For Jews, the "December Dilemma"usually means getting through Christmas without being overwhelmed by the holiday'spervasiveness. This year there's more: What to do about New Year's Eve andmillennium madness.

That's because Dec. 31 falls on a Friday night,the start of the Jewish Sabbath. Traditional Jewish Sabbath observance rejectsthe sort of hoopla that for many is synonymous with New Year's Eve -- not tomention the extra partying some feel the new millennium warrants.

For Orthodox and other more ritually observantJews, questions about what to do this New Year's Eve -- millennium or not -- are ano-brainer. Sabbath comes before all other considerations. Period.

Besides, the new millennium is a Christian conceptstemming from the Gregorian calendar's counting of time from theapproximate year of Jesus' birth. For religious Jews that pretty much dampens whatevermillennium excitement they may feel. As for New Year's, that's Rosh Hashanah, theJewish calendar's new year, which generally falls in September.

"Millennium shmillennium," said Rabbi Alan Lew,who leads San Francisco's Conservative Congregation Beth Sholom. "By us, it's5760 (the Hebrew calendar year). We'll celebrate in 240 years."

However, Lew may well be in the minority ofAmerican Jews, given the community's increasing assimilation, the prevalence ofmillennium hype and the cultural significance of New Year's Eve.

Judaism's major synagogue movements have all butconceded that to be the case in statements each crafted to guide their membersthrough the New Year's weekend.

For the Union of Orthodox Congregations ofAmerica, the largest Orthodox synagogue umbrella group with more than 800 members,"at issue is the biblical injunction to resist assimilating into the prevailingculture of the country in which we live and its repeated urgings for us to bevigilant in the preservation of our own religious identity."

The organization backed that up by threatening towithdraw the all-important kosher certification of a New York restaurantfrequented by Orthodox Jews if it went ahead with a scheduled New Year's-millenniumgathering. Israel's Orthodox rabbis also have sought to limit events at thenation's kosher hotels and restaurants -- even when the celebrants would benon-Jewish tourists.

The liberal Reform movement's Union of AmericanHebrew Congregations suggested holding earlier-than-usual Friday eveningsynagogue services, followed by congregational dinners or study sessions that couldlast until midnight.

However, it appears the bulk of the movement's 885congregations plan to call it a night far earlier than midnight, leavingcongregants to do their own thing as 2000 begins, said UAHC communicationsdirector Emily Grotta.

"The most prevalent model we're seeing is an early(service) and then congregants can do what they want," she said. "ReformJews are of this world. We expect our congregants to celebrate even though thereis no Jewish content there."

Avoiding the term millennium altogether, themiddle-of-the-road United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism issued a handbooktitled "Shabbat of the Centuries." The movement's more than 800 congregationsare encouraged to make the New Year's weekend a "sacred time capsule" spentwith family and in Jewish study.

The handbook suggests linking the theme oftransition embodied within the start of a new year and millennium with that Sabbath'scyclical liturgical passage. As it happens, "Shabbat Shemot," the openingchapters of the biblical Book of Exodus -- the story of ancient Israel'spassage to freedom and its receiving of the Ten Commandments -- coincides withNew Year's Day.

Rabbi Moshe Edelman, who co-wrote the handbook,said the document's intent was to stress the importance of the Sabbath, whentraditional Jewish law forbids all forms of "work," defined in its strictest sense toinclude everything from driving a car to turning on an electric switch orspending money.

"I believe that Jews in the Conservative movementwho observe `Shabbat' (Hebrew for Sabbath) will observe Shabbat. Whetherlater they take out a little horn or put on the TV and watch Dick Clark, whoknows?" he said.

The Conservative movement, which claims about 1.5million members, allows individual rabbis broad interpretation within theircongregation of what is acceptable ritual observance. Consequently,Conservative congregations have widely varying plans for Dec. 31.

At Adas Israel Congregation, a large synagogue inWashington, D.C., Rabbi Jeffrey A. Wohlberg is planning an early Fridayevening prayer service and congregational dinner followed by klezmer music(traditional Eastern European Jewish music) and Israeli folk dancing.

That contrasts with what Adas Israel did on Dec.31, 1993, the last time New Year's Eve fell on a Friday, when it confined itsactivity to the Sabbath service. However, this New Year's Eve happens tocoincide with the 130th anniversary of the founding of the 1,800-familysynagogue.

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