Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, holds a position of great reverence within Judaism. Signifying "head of the year" or "first of the year," this festival commences on the initial day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, which typically falls in either September or October.
Rosh Hashanah serves as a commemoration of the world's creation and marks the inception of the Days of Awe, a ten-day period of introspection and repentance, culminating in the Yom Kippur holiday, also referred to as the Day of Atonement. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur together constitute the two pivotal "High Holy Days" in the Jewish faith.
The exact date of Rosh Hashanah varies annually due to its alignment with the Hebrew Calendar, commencing on the first day of the seventh month. Rosh Hashanah typically falls within the months of September or October.
Rosh Hashanah is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah, the foundational text of Judaism, and is referred to by different names in the Bible. Nonetheless, the Torah does allude to a sacred occasion commencing on the first day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar.
Aligning closely with the timing of Rosh Hashanah. While the holiday's origins likely trace back to the sixth century B.C., the term "Rosh Hashanah" first emerges in the Mishna, a Jewish code of law compiled in 200 A.D.
Did you know? The shofar, an ancient Jewish instrument typically crafted from a ram's horn, has found its way into both classical and contemporary music, including its use in composer Jerry Goldsmith's score for the 1979 film "Alien."
The Hebrew calendar commences with the month of Nisan, yet Rosh Hashanah aligns with Tishrei, the month associated with God's creation of the world. Consequently, Rosh Hashanah can be viewed as the world's birthday rather than a secular New Year's celebration, though it does mark the increase in the civil year's count.
The Mishna also delineates three additional "new years" within the Jewish calendar, aside from Rosh Hashanah: Nisan 1 for resuming the monthly cycle and measuring the duration of kings' reigns.
Elul 1 resembling the commencement of the modern fiscal year and determining the tithing of animals for charity or sacrifice, and Shevat 15 for calculating the age of fruit-bearing trees, now celebrated as the minor holiday of Tu B'Shevat.
As per tradition, God assesses all creatures during the 10 Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, determining their fate for the forthcoming year. Jewish law teaches that on Rosh Hashanah, God inscribes the names of the righteous in the "book of life" while condemning the wicked to death.
Those who fall between these categories have until Yom Kippur to engage in "teshuvah," or repentance. Consequently, devout Jews view Rosh Hashanah and the surrounding days as a time for prayer, performing good deeds, reflecting on past transgressions, and reconciling with others.
Unlike modern New Year's revelries, which often entail lively parties, Rosh Hashanah is a subdued and contemplative holiday. Due to textual variations within Jewish tradition, some denominations observe Rosh Hashanah for a single day, while others extend it to two days. Work is prohibited, and devout Jews allocate much of the holiday to attending synagogue.
Given the unique liturgical texts, songs, and customs associated with the High Holy Day prayer services, rabbis and their congregations turn to a special prayer book known as the machzor during both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The sounding of the shofar, a trumpet fashioned from a ram's horn, holds essential and emblematic significance during both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The plaintive cry of this ancient instrument serves as a call to repentance and a reminder to Jews of God's sovereignty. Tradition dictates that the shofar blower performs four distinct sets of notes on Rosh Hashanah: tekiah, a prolonged blast; shevarim, three brief blasts; teruah, nine staccato blasts; and tekiah gedolah, an extended, resounding blast.
Due to this ritual's close association with Rosh Hashanah, the holiday is also known as Yom Teruah—the Day of the Sounding of the Shofar.
Following the conclusion of religious services, numerous Jews return home to partake in a festive meal rich in symbolism and tradition. Some opt to don new or special attire and adorn their tables with fine linens and place settings.
Symbolizing the profound significance of Rosh Hashanah. The meal traditionally commences with the ceremonial lighting of two candles and features foods representing positive wishes for the approaching year.
Customs and symbols of Rosh Hashanah include:
Apples and honey: A prominent Rosh Hashanah custom involves consuming apple slices dipped in honey, often accompanied by a special prayer. Ancient Jewish beliefs attribute healing properties to apples, while honey symbolizes the hope for a sweet new year. Rosh Hashanah meals typically feature an array of sweet treats for this reason.
Round challah: On Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) and other holidays, Jews partake in loaves of challah, a traditional braided bread. On the Jewish New Year, challah is frequently baked in a circular shape, symbolizing the cyclical nature of life or the crown of God. Some may include raisins in the dough to usher in a sweet new year.
Tashlich: On Rosh Hashanah, some Jews engage in a custom known as tashlich ("casting off"), where they cast pieces of bread into a flowing body of water while reciting prayers. As the bread, symbolizing the past year's sins, drifts away, those who observe this tradition find spiritual cleansing and renewal.
Rosh Hashanah greetings often include the Hebrew phrase "L'shana tovah," which translates to "for a good year." This concise salutation is a truncated version of the longer Rosh Hashanah greeting, "L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem," which conveys the wish for being inscribed and sealed for a good year.