Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year)




What is Rosh Hashanah?

In Judaism, Rosh Hashanah means "head of the year" and is commonly known as the Jewish New Year. It is the day on which the year number changes, but unlike secular New Year celebrations, Rosh Hashanah is a solemn and holy time.

It occurs on the first and second days of Tishri, which falls in September or October and was instituted in Leviticus 23:23-25:

And HaShem spoke unto Moses, saying: "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation. Ye shall do no manner of servile work; and ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto HaShem." {1}

In the Bible, Rosh Hashanah is called Yom Teruah (Day of the Shofar) or Yom Ha-Zikkaron (Day of Remembrance). The name "Day of the Shofar" refers to the characteristic blasts of the shofar that are heard on this day (see Rosh Hashanah Observances, below). "Day of Remembrance" signifies that on this day Jews commemorate the creation of the world and are reminded of their responsibilities as God's chosen people. {2}

Rosh Hashanah is also known as the Day of Judgment, for it is believed that on this day God judges all of his people and decides on their fate in the next year. Rosh Hashanah (along with the Days of Awe that follow) is a time of reviewing and repairing one's relationship with God, the Supreme Judge. {3}




Observances of Rosh Hashanah

Horns

A distinctive feature of Rosh Hashanah is the shofar blast, which fulfills the biblical command for a "blast of horns" in Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 29:1. A total of 100 blasts are sounded from the synagogue on each day of Rosh Hashanah, using four different tones. The shofar is not blown if Rosh Hashanah falls on a Sabbath. {4} The great rabbi Maimonides regarded the shofar blast as

an allusion, as if to say, "Awake, O you sleepers, awake from your sleep! O you slumberers, awake from your slumber! Search your deeds and turn in repentance!" {5}

Work

No work is permitted on Rosh Hashanah, and most of the day is spent in synagogue. There is a special, longer liturgy for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The services on both days center on the theme of God's sovereignty. {6}

Food

Rosh Hashanah is not a time of fasting. In fact, several special foods are prepared for Rosh Hashanah. The most popular food-related custom is eating apples and bread dipped in honey to symbolize a sweet new year. After the apple is dipped in honey, the following blessing is said over the fruit:

Blessed are You, Lord our God, king of the universe,
who creates the fruit of the tree. Amen.

Then, after taking a bite of the apple, this short prayer is recited:

May it be Your will,
Lord our God and God of our ancestors,
that you renew for us a good and sweet year. {7}

On Rosh Hashanah, Challah bread, normally braided, may be baked into round shapes to symbolize the cyclical nature of the year, baked with raisins for a sweet new year, or shaped into a ladder or bird to express the wish that the family's prayers would rise to heaven. {8}

Fish is also traditionally part of the Rosh Hashanah meal, for it is a traditional symbol of fertility and prosperity. It also represents knowledge since its eyes are always open. Traditionally, the head of the fish is placed before the head of the family, who prays, "May it be your will that we be like the head (leaders) and not like the tail (followers)." {9}

Pomegranate is often part of the holiday meal as well. It is said to have 613 seeds, which is the number of mitzvot (commandments). The pomegranate therefore serves to remind God of the obedience of the family in the prior year. {10}

"Casting off"

In another long-standing tradition, called Tashlikh ("casting off"), worshippers walk to a creek or a river and empty their pockets or cast bread crumbs into it, symbolizing the casting off of their sins of the previous year. This is usually done on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah. {11} In many communities, the Tashlikh has become a very social occasion, as numerous people from different neighborhoods descend on the same body of water for the ritual. {12}

Dates for Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah will fall on the following dates on the Gregorian calendar:

  • Sept. 13-15, 2015
  • Oct. 2-4, 2016

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Notes
  1. "Vayikra – Leviticus." Jewish Virtual Library.
  2. "Rosh Hashana." Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service, 2004.
  3. Ibid.
  4. "Rosh Hashanah." Judaism 101.
  5. Mishneh Torah, "Laws of Repentance" 3:4; Quoted in Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy (2001), 623.
  6. "Rosh Hashanah." Judaism 101.
  7. "Rosh Hashanah Evening Home Ritual: Blessing for Apples and Honey." Judaism 101.
  8. "Food: Hallah." Jewish Outreach Institute.
  9. "Food: Fish. Jewish Outreach Institute.
  10. "Food: Pomegranate." Jewish Outreach Institute.
  11. "Traditions: Tashlich." Jewish Outreach Institute.
  12. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy (2001), 625.
  13. "Rosh Hashanah." Judaism 101.