Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What is a Jewish Birthday?

All of the goodness in this blog post comes from the amazing book that is Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha: Gerim in Chassidic Thought by the illustrious and wonderful Dov ben Avraham.

I was born on September 30, 1983 || 23 Tishrei 5744.
I was born Reform-Jewishly on April 28, 2006 || 30 Nissan 5766.
I became a halachic Jew on January 1, 2010 || 15 Tevet 5770.

So, what do I celebrate?

I get excited every year when we're nearing Simchat Torah because that's my birthday! The actual day that I was born day. The day that I crawled out of the womb of a non-Jew into a big world that was just waiting for me to realize my neshama. I like to think of it as HaShem knowing that I'd someday give in to the Jewishness and thus forced me out into the world on the day that we dance around and celebrate the completion of the cycle of Torah. It's celebrating coming full circle. Thus every year I really feel like my birthday and Simchat Torah really offer a unique experience.

But the truth is this: Even though my my actual date of birth remains the same (halachically speaking), I should be celebrating my spiritual birth as a Jew. Even though when a person completes geirus (conversion) it is a rebirth, the ger emerges as a gadol (a fully halachic adult).

In Tosafot Rosh HaShanah 27a, Rabbeinu Tam writes that G-d's ...
"desire for the world began in the month that would eventually become Tishrei, while the physical creation of the world happened in the month of Nissan. The physical creation of the world, however, is not emphasized or celebrated. Instead, we commemorate God's desire for a world which would benefit from His goodness. The date of a ger's physical creation, his biological birth date, is not the tachlis (the purpose) of his being. Rather, his purpose, what God ultimately desires of him, is found in his spiritual birth via becoming a Jew." ("Some Halachic Aspects of Geirus" by Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel in Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha)
Thus it's most appropriate for the convert to celebrate the spiritual creation rather than the physical creation.

That being said, there's nothing outright wrong with celebrating your Gregorian/physical date of birth. In fact, after so many years of doing so, it seems strange to switching to just my spiritual birthday. Celebrating both, on the other hand, seems right up my alley.

I do think it's interesting to consider, however, that a born Jew -- whether they're religious or not -- technically has their "spiritual awakening" at birth, no matter how spiritual. It's automatic.

Then again, I suppose that there is not date and time that a born Jew becomes a ba'al teshuva, right? Or can you pinpoint the moment you returned to religious observance (if you're a BT)? And if you're a convert, what birthday do you celebrate?

Names.Vocabulary to Know
  • Rabbeinu Tam was a leading 12th-century halachic authority. 
  • Tosafists were medieval rabbis from France and Germany who are among those known in Talmudic scholarship as rishonim that created critical and explanatory questions, notes, interpretations, rulings, and sources on the Talmud.
Links to Visit
  • Find your Hebrew birthday and make your own certificate here: http://www.chabad.org/calendar/birthday_cdo/aid/6228/jewish/When.htm