Happy New Year!

Pope/Saint Sylvester and ConstantineHello 2011

Happy New Year!

Some of you might be wondering what does the ‘Puddy Tat’ on the 5–in–a–star icon have to do with New Year. In keeping with the Five Minutes for Israel tradition of providing you with too much information, I’ll explain.

I thought I saw a Puddy Tat

Israeli celebrate (those who do) New Years Eve as Sylvester. Some think that it is necessary to distinguish between the religious New Year and the secular New Year. There is also the Aleph (1st) of the month of Nissan†, the first day of the Hebrew calendar year that everybody ignores.

The Feast Day of Catholic Saint Sylvester, who may have had a relationship with Roman Emperor Constantine and may have been instrumental in turning Rome Christian, falls on the 31st of December. He may also have killed a dragon and resurrected its victims. I remain parve about anyone’s beliefs.

‘Sylvester Nacht’ is the name commonly used  in German speaking countries as well as in Poland instead of ‘New Year’s Eve’, so that it is probably safe to assume that the Catholic name took hold due to early waves of European immigration to Israel.

For the Christians it was often an excuse to get drunk and beat up and kill Jews so an alternate Jewish tradition was to ignore it entirely. On this predictable date, in an attempt to make it harder to find defenseless victims, Jews in the Shtetl barricaded themselves behind the flimsy doors of their huts. Torah study, which was done by the light of candles, was thus impossible. Some relgious Jews don’t still study on that night

The Saint and the Jews

Sylvester‡, hated the Jews. Indeed what early pope didn’t hate the Jews?

  • There is a legend (unconfirmed like most details of Sylvester’s life) that he took part in a debate against Jewish scholars. The Jews lost. Are you surprised?
  • There is a legend that it was he who persuaded Constantine to prohibit Jews from living in Jerusalem.
  • There is a legend, known to be untrue, that Sylvester cured Emperor Constantine of leprosy and baptised him.
  • He was responsible for legislation confiscating the property of any Christian celebrating Passover.
  • He supported and probably directed much of the anti Jewish legislation of the Council of Nicea that set the stage for two millennia of persecution.

“It appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast (Easter) we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin… Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd…” (Life of Constantine – Eusebius, Chap XVIII)

But what about the cat?

Sylvester J. Pussycat, Sr., also known as Puddy Tat (as in “I tawt I taw a puddy tat” and “bad ol’ puddy tat”)gringo pussy-gato/Señor PussycatSylvester the Cat or simply Sylvester, is a three-time Academy Award winner.

Until the mid 1960’s many books called the house cat Felis sylvestris catus. But in the mid 1960’s further studies discovered no descent from the European Wildcat (Felis sylvestris) and the pussy became plain old Felis catus. Another famous cartoon cat became Felix the Cat for the same reasons.


† Exodus 12:2 This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.
‡ Sylvester was Pope from January 31, 314 C.E. to December 31, 335 C.E.

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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