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Naming on Rosh Hashanah
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Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins at sundown on Friday, September 18th. Having just thought extensively about Islam and names at the start of Ramadan, we now shift our focus to Judaism and names.

Rosh Hashanah, literally the “Head of the Year,” is the anniversary of the creation of the world. According to the book of Genesis, however, God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh (and thus we have a Sabbath.) So which particular day of creation are Jews commemorating on Rosh Hashanah? The sixth day, when God created Adam, the first human.

The Jewish New Year celebrates the creation of the world, but more specifically, the creation of the human being, a being with free will. With free will, of course, comes the ability to accept or reject God as the creator of the universe. Thus on Rosh Hashanah, Jews celebrate a “coronation” of God as King of the universe and establish Him, once again, in the position to judge human actions and inscribe individuals in the “Book of Life.” Jews believe that this book is then “sealed” ten days later on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

According to Genesis, one of Adam’s first actions as a human with free will is to name all the animals, which are under his dominion. Thus naming takes center stage early on in the bible (Gen 2:19-20). This fixation with naming the world around us continues today. Unlike Adam, however, most of us are not naming species; we name specific individuals, giving them a unique term by which to be referenced. It seems to me that today we are increasingly likely to exercise our free will in this way, choosing ever more untraditional and unique names for our children. Additionally, we can see from the diversity of names across ethnicities, the values of different cultures and how they choose to express themselves. Names reflect our free will as humans.

We can feel powerful through our ability to name. And yet, the religious among us can still celebrate God as our creator and, as Jews will do all over the world this week, coronate Him as King, the one with authority to make decisions over us. Naming gives humans the ability to feel in control. Thus we can still (if we are so inclined) accept a higher power without completely relinquishing this control.

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