Akiva had 24,000 students who died because of a lack of respect between them and they stopped dying on Lag Ba’Omer. Therefore we celebrate.
  2. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai died on Lag Ba’Omer. He is attributed with having written the Zohar, therefore we light big bonfires to make loads of light.
  3. The crusaders marauded the Jewish communities of France whilst on their way, during this period.

All of these expanations are pretty strange.

For the first one, 24,000 is a rather large number of students and it is kind of wierd that they would die because of disrespect when Rabbi Akiva is the big rabbi of loving your neighbor. What maybe gives us the clue to what really happened is that Rabbi Akiva was a supporter of the Bar Kokhva rebellion and it is just possible that the deal with the students dying is a code for Bar Kokhva’s soldiers being killed in battle together with either a statement that they jumped at the cahnce to be the first to go to battle without defering to each otehr or maybe a statement that if they were unsuccessful then that was because they still hadn’t learned the lesson of the destruction of the Temple that was attributed to being caused by sinat hinnam.

As for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s jahrzeit, this is apparently very tenuous and a relatively new invention. What may be the connection is that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was a student of Rabbi Akiva (although after the supposed death of his 24,000 students), so maybe this is where the connection was made.

I have no idea whether the crusade explanation is historically correct, but it is possible that this was added in because of the existing tradition of the “students” of Rabbi Akiva killed by the plague/Romans.

Anyway it is all a good reason for a party.

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Birkat HaHama, NY 1897

Quite an amazing story as told in the New York Times of 8th April 1897.

Birkat HaHama is coming up again in a couple of weeks on the 8th April again. Last one was 28 years ago in 1981, though I don’t remember that at all.

The whole story of Birkat Hahama is pretty weird. If you want to know what it’s all about you can take a look at the article in Wikipedia. As it points out there, solar leap years do not strictly occur every 4 years so the whole thing is suspect anyway. That’s assuming you reckon the world was created in Nissan/April 5769 years ago and not in Tishrei/October of that year or like a few billion years earlier.

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A Hatimah Tovah to all my readers. May this year be one of creativity, enjoyment and satisfaction.

The last few weeks have reminded us of the difference between creating wealth and creating real value. Let’s all create something great this year and enjoy it.

BTW the image illustrates the sentence from Selihot:

VeNislah LeKhol Adat Bnei Yisrael VeLaGer HaGar Betokham, Ki LeKhol HaAm BiShgagah

“The whole nation of Israel and the foreigner dwelling among them shall be forgiven because all that they did was done in error (not deliberate)”.

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Tuesday 30th September 2008 (and the next day as well) is Jewish New Year’s day otherwise known as Rosh HaShanah.

Rosh HaShanah is held by tradition to be the final day of the six-day creation, on which humankind was created. In order to celebrate the official birthday of our species, we do a lot of praying and eating to reaffirm our acceptance God as sovereign over the world and our place as his underlings.

This is all in preparation for Yom Kippur (Thursday 9th October 2008) when we stand in judgement for what we did (or didn’t do) over the last year. As I said in a previous post, the whole drift of this period is to make us think at least once a year about where we are, where we’re going and what we need to do to improve ourselves. Judaism believes in total accountability so there is no passing the buck.

In English and the few European languages I am familiar with, people tend to wish each other a “happy new year”. In Hebrew you wish a Shanah Tovah – a “good year” or in full “LeShanah Tovah Tikatev YeTehatem” (“may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year”). This echoes the belief that on the basis of our past year’s performance, God decides what kind of year we are going to have in the next year. He doesn’t do this arbitrarily but aims the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (Act 3, Hamlet, William Shakespeare) for best effect so that even one as dense as ourselves will understand where we are going wrong and where we need to improve.

As I said “total accountability” – this belief throws back to us responsibility for our seemingly random fate as well. We can change it (or at least sweeten it) by focussing, changing ourselves and improving.

So may you all have a great year – let’s make it one!

…and finally…

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I mentioned in my post yesterday that with the start of the Jewish month of Ellul we are entering the annual period of introspection and improvement – a process known in Judaism as Teshuva.

Teshuva is a very big thing in Judaism. the idea is that we are required to be in a continuous process througout our lives of personal improvement. We have free choice to choose to do good or bad and we are responsible for our choices. We therefore need to be constantly assessing our shortcomings and working on improving ourselves for next time.

This might sound like hard work and no fun but if you think about it, it is a far more positive and optimistic view on life than that propounded by some other religions. It also seems to me to be a very pragmatic and logical approach to life. Things can be better and we can do it. Fate does not determine the outcome and neither do we need to throw ourselves at the feet of a savior or rely on some supernatural promises. We just need to think about what we are doing and do it better.

To do Teshuva there are three stages and there is also a test to see if it worked. Anybody can do it, even if you aren’t Jewish and you don’t believe in God. That’s the great thing about it – it is so down-to-earth and pragmatically useful. The stages are as follows:

  1. Verbalize what you did wrong
  2. Feel remorse for it
  3. Decide not to do it again.

The verbalization is not a confession to another person who then forgives you. It can be even between you and yourself but it is important because as I have mentioned before on the subject of goals, unverbalized goals are rather worthless. The remorse is a difficult part. However without remorse, the next stage of making the decision not to do it again will be even harder.

Of course Teshuva itself doesn’t actually right any damage you may have caused to others through your past actions, so you are not off the hook until you have put right the damage as well. 

The test for good Teshuva is straightforward as well. You are in the same situation again, you have the same opportunity and you are able to make the mistake again. Do you live up to your resolution to change, or do you do it over again?

Anyway, so what’s this annual period of Teshuva about? The Jewish new year is celebrated annually as a special period for reflection on the past year and resolve to do better. Lots of prayers and lots of customs to make us think about ourselves, where we are and what we want to do better next year. We are supposed to be continually improving, but once a year we have a period set aside to encourage us to confront our needs for change.

So happy Teshuva everyone.

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Yesterday the summer ended officially as the children went back to school after their (excessively) long summer vacation. Also the weather has been slightly more autumnal (?) over the last day or two which puts me in a good mood.

Maybe I’ll get some more time for painting in the next few weeks. Not only haven’t I been blogging much recently, I haven’t painted much since the exhibition almost two months ago.

Yesterday was also Rosh Hodesh Ellul – the new moon (the 1st) of the Jewish month of Ellul. Ellul is the last month of the year which means that we are now into the annual period of introspection and improvement (Teshuva) of Rosh HaShanah (new year) and Yom Kippur. Maybe some more about that in another post… and maybe some online introspection as well.

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