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Rosh Hashanah

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 game.

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.

Rosh Hashanah - shofar The 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 teaching:

"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...)

Rosh Hashanah - Honey and AppleSo, 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.


Rosh Hashanah  -FishA 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 Awe.

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 month?

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 coming year.

Rosh Hashanah is two days long even in Israel.

What does Rosh Hashanah mean?
There are four possible names for this Festival.

Rosh Hashanah
The New Year. This is the most popular name of all.

Yom Hadin
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.

Yom Hazikaron
The Day of Memorial. This refers to the fact that G-d remembers about all living creatures and does not forget any of us.

Yom Teruah
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.

2. Foodstuffs
Food places an integral part of many of the Jewish Festivals, and Rosh Hashanah is no exception.

The Challah
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."

3. Tashlich
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.

4. Greetings
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 afternoon.

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 likewise sleeps

To send Rosh Hashanah Virtual Musical Greeting Card click HERE.

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