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novi god- the Russian New Year


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Tevet 26, 5779
Can I celebrate novi god?
Novi god (Russian for New Year) is definitely not a Jewish holiday and is clearly another problematic example of bringing foreign and non-Jewish cultures into Israel, whose roots are definitely in gentile religions. Although it was celebrated in communist Russia, and the Soviets surely didn't have a religious holiday in mind, nevertheless, the customs obviously come from Christianity and their holiday, and feature a Santa Clause, decorated evergreen trees with electric lights and gifts underneath etc. Chukot HaGoyim (the prohibition on copying gentile activities) are defined by the action and not by one’s intentions. Anyone who pretends not to notice that it's coming from another religion is not intellectually honest and accordingly, Jews clearly should not celebrate it. We have our own New Year on Rosh HaShana, which indicates and expresses a totally different mindset and values. We "take stock" of what was and what will be, what we did well and what needs improvement, which is significantly different from the light-headed drinking which characterizes the non-Jewish "New Year" celebrations (not to mention the danger of drunk-drivers!). Also historically, celebrating Jan. 1st is a Christian and not a Jewish custom, where conversely, we count our years and months from God's creation of man (Tishrei), and not from a gentile commemoration. Part of the beauty of the large Aliya from Russia is that they gradually “assimilate” into the Jewish State, practicing more and more Judaism (almost all circumcise, have mezuzot, celebrate Jewish holidays, etc.) and we should be careful not to have it vice-versa.
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