01 January 2021
There is a Jewish custom of eating symbolic foods at Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year. This is based on the Talmudic statement that ‘omens have significance’ (Horayot 12a).
The Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashanah began on Friday 18 September 2020. But on this Friday evening, on this New Year’s Day 2021, as I take some time for Friday evening prayers and reflections, but without confusing or conflating two very different commemorations, I find myself once again reading the commentaries of the former Chief Rabbi, the late Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, in the Authorised Prayer Book.
He points out that customs on Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year, vary from community to community. The most widespread is to eat an apple dipped in honey as a sign of a ‘sweet New Year.’ Others eat carrots, leeks, beets, dates, gourds, pomegranates, fish, or the head of a sheep. Each custom has its own symbolism and associated prayer.
In Judaism, Lord Sacks writes, the beginning of something contains within it the potentiality of the whole, hence what we experience on the first day of the year is a token of the days that are to come. Tasting the sweetness of the apple and honey, we pray that the rest of the year, too, will bring sweetness.
Commentators note that our prayers on Rosh Hashanah speak of exalted things: God’s sovereignty over the Universe and his judgment of our lives. We do not pray for material blessings; rather, we do so, obliquely and gently, at the table while eating symbolic food. The custom mitigates the severity of the day and serves as a reminder that all we enjoy comes from God.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the fruit of the vine.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of Universe, who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this time.
Following Kiddush and Blessing over Bread, an apple is dipped in honey, and the following is said:
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the fruit of the tree.
After eating some of the apple and honey, say:
May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our ancestors, to renew for us a happy and sweet year.
Throughout Advent and Christmas this year, I am using the Prayer Diary of the Anglican Mission Agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) for my morning reflections each day. I am one of the contributors to the current USPG Diary, Pray with the World Church.
Before this day starts, I am taking a little time this morning for my own personal prayer, reflection and Scripture reading.
The theme of the USPG Prayer Diary this week (27 December 2020 to 2 January 2021) is ‘Introducing the International Year of Peace and Trust,’ which I introduced on Sunday, writing as a trustee of USPG and President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Friday 1 January 2021 (New Year’s Day, the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus):
Let us pray for all victims of anti-Semitism and an end to all forms of religious, ethnic, social and gender-based discrimination.
The Collect of the Day:
whose blessed Son was circumcised
in obedience to the law for our sake
and given the Name that declares your saving love:
Give us grace faithfully to bear his Name,
to worship him in the freedom of the Spirit,
and to proclaim him as Saviour of the world;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
whose incarnate Son was given the name of Saviour:
Grant that we who have shared in this sacrament of our salvation
may live out our years
in the power of the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Luke 2: 15-21 (NRSVA):
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Yesterday’s morning reflection
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org