The Halachos of New Year

Over at Hirhurim, (R’ Gil Student’s blog), Rabbi Michael Broyde has a good analysis of the halachic issues regarding “celebrating” secular holidays.

Here’s an excerpt:

It is quite clear that on a historical level that Catholic Europe celebrated New Years day religiously for centuries. Indeed, consider the simple remarks of the Rama writing in the Darchei Moshe YD 148 quoting the Terumat Hadeshen. He states:

It is written in the Terumat Hadeshen 195 that even nowadays one who wants to send [gifts] on the eighth day after Christmas which is called New Years should send such [gifts] during the day before [December 31st] and not on the day of the holiday, itself. And if the day before the holiday falls out on Shabbat, one may send on the day of the holiday, itself as there is a matter of hatred [eiva] if one sends later than that or more before then.

While the Rama in the Shulchan Aruch (YD 148:12) does not quote this formulation exactly, it is clear to me that this is function of censorship within the Rama and not because the matter is in dispute. According to Rama, New Year’s day is a Christian Holiday (indeed the formulation in the Terumat Hadeshen makes it clear that we are discussing the eighth day of Christmas as much as New Year’s day) whose celebration must be avoided and can only be marked when long term life threatening hatred to our community will result if gifts are not given.

On the other hand, 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.[4] Even in the deep Christian South where I live there are no indicia that connect New Years Day to Christianity. The “first generation” Hindu and Muslim communities in Atlanta – who would never celebrate Christmas – have New Year’s Eve parties. It is obvious that the status of New Year’s Day has changed in the last three hundred years.

Indeed, in contemporary America there is little religious content or expression to New Year’s Day. Few would classify it as a religious holiday, as there is a clear secular method and reason to celebrate New Year’s day, and thus it has lost its status as a Christian Holiday. Rabbi Feinstein notes this directly himself in Iggerot Moshe (Even Haezer 2:13). He writes with regard to New Year’s:

The first day of the year for them [January 1] . . . is not prohibited according to law, but pious people [baalei nefesh] should be strict.

This insight, written in 1963, is even more true nowadays. The Christian origins of New Year’s is even more cloaked now than a half century ago.

Read the whole post here.

6 comments on “The Halachos of New Year

  1. There was a story on TV this morning about a baby in a carriage somewhere who was hit in the hand by a New Year’s bullet coming back down. The bullet itself was found in the carriage. The father was very thankful that was all that happened.

  2. I also found it interesting that at chatzos on 23 Teves 5760, people thought every computer would crash and airplanes would fall out of the sky.

  3. The ER’s don’t only get those poisoned by too much alcohol. They also get people whose cars didn’t have a designated driver and crashed, or who were hit by such cars.

    In our quasi-suburban neighborhood we also heard some examples of a modern tradition (seems to have started in Detroit), the firing of weapons at midnight. Some loons fail to realize that the fired rounds come back down.

  4. With all due respect to Rabbi Michael Broyde, it was pointed out in an article recently appearing in the Five Towns Jewish Times, written by Rabbi Yair Hoffman, that this particular viewpoint may actually be a misinterpretation of Igros Moshe. HoRav HaGaon Moshe Feinstein, zatzal, was writing about whether it was permitted to hold Jewish celebrations such as Bar Mitzvahs and weddings on December 31st or January 1st, as it might appear (“maris ayin”) that Yidden were celebrating the gentile holiday. Rabbi Feinstein was not permitting Jews to hold or to attend New Year’s Eve parties, which was deemed to be totally asur. Whether Hindus and Muslims attend these parties does not render them permissible for Jews to attend. Even if these celebrations are no longer Christian-oriented, they are filled with mixed dancing, non-kosher food, mingling of the genders, immodest women, overconsumption of alcoholic beverages, and encouragement of pritzusdik and lascivious behavior that is forbidden for Jews. The fact is that people can die from alchohol poisoning, just ask any hospital worker how many people get admitted to the ER on January 1st to get their stomachs pumped. Not being allowed to participate in New Year’s Eve parties has saved countless Orthodox Jewish lives. If Rabbi Broyde really truly loves his congregation in Atlanta, he would ban now and forever any and all New Year’s Eve parties: let his flock sit quietly and safely at home.

    As far as Valentine’s Day goes, those elaborate chocolate hearts are dangerous and should be seized by the Department of Health and destroyed. Left unsold for many years, by the time they are purchased and eaten, the chocolates inside are unfit for human consumption and if not moldy and bug-ridden, are capable of making people extremely sick if ingested. Unless and until the chocolate makers are willing to put freshness dates on their elaborate cardboard hearts (like the matzoh companies are now doing by indicating on the boxes of matzoh, “Manufactured for the Year 2011,” for example), I would warn everyone for health reasons (and nothing to do with calories!) not to buy and give them.

    Also a concern for after Valentine’s Day: I remember being in a chocolate store on February 15th and watching as the store owner opened up the unsold heart boxes and took out the unsold chocolates, adding them to his store display of chocolates for sale by the pound. Now maybe that’s not such a problem if those chocolates had been made within the past three weeks, and stored in a cool place (February after all is not July, the nights in that store would have dropped to about sixty degrees). However, if the store owner is opening up last year’s hearts, and the year before’s hearts, I would definitely have a concern about eating year-old (or two-year-old) candy.

    We all hate government over-regulation (the “nanny state”) but in this case, I would definitely advocate for the Health Dept to require all Valentine’s Day chocolate novelties to be disposed of by March 15th each year, to prevent them from being stored away and sold again the next year. Or to at least require labeling and sealed packages to protect the consumer from buying last year’s (or even older) chocolates.

  5. Many do celebrate the sacred American sport of football on that day (some is “nidcheh” this year to 2 Jan). Possibly, the Rishonim would have had issues with that, too.

    Yesterday, the Indianapolis Colts finished their season with the worst record in the NFL, “earning” the first pick in the upcoming college draft. This great event got a 1.5 inch tall headline on the front page of today’s Indy Star. Other things may be happening in our world, but the Star knows where the true priorities of its readers lie. The fact that the Colts’ most likely pick is named Luck may show that the team hashkafah is questionable.

  6. I never read or have subscribed to the NYTimes. However, I do remember that on 1/1 of 2000, they printed an editorial about how the entire secular calendar is really messed up, and it’s not really 2000 (then) even if the year counters had wanted it to be, and how these years are so arbitrary.

    The point I got out of it is…who cares. People are happy celebrating it as if it were kodesh, just like people will tell over the seemingly wrong story of Thanksgiving every year.

    This is what defines secular life. I’ll do what I feel like, and who cares if it makes sense or doesn’t, because if it feels right, it makes sense to me.

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