Google's Gift For Jewish New Year

Oct 2, 2011 By Deepa Gopal
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On September 28, Jewish people around the world ushered in Rosh Hashanah, or the 5772nd New Year according to the Hebrew calendar. The two-day festival that marks the creation of the world is celebrated in the seventh month of the Hebrew year.

On New Years day, families gathered over special meals, and sweet treats such as apple dipped in honey which represent a sweet start to the year, and the challah (an egg bread) baked as a circle to represent continuity. The holiest day of the year is also marked by special services in the Jewish synagogue, and charitable donations to help the poor and needy.

Time to enjoy; Time to reflect

Rosh Hashanah is not just a time to celebrate the new, but to also reflect on the old. The ritual blowing of the 'shafar' or ram's horn -- one hundred times each day for two days -- is a reminder to the faithful to repent for their sins of the past year. Another popular practice is called "casting off", where people walk to a river or stream and empty their pockets of small bread pieces -- a symbolic way of casting off one's sins.

The period of ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are known as "High Holy Days". The tenth day of Yom Kippur is a solemn day, one of fasting, penitence and prayer. According to Jewish tradition, God opens the book on each human on Rosh Hashanah, reviews them and closes the books on Yom Kippur -- a period of judgement when an individual's fate is determined.  

Recently, Google presented Jewish people worldwide with a unique opportunity to view precious manuscripts preserved in Israel's National Museum.

Heard of "Dead Sea Scrolls"?

A young Bedouin nomad tending his sheep, came across an unexpected treasure in Israel's Judean desert. In the seaside caves, he discovered large and small pieces of papyrus scrolls inscribed with an ancient text, and preserved inside jars. Realizing their value, the Bedouins sold the fragments to collectors -- and the find eventually caught the attention of archaelogists.

Written sometime from the third century to the first century BC, seven scrolls were uncovered in a series of caves near the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956. They give us a view into life and religion in ancient Jerusalem, including the birth of Christianity. We are not sure who authored the scrolls. Historians believe it may be the Essenes -- a Jewish sect affiliated with the Temple of Jersusalem. They may have fled the temple through underground sewers during the Roman invasion and perhaps sought refuge in the caves. 

The scrolls are written mostly on pieces of leather and parchment, and include a nearly complete Hebrew bible and the Temple scroll that contains detailed construction plans for the Temple of Jerusalem.

Now, thanks to Google, five of the seven manuscrips have been carefully digitized and can be viewed online here. Google plans to complete the remaining texts by 2016. It is a wonderful opportunity for Jewish people worldwide to share in their heritage, while the originals are preserved for the future in a secret vault.