Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first and second days
of Tishri. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means "head of the year"
or "first of the year." Rosh Hashanah is commonly known
as the Jewish New Year. This name is somewhat deceptive, because there
is little similarity between Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days
of the year, and the American midnight drinking bash and daytime football
There is, however, one important similarity between
the Jewish New Year and the American one: Many Americans use the New
Year as a time to plan a better life, making "resolutions."
Likewise, the Jewish New Year is a time to begin introspection, looking
back at the mistakes of the past year and planning the changes to
make in the new year. More on this concept at Days of Awe.
name "Rosh Hashanah" is not used in the Bible to discuss
this holiday. The Bible refers to the holiday as Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the
day of remembrance) or Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the
shofar). The holiday is instituted in Leviticus 23:24-25.
The shofar is a ram's horn which is blown somewhat
like a trumpet. One of the most important observances of this holiday
is hearing the sounding of the shofar in the synagogue. A total of
100 notes are sounded each day. There are four different types of
shofar notes: tekiah, a 3 second sustained note; shevarim, three 1-second
notes rising in tone, teruah, a series of short, staccato notes extending
over a period of about 3 seconds; and tekiah gedolah (literally, "big
tekiah"), the final blast in a set, which lasts (I think) 10
seconds minimum. Click the shofar above to hear an approximation of
the sound of Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah. The Bible gives no specific
reason for this practice. One that has been suggested is that the
shofar's sound is a call to repentance. The shofar is not blown if
the holiday falls on Shabbat.
No work is permitted on Rosh Hashanah. Much of the
day is spent in synagogue, where the regular daily liturgy is somewhat
expanded. In fact, there is a special prayerbook called the machzor
used for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur because of the extensive liturgical
changes for these holidays.
On the first night of Rosh Hashanah we eat foods
which have various symbolic meanings. This custom is based on a Talmudic
"Abaye taught - 'Now that you have
said that an omen is significant, at the beginning of the year each
person should accustom himself to eat gourds, fenugreek, leeks, beets
and dates .' "
(These symbolize sweetness, increase [of observance], destruction
of enemies, etc...)
so why an apple? Actually we eat apple dipped in honey. At the festive
meal we take a piece of apple and dip it into honey as a token of
the wish for a sweet year, adding the blessing: "May it be your
will, Lord our God and God of our fathers, to renew us a good and
sweet year." It works.
favorite symbolic food is the fish which symbolizes the blessing of
many children. The following prayer is added to the regular blessings
on the food: "May it be your will, Lord and God of our fathers,
that we be fruitful and multiply like fish." If the head, in
particular, is eaten, then the following prayer is added: "May
it be your will... that we be as the head and not as the tail."
Other symbolic foods eaten, whose Hebrew names have
dual meanings of significance, include carrots, cabbage, and the pomegranate.
Another popular practice of the holiday is Tashlikh
("casting off"). We walk to flowing water, such as a creek
or river, on the afternoon of the first day and empty our pockets
into the river, symbolically casting off our sins. This practice is
not discussed in the Bible, but is a long-standing custom.
Religious services for the holiday focus on the concept
of G-d's sovereignty.
The common greeting at this time is L'shanah tovah
("for a good year"). This is a shortening of "L'shanah
tovah tikatev v'taihatem" (or to women, "L'shanah tovah
tikatevi v'taihatemi"), which means "May you be inscribed
and sealed for a good year." More on that concept at Days of
You may notice that the Bible speaks of Rosh Hashanah
as occurring on the first day of the seventh month. The first month
of the Jewish calendar is Nissan, occurring in March and April. Why,
then, does the Jewish "new year" occur in Tishri, the seventh
Judaism has several different "new years,"
a concept which may seem strange at first, but think of it this way:
the American "new year" starts in January, but the new "school
year" starts in September, and many businesses have "fiscal
years" that start at various times of the year. In Judaism, Nissan
1 is the new year for the purpose of counting the reign of kings and
months on the calendar, Elul 1 (in August) is the new year for the
tithing of animals, Shevat 15 (in February) is the new year for trees
(determining when first fruits can be eaten, etc.), and Tishri 1 (Rosh
Hashanah) is the new year for years (when we increase the year number.
Sabbatical and Jubilee years begin at this time).
See Extra Day of Jewish Holidays for an explanation
of why this holiday is celebrated for two days instead of the one
specified in the Bible.
List of Dates
Rosh Hashanah will begin on the following days of the Gregorian calendar.
Remember that all holidays begin at sundown on the date before the
date specified here.
- September 27, 2003 (Jewish Year 5764)
- September 16, 2004 (Jewish Year 5765)
- October 4, 2005 (Jewish Year 5766)
- September 23, 2006 (Jewish Year 5767)
When is Rosh Hashanah?
1st & 2nd of Tishri
Why do we celebrate Rosh Hashanah?
On this day we reaffirm our acceptance of G-d as our King. G-d judges
all of His creations on this day and decides on their fate in the
Rosh Hashanah is two days long even in Israel.
What does Rosh Hashanah mean?
There are four possible names for this Festival.
The New Year. This is the most popular name of all.
The Day of Judgement. This is a time for thinking about how we can
improve our lives for the future. It is a time for preparing ourselves
for Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) on the 10th of the month.
The Day of Memorial. This refers to the fact that G-d remembers about
all living creatures and does not forget any of us.
The Day of Sounding. On this day we sound the Shofar (ram's horn).
What are the customs of Rosh Hashanah?
1. The Shofar
The Torah commands us to sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. A person
should hear 100 blasts from the shofar on each day of Rosh Hashanah.
The shofar is made from an animal horn, preferably from a ram.
There are three sounds made with the shofar:
Tekiah - one long blast.
Shevarim - three shorter blasts.
Teruah - a series of quick blasts.
There are many meanings for why we blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah.
The sound of the shofar serves as a "wake-up" call to arouse
our souls to repentance.
The sound of the shofar was present when we received the Torah. Thus
when we hear the shofar we are reminded to strengthen our commitment
to the Torah.
The sound of the shofar (which is usually made from the horn of a
ram) reminds us of when Abraham tied down his son Yitzchak (Issac)
to sacrifice him to G-d, as G-d had told him, and G-d stopped him
at the last second and gave him a ram to sacrifice instead.
Food places an integral part of many of the Jewish Festivals, and
Rosh Hashanah is no exception.
For Rosh Hashanah, the traditional shape of the challah is round.
On the Sabbath and other holidays, after the blessing and before
partaking of the challah, it is dipped into salt. On Rosh Hashanah,
it is dipped in honey. This custom symbolises our hope that the coming
year will be sweet new year.
Apple Dipped in Honey
After dipping a sweet apple into honey, the blessing over fruit is
recited plus the additional prayer: "May it be your will to renew
for us a good and sweet year."
The symbolism of the honey here is also connected to a sweet year.
Head of Sheep or Fish
Some partake of this and say: "May it be your will that we should
be at the head and not at the tail."
Tashlich, from the root word which means "to cast away"
is the practice by which Jews go to a flowing body of water and symbolically
"throw away" their sins.
This occurs in the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah or
the second day if the first falls on Shabbat (Saturday). This practice
is based on a verse from the book of the Prophet Michah where it says,
"And Thou wilt cast ("ve-tashlich") all their sins
into the depths of the sea" (Michah, 7:19)
To do Tashlich, you basically go to a running body of water. A river,
sea, or lake are the best choices. Once there, several prayers are
recited. And that's it. The water has symbolically carried away your
sins and you are free to start over.
On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, there is a custom that people
exchange the following greeting: "May you be inscribed and sealed
immediately for a good life."
In some Sephardic communities, the greeting is, "May you be
inscribed for a good year; may you be worthy of abundant years."
5. No Sleep In The Afternoon
This is just as it sounds, some people do not take a nap on Rosh Hashanah
The source for this custom is a saying in the Jerusalem Talmud, "If
one sleeps at the year's beginning (Rosh Hashanah), his good fortune
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