Point of View
February is a month of birthdays. Among the many notables whose births we observe, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are among the most prominent. As Americans we set aside a weekend in observance of these occasions – work stops, schools close, celebration begins and we ask each other where are you going for President’s Weekend – Miami, Puerto Rico, Barbados?
It may be of interest to note the Jewish attitude toward birthdays and anniversaries. While the Bible contains little positive data, there is evidence of celebrations of this nature among the Persians, Egyptians and Greeks. The Book of Genesis relates the restoration to favor of the Butler and Baker in the court of Pharaoh on his birthday. (Genesis 40:20). Hosea, the Prophet, castigates the people of Ephraim for emulating heathen birthday celebrations. (Hosea 7:5).
In post-biblical times, the anniversaries of the birth of Jewish monarchs were celebrated with great pomp. Herod was the most infamous offender. In general, however, Jews avoided birthday celebrations. Some scholars trace this attitude to the terrible persecutions during the Maccabean period when Syrian troops forced the Jewish populace to partake of forbidden foods in celebration of the birthday of Antiochus Epiphanes IV.
Throughout the Middle Ages, birthdays of distinguished people were marked by Literary Productions - either a poem, a letter or a book of scholarly articles – some creative endeavor which would enrich Jewish literature. Volumes dedicated to great men’s birthdays have become an important part of Jewish scholarly literature.
This practice is not followed in our day. Anniversaries of notables either pass unnoticed or are celebrated as “outings”. When I was young the February birthdays of our great presidents were celebrated on the exact day of their birth. Today we create weekends for Hedonistic celebrations. Among the criteria of thoughtful individuals should be sensitivity to great events and moments in life. The anniversary of Abraham Lincoln, for example, should bring to mind the strides which have been taken toward complete freedom for all people regardless of race, color or creed. It should spur us on to even greater efforts in this field.
For centuries the Jew has celebrated one particular birthday – the birthday of the world – Rosh Hashanah. It is observed with piety and reverence. Soul searching, repentance and resolve are the themes of the day. Would that this could be a model for all birthdays – anniversaries.
In any event let’s pause for a few moments on President’s Weekend and if you are a young parent use the occasion to teach your children to honor and love our nation and its great leaders.
Many people are quick to criticize our faults, but the tragedy of Haiti and the enormity of medical assistance and generosity of heart of our nation toward this great tragedy should make us proud to be citizens of the greatest nation in the world – so let’s not forget honest Abe and George Washington, Fathers Of Our Country.
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