Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Putting the "Why"s in Holy Days

So wait a minute--the bailout bill didn't pass...and now the lawmakers are going on vacation for two days? For what purpose, exactly? How is anything that happens during Rosh Hashanah more important than helping out the economy?

It's times like this that being an atheist makes me feel very alien indeed. I want to explain to everybody, "Rosh Hashanah is a very nice ritual, but come on! It's not even a real new year! Do you really think God, who knows everything, observes a lunar calendar? Do you really think the world is 5,769 years old? More importantly, do you really think God thinks its more important to sit still and do nothing for two days than to help prevent millions of Americans from losing everything? And even if God thinks so, isn't he wrong?"

And then I just sigh. We're wired for ritual. I understand that. And it's meaningful and cultural and historical and it roots us and gives us community and all that. But Jiminy. At a time like this, I'd expect my lawmakers to work through Christmas or Easter, or to postpone Thanksgiving, and if some holy book didn't order it otherwise, surely we'd be skipping Rosh Hashanah too.

Anyway, I hope everyone has a great time off. I hope nothing terrible happens. But if the worst occurs, I hope those apples and honey were REALLY tasty.

UPDATE: Okay. It looks like the non-celebrating legislators ARE in fact, still at work hammering out a bailout bill. So the only thing that's been delayed is an actual vote. That's still a little silly, but it's not as crazed as I thought it was. Whew! I always feel better when human beings make sense.

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Blogger nmHz / Rhu said...

Speaking as an orthodox(ish) Jew, I was also appalled. This is a national crisis, and so you get yourself to a vatikin service, you're done by 9:30am, and you get your butt onto Capitol Hill where it belongs. I bet Chabad (despite all their faults) could have arranged such a service for our Jewish lawmakers at the drop of a streimel. (And I was planning to post this exact point in my own blog, just as soon as I'm caught up.)

10/01/2008 8:07 PM  
Blogger nmHz / Rhu said...

And now that I've had a few days to catch up, I'd like to address some of your other questions, just to clarify what I do believe about Rosh Hashanah and the calendar. :-)

You ask: "Do you really think God, who knows everything, observes a lunar calendar?" No, but I believe that God commanded the Jews to schedule our holy days according to a lunisolar calendar. (See inter alia Ex. 12:2)

You assert: "It's not even a real new year!" Well, it's less artificial than Jan. 1; this is the new moon closest to the autumnal harvest. What most people don't know is that there are four new years in Judaism that basically serve as dividing lines for the fiscal years of different forms of agriculture: so the first day of Nissan is relevant for certain crops, the fifteenth of Shevat for tree fruits, etc. By tradition, the first of Tishre is not only an agricultural fiscal year divider, but is also the anniversary of the creation of the first humans, "Person" and "Living Creature" ("Adam" and "Eve"), and is therefore the time when God gives us our annual performance reviews. This is probably because it's the time when the ancient middle-eastern farmer is looking ahead towards the upcoming rainy season and realizes that whether he'll have any food next year is now completely out of his own hands, and up to the One who allots rainfall.

So, in sum, I contend that it's as good a "real" marker of a new year as you're likely to find in an agricultural milieu.

You ask: "Do you really think the world is 5,769 years old?" Bill Maher will be shocked to hear this, I'm sure, but of course not! The ancient commentators such as Rashi didn't think so either, in discussing the seven "days" of creation one of them (I think Rambam in The Guide for the Perplexed but I don't have my books here) wrote, "This is not to be taken literally; it was an exceedingly long time, but the Torah speaks in the language of mankind and it is an allusion to a reality which we cannot understand."

Anyway, as I indicated earlier and discussed in my own blog, I agree with your main point. I just didn't want to let the other questions go unaddressed.

10/03/2008 11:36 AM  

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