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Is it proper to go to a New Year’s Eve party?

 

Rabbi Marc D. Angel
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In modern times, January 1 is widely designated as the beginning of a new year. People gather on the evening of December 31 waiting for the new year to actually begin just after midnight.

Since antiquity, people have celebrated the onset of the new year but different peoples have observed the new year on different dates. For Jews, the new year (Rosh Hashana) is the first day of Tishri, in the autumn. Mid-March was a common date for the new year among many nations.

Julius Caesar initiated the Julian calendar in which January 1 was the first day of the new year. In Christian tradition, January 1 is identified as the date of the circumcision of their prophet.

For some, the new year is a purely secular event; for others, it has religious significance. For the secularists, it is a time of revelry; for religious Christians, the date may retain a degree of religious solemnity.

For religious Jews, new year’s eve is on Rosh Hashana – not on December 31. While we operate with the secular calendar for secular matters, December 31/January 1 has no special significance to us that would warrant having or attending a party.

If one is invited to a New Year’s Eve party, it would be best to politely decline the invitation. If one feels that one must attend for business or social reasons, the attendance should be very brief and it would be preferable to leave well before midnight.

– Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals

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Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet

The history of New Year’s celebrations date back to the Julian calendar, in which it was celebrated as a day of worship of the Greek deity called Janus, hence its name “January.” Later, in the Gregorian calendar, it was celebrated in Europe, and all Christian countries, as a Christian holiday commemorating the circumcision and naming of you-know-who. Until this very day, Catholic churches throughout the world hold a New Year’s mass.

Practically, today, most do not affiliate New Years with any religious observance. It is simply a day to celebrate the start of the new year and make resolutions. Nonetheless, being that this holiday of New Year was affiliated with Christianity, many codifiers discuss how Jews are to approach this day. (See Rema 149:12 in non-censored editions.)

It is related that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev would sometimes wish others “Happy New Year” on January 1. This is based on the verse in Psalms, “G-d will count in the register of the nations.”

The Apter Rov would wish fellow Jews a “Happy New Year” and bless them on January 1. The reason suggested is because he wanted to draw a stark contrast in the way Jews celebrate their New Year, with solemn prayer and reflection, thus bringing Divine grace upon oneself (“Hashem will annul evil decrees”).

The takeaway from this is, if you’re attending an office party or have other genuine reasons to be in attendance, then strictly speaking that is fine, provided there is no pagan element involved. Otherwise, if it is just for the sake of celebration and having fun, you would be hovering in the realm of u’vechukoisai’hem loi sailaichu, and certainly missing out on the opportunity to highlight your uniqueness as a Jew and merit that Divine blessing.

– Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue

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Rabbi Zev Leff

According to the Gemorah in Avodah Zarah (8a) the eight-day period of celebration in the Christian world actually was originated by Adam HaRishon when he saw the days getting shorter and shorter. He assumed this was the death decreed upon him and fasted eight days until the winter solstice and then the days began to get longer and the nights shorter. He then realized this was a natural phenomenon. The next year he celebrated both eight-day periods as holidays. Later on in history the Romans turned these days into pagan holidays and later the Christians adopted them as Christian holidays.

Alternately, if December 25 celebrates the supposed birth of the founder of Christianity, January 1 commemorates his bris. Hence, the celebration of January 1 has its roots in paganism and Christianity, and one is forbidden to celebrate them, due to the prohibition of walking in the ways of the non Jewish world.

Rav Moshe Feinstein. zt”l, even writes (Even Ha’ezer vol. 2 siman 13) that scheduling a celebration of a different occasion that coincides with the secular new year, although not prohibited, is something to avoid.

Additionally, many new year’s celebrations can be classified as holilus (frivolity) and even debauchery and are thus prohibited as an extension of immorality or moshav laytzim (sitting with a group of scoffers). Bottom line: one should avoid new year celebrations. Where employment issues or shalom bayis issues are relevant, a competent rav should be consulted as to the specific factors involved.

– Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matisyahu, popular lecturer and educator

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Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier

Certainly anything an observant person can do to avoid going to a New Years Eve party, he/she should do. We try not to celebrate things that are not Jewish, and not to celebrate in ways that are not Jewish. If someone’s work situation would be jeopardized or they might lose clients potentially, it might not be forbidden to attend, but having alcoholic drinks or anything of that sort would be a problem.

– Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz and author of the new book The 10 Really Dumb Mistakes Very Smart Couples Make

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