We are fortunate to live in a malchus shel chessed, a country in which not only is the right to freely practice our religion protected by a constitutional amendment, but elected officials regularly show respect for our beliefs and traditions.
In 1961, then-President John F. Kennedy sent a Rosh Hashanah greeting to American Jews, reviving a custom previously practiced by Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt. Every president since (with the exception of Richard Nixon) has followed suit.
While the wording of the various messages varied widely, they all acknowledged the same basic fact: that Rosh Hashanah heralds the beginning of a New Year for the Jewish people.
In many of those messages, an additional point was stressed: that our calendar year differs from that used by the Western world. For us the year is now 5774, which refers to the time that has passed since Creation. In contrast, the year used in secular calendars is — as indicated in many official proclamations — intended to be the number of years since the birth of the founder of Christianity. Though the accuracy of their calculation is a matter of historical dispute, the fact that Jews and gentiles have two very different calendars is an undeniable fact.
The Chasam Sofer (Drashos for 7 Av) underscores the fundamental hashkafic importance for Jews to reckon years from the time of Creation, and strongly decries the actions of those who replace the Jewish calendar year with that of the gentiles.
It was disheartening to receive communications from prominent Orthodox Jewish institutions, marking the beginning of a new year on January 1, 2014.
We trust that these emails were the result of a momentary lapse of judgment, prompted by the fact that these organizations deal on a regular basis with secular governmental agencies, elected officials, and the mainstream media, and should not be misconstrued as organizational policy. It is also a sad symptom of our long sojourn in exile.
At a time when our cherished Mesorah is under attack from without and within, and Torah Jewry faces unprecedented challenges, it is incumbent on us to reaffirm our commitment to our eternal ideals, which include emphasizing the role of the Jewish calendar.