Columns - 2011

    The Year of the Rabbi

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    Returning to this space is our periodic Ask the Rabbi series, which due to a contractual typo that our legal team is still working to resolve, is better known as Ask the Rabbit.

    Lettuce begin. Now that we've just finished celebrating the start of the Year of the Rabbi...

    You mean the Chinese Year of the Rabbit?

    No, I mean its Jewish progenitor: The Year of the Rabbi.

    What does something Chinese have to do with Judaism?

    Where did you have dinner last December 24th?

    Chinese food is not Jewish food.

    How often do you hear people talking about going to the Jewish deli on Erev Christmas? Anyway, I'm here to talk about the long forgotten Jewish origins of the Chinese years.

    Why? This is Ask the Rabbit. I didn't ask about that.

    You were supposed to. Learn your lines. Specifically, I am here to talk about the ancient Jewish roots of the Sheng Xiao, also known as the Chinese Zodiac.

    What makes the Sheng Xiao sound Jewish?

    It's no more pronounceable to most of you than Hebrew.

    Are you saying that Jews have our own Zodiac?

    Lots of Jews own Zodiacs. They're fun little boats.

    Why should we believe the Year of the Rabbit was really first the Year of the Rabbi?

    In the Chinese Zodiac, the Rabbit symbolizes creativity, compassion, sensitivity, friendliness, outgoingness, belief in community and family, and conflict avoidance. Rabbits approach confrontation calmly and with consideration. If that doesn't sound like your rabbi, form a search committee.

    Isn't this just a cheap way to get yourself a double honor this year?

    Next question.

    Do Jews really need a second additional new year?

    Judaism has four other new years already. The first of Nisan (just before Passover) is the ecclesiastical (religious, biblical) new year. Rosh Hashanah is the civil new year, despite the lack of civility of people saving seats at services. Tu B'Shevat, within a couple weeks of the Chinese New Year, is the new year for trees. And one month before Rosh Hashanah is the new year for animals.

    If we already have a new year for animals, why do we need this year of the animal thing?

    We already have matzah for seven days, why do we need an eighth? We already have six fast days, why do we need a seventh?

    Okay, fine. So what are the true Jewish origins of the other animals in the Chinese Zodiac?

    These are the animals of the Chinese Zodiac and the origin of each in Jewish history, in order of appearance:

    Dragon - Jews don't believe in dragons. But we do believe that sermons can drag on, so bring a pillow to services in 2012.

    Snake - It was a Year of the Snake when Eve was tempted with the apple in the Garden of Eden.

    Horse - Moses's speech impediment is well known. This was the year in which he repeatedly pleaded with Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, so much so that he went hoarse.

    Goat/Sheep - The ensuing exodus from Egypt, featuring the paschal lamb, Chad Gadya, and the commandment to not cook a kid in its mother's milk. It has since included many other historical events where Jews were made out to be scapegoats.

    Monkey - Still bitter about the kid-in-mother's-milk thing prohibiting chicken parmesan, this year often sees Jews monkeying around with interpretations to adjust Jewish life to the times.

    Rooster - The year of monkeying around is followed by a year of crowing even louder than usual against the establishment, often resulting in overhauls of synagogue boards and staff.

    Dog - Tired from crowing, a return to faith ensues. So this actually honors someone else, but is reversed because Hebrew goes right to left.

    Pig - After a whole year returned to faith, more Jews stray this year than any other. But I won't bore you with the details, we've hogged enough time on this already. Let's see what else is bakin'.

    Rat - This year the straying Jews are ratted out to the clergy. Also, the Year of the Rat has included many historical events where Jews were made out to be rats.

    Ox - Originally the Year of the Lox. After suffering through being made out as rats, the Jews would recount their latest survival and celebrate by eating.

    Tiger - The Tigris, of course, is one of the four rivers that bordered the Garden of Eden. So the tigress became a symbol of a return to paradise. But there have been one or two instances in history where religions have been what some might call sexist. Changing this year to the tiger is one such instance.

    What is the appropriate drink to celebrate the Year of the Rabbi?

    Beer. One with less barley, and more hops.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who, with this column, has sunk to a new lo mein, and needs a rabbitude adjustment. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit For exclusive online content, become a fan at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.