No to New Year’s Parties

No Silvester (New Year’s Eve) parties in hotels.

That was the edict from the Israeli Rabbinate when I lived in the Jewish state. 

I doubt that the rule had anything to do with preserving the ethics of non-Jewish guests. After all, Judaism is primarily concerned with the behavior of Jews.

So maybe those “political rabbis” were afraid that Jews would run amok — getting drunk, doing lewd things — in celebrating the incoming secular year. If that was the case, they needn’t have worried too much. Jan. 1 was a work day, so whatever carousing was done would have had to be limited. People had to sleep enough to function — or at least appear to function — at their jobs on New Year’s day.

Or maybe the rabbis felt that the secular New Year somehow diminished the religious Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah).

Actually, the idea of celebrating the secular New Year was controversial early in the Zionist enterprise, with non-religious and religious Jewish Zionists united in attacking as inappropriate the revelry associated with the holiday. It was a foreign custom and thus verboten for the Jewish people re-established in their ancient homeland, they said. Nonetheless, then and after the establishment of the state, such parties took place in theaters, private clubs and elsewhere.

Whatever the motivation, the Rabbinate backed its edict with a threat to remove the kashrut (keeping kosher) certificate of any hotel, a death sentence to any such business that appealed to Jewish tourists.

On a practical level, Israeli hotels were largely empty during the winter, except during the period between Christmas and New Year’s Day when Christian tourists flocked to the Jewish state. Not only did their guests miss out on the celebrations, but the revenue-hungry hotels suffered as well.

My daughters living in the Jewish state tell me that those restrictions on hotels have disappeared in 2020 Israel.

About the Author
Aaron Leibel was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1942, eventually receiving a Ph.D. in political science. In Israel, he lived in Jerusalem and Kibbutz Kfar Giladi. He worked at the Ministry of Health, as an apple farmer, and as a hotel administrator before becoming a journalist. Aaron was a senior writer for Newsview magazine and editor-writer for The Jerusalem Post, and then, after returning to America, he was arts/copy editor and reporter for the Washington Jewish Week newspaper until his retirement in 2014. He continues to write reviews and articles for Washington Jewish Week and reviews for The Jerusalem Post. His memoir, Figs and Alligators: An American Immigrant's Life in Israel in the 1970s and 1980s, is slated to be published by Chickadee Prince Books early in 2021. It is available for preorder in paperback.
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