Chapter Nineteen

How the Jews celebrate the Feast of the New Year

The first day of the autumn moon is the New Year, as previously reported. With it they start their civil year according to which they sign all civil contracts and business. They reckon only since the creation of the world, and their past New Year's day was counted as five thousand, four hundred and two, [=1641-2] from which we see that they vary in their reckoning from the usual year reckoning of the Christians by two hundred and two years.

God commanded them to celebrate this day as we see in the third book of Moses where you read Lev. 23.24: And the Lord spoke to Moses and said: Speak to the children of Israel and say: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a feast day, a remembrance of the blowing of the trumpet, a holy convocation; you shall do no work on that day, but bring a fire offering to the Lord. Although there is no mention of the New Year, the established tradition and rule of the Jews is to start their civil New Year on that date. But this is the seventh month according to the New Year of the feasts, which starts in March. It is mainly called the feast of the blowing of the trumpet, in which the priests blew in the Temple so that people might be encouraged, and reminded to thank God with joyful hearts for all the benefits and comforts of the last year, and that he let them live so mercifully through the last year; also that they should lead a penitent life with fear and trembling against the next day of reconciliation, when they receive a general forgiveness for the sins of all the people. Today the Jews use the horn of a ram, the reason for which will soon be reported. It is usually celebrated in the following manner.

After their afternoon or evening prayers in shul, the feast is inaugurated with a cup of wine and a special prayer, and they consider it a good sign of a happy, prosperous year if they can have fruit juice or new wine for it. Each one wishes the other a happy year, and one says to the other: Beschanah [sic!] tobhah tikkaseb, that is, you should be inscribed for a good year (by this they mean the books which were mentioned in the previous chapter.) The other person answers: Gam attah, You too – or, the Bore gazre you leschanah tobhah, May the Creator decree for you a good year. The other answers Gamosach, You too. The young boys and children go to their chief Rabbi, who puts his hands on their heads, blesses them, and wishes them a good New Year.

When they come home, they find the table prepared with sweet dishes. They sit down, and each one takes a piece of sweet apple covered with honey, and says: Schanah tobhah umesukah, that is, a good and sweet year. Then they eat and are very happy. Besides other things, they put up the head of a ram, to remember the ram that was sacrificed instead of Isaac, because Isaac was supposed to be sacrificed on that day. Others say that it is done because they should be lerósch, or at the head, and not lezánabh, or at the tail, as it is written Deut. 28.13: And the Lord will make you the head, and not the tail, and you shall be above, and not beneath, namely, if they obey the voice of the Lord, and keep his commandments, as was said at the beginning of the chapter. What they really aim at, is to be head and master over the Christians, for which they beg God every day. They also like to eat good fish that evening, to indicate that their merits and good deeds should be multiplied like the fish in water. The fish should not be cooked in vinegar because all sour things are prohibited that evening. They also use all kinds of sweet fruits, almonds, figs, raisins, cucumbers, lemons, melons, garlic and similar fruits. Garlic symbolises their enemies, who should be cut off the earth and exterminated, Because garlic, or rather chives, is Crate [in Aramaic] which comes from the word meaning to cut off, and after they eat the garlic, they say Jichretu soneenu, all who hate us should be cut off. Over their sweet fruits, which are called silka, they say Jistalleku ojebhénu, May our enemies be taken away. Over almonds, called T'marim, [actually, dates. Perhaps dates could not be found] they say: Jittammu soneenu, May our enemies be consumed and exterminated. Over melons, which they call kara, they say: Jikra gezar dinenu vejikreu lephanecha zakkiosénu, May the evil decrees and judgments against us be annulled, and our good deeds and merits come before God. [There are word-plays with each of these foods.]

In the morning, they go to shul earlier than usual. They sing and recite many prayers, they take out two books of the law from the ark, and read several Lectiones, [readings] just as Ezra did, Neh. 8.1 although he read portions different from what the Jews do today. After the Haphtharah, or reading from the prophet, one of them ascends the Almemor, or pulpit, and blows the ram's horn thirty times with different tones, some of which are level and plain tones, and some are broken tones, and if it turns out well, and sounds good, they take it as a good sign for a happy year. If it does not sound good, or if it fails, then they are sad, and regard it as an evil sign. When he is finished the congregation sings in a loud voice Ps. 89.15: Happy are the people who can rejoice thus. Lord, they will walk in the light of your countenance. They need the horn of a ram to remind them of the sacrifice of the ram instead of Isaac, which is supposed to have happened on New Year's day. When the shul is finished, they go home, and eat and drink, and their Rabbis write that they all should be happy, and think that God will forgive them their sins, but they should not drink too much, because this might be counted as another sin.

After they eat, men, women and children, young and old, go to a body of water, or to a bridge, to make Taschlich, that is, to throw their sins into the water, as it is written Mic. 7.19: He will again have mercy on us, he will pardon our misdeeds and he will throw all our sins into the depths of the ocean. If they see a fish they take it as a good sign, jump up in joy, and shake their clothes vigorously to throw their sins on the fish, so that it may swim away with them, just like the goat in the Old Testament which ran off with the sins of the people into the desert, as you can read in the third book of Moses Lev. 16.21. Others say it is in remembrance of Abraham, who met Satan on New Year's Day, when he went out to sacrifice his son Isaac. Satan turned himself into a great expanse of water, which was only knee-deep at first, but soon it reached up to Abraham's neck, so that he thought he would drown. But when he called to God, God made a dry path for him through the water, as you read in Medrasch vajoscha.

At night they are cheerful and have a good meal. In this way they celebrate New Year for two days, feeling great security, joy and pleasure.


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Alan D. Corré
corre@uwm.edu