Ask The Rabbi

Ask The Rabbi


Visiting a museum on Rosh HaShanah 

Can Jews visit a museum during ROSH HASHANAH?

Visiting a museum on Rosh HaShanah

Shalom and thank you for your question! Your question raises many issues. It is potentially possible to visit a museum on Rosh HaShanah, but certain matters need to be checked. If activities take place there that Jews should not do on the Sabbath or festivals, a Jewish person should not attend. This could mean activities that include buying and selling, or the use of technology such as the screening of videos.

Your question however leads to a more involved discussion. Let’s say you have in mind a particular museum, and you have verified that such activities do not take place, and you do not have to pay for admission on the Jewish holiday. (If you have to pay at all it needs to be done on a weekday which is not a Jewish holiday, and preferably the payment could include the possibility of visiting on a weekday). Now let’s see why you want to visit the museum on Rosh HaShana. If it is because you will be staying in a particular place for the holiday, and that will be the only chance you foresee in the near future to see that particular exhibit which is really significant to you, that is understandable, and if not?

Let’s look at what Rosh HaShana is all about. The yearly cycle of Jewish holidays, or festivals, includes among others, Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, as well as what are known as the three pilgrimage festivals, Pesach (Passover), Shavuot, (Festival of the Giving of the Torah) and Sukkot (Festival of Tabernacles – meaning the temporary dwellings that the Jews built in the desert on their way from slavery in Egypt to the Holy Land.)

The three pilgrimage festivals center around the redemption of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery, the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the miracles that were performed for the Jews in the above-mentioned desert. But it goes much deeper than that. Why are these festivals called ‘pilgrimage’? The Torah instructs us to go up to the Temple in Jerusalem (during the times of the first and second Temples, and Please G-d in the speedily forthcoming era of the Third Temple which is ready in the supernal worlds and will descend to the Temple Mount when the Moshiach arrives) on each of these three festivals, as stated in Deuteronomy 16:16. (The obligation is on males but we see from the story of Chana, mother of the prophet Samuel, that women also participated when they could. We also know that women have a different spiritual energy and are able to access G-dliness without performing certain commandments that men are obligated to.)

What for? What do these ‘archaic’ traditions have to do with our lives in the modern world? The Torah states that we need to see and be seen in the Temple, the Beit HaMikdash. This is about strengthening our connection with G-d. In the Beit HaMikdash, G-dliness is more revealed, and we simply come for a spiritual recharge, just us we plug our devices in in order to recharge them. Today while we do not have the Beit HaMikdash, the shul or synagogue, and even more so the Jewish home, serve as miniature ‘Temples’ where we try to connect with G-d. In the shul, we pray as a community, listen to words of inspiration, and even come together to mark life-cycle events such as weddings and bar mitzvahs, community outreach and more. The Jewish home ideally should be a place where we also make the time and space to connect with G-d, by having kosher Mezuzahs, books about Torah topics, kosher food, and more. There are many daily activities we do at home which connect us to G-d and elevate our physical space to become holy, even on weekdays.

Each festival gives us a special spiritual energy to take with us for the rest of the year. Pesach gives us the knowledge that just as G-d redeemed us from Egyptian slavery, He can help us out of our current challenges. The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which comes from the root ‘meitzarim’ which means straits, G-d can help us out of the straits. Every day. Shavuot when the Torah was given reminds us that G-d gave us a guidebook for how to navigate this world with truth that is no less relevant today than it ever was. (Torah is an inclusive term for the Written Law and the Oral Law, both of which were received at Sinai.) On Sukkot we make a blessing on four particular species of plants, which represent different types of Jews, and we do this in the Sukka that we build, so that we unify the different kinds. It is a festival of unity. Yom Kippur is called the day of atonement, which you can read as at-one-ment, meaning – we pray more than other days and do not eat, akin to angels, improving and consummating our relationship with G-d. There are of course more special days and commandments in the Jewish calendar, I have covered the more well-known festivals. So what is Rosh HaShana?

Rosh HaShana is the day we are judged for the coming year, but beyond that it is the day we coronate G-d as our King, reinstating the energy of Royalty in the world for the coming year. We show G-d that we vote for Him and accept His leadership. This is why we spend much time praying, saying Psalms, and enjoying festive meals where the conversation ideally focuses on the spiritual message of the day. There is also a custom of visiting a place with water in which there are fish, and symbolically throwing away our sins through a special prayer.

The prayer book is like a museum of our relationship with G-d, and there is much to study about its significance in our daily lives.

We wish you a happy and healthy New Year for the coming Rosh HaShana!