Days of Awe

"On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, how many shall leave this world, and how many shall be born into it, who shall live and who shall die, who shall live out the limit of his days and who shall not, who shall perish by fire and who by water... who shall be at peace and who shall be tormented.... But penitence, prayer, and good deeds can annul the severity of the decree.'

-- Rosh Hashanah liturgy {1}

What are the Days of Awe?

In Judaism, the Days of Awe are the 10 days from the beginning of Rosh Hashanah to the end of Yom Kippur. This important period, which always occurs in the autumn, is devoted to introspection, repentance, and atonement for sin.

According to Jewish tradition, it is during the Days of Awe that God decides on each person's fate in the next year. He writes these judgments in "books" on Rosh Hashanah, but they can be changed until the end of Yom Kippur, when the books are sealed. This is the basis for the customary way Jews greet one another before and during the Days of Awe: L'shanah tovah ("for a good year"). This is an abbreviated form of L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem, "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year." {2}

Work is permitted on the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, except of course for the Sabbath that falls between the two holidays (Shabbat Shuvah, the "Sabbath of Return").

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  1. As quoted in Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy, 623.
  2. "Rosh Hashanah." Judaism 101.

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