Rosh Hashanah Defined

JEWISH NEW YEAR: Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first and second days of Tishri. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means, literally, “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 January 1st midnight drinking daytime football game watching celebration.

BIBLICAL REFERENCE: The holiday is found in Leviticus 23:24-25. The name “Rosh Hashanah” is not used in the Bible. 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).

DATE: Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first day of the seventh month, Tishri. 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,” 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 August or September. 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 and some refer it to the “birthday of the world” from the date of creation. This year is 5764.

SHOFAR: The shofar is a ram’s horn which is blown somewhat like a trumpet. One important observances of this holiday is hearing the sounding of the shofar. 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 In many Jewish communities the shofar is not blown if the holiday falls on Shabbat (the Sabbath).

TESHUVAH, TEFILAH AND TZEDAKAH: New Year is a time to plan a better life, making “resolutions.” Rosh Hashanah 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. It is a time to apologize to others for any offenses and resolve to do better next year which is called teshuvah. Then it is a time for tefilah, prayer and tzedakah, good deeds and charity.

TASHLIKH: A 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, (today we use bread crumbs) symbolically casting off our sins. This practice is not discussed in the Bible, but is a long-standing custom.

FOOD: A favorite Rosh Hashanah tradition is eating apples dipped in honey, a symbol of our wish for a sweet year. Bread is also dipped in honey or sugar and we eat sweet foods in general at this time of year for the same reason. Some Jewish cultures have a special Rosh Hashanah meal with symbolic foods for a good year: pomegranates are most popular, the many seeds symbolize our blessings and a hope that “our merits will be increased like the seeds of a pomegranate”. Other symbolic foods include, dates, beans, greens, carrots, the head of a lamb and fish to symbolize different aspects of good fortune and avoiding harm.

GREETING: The common greeting at this time is L’SHANAH TOVAH which means “for a good year”



This entry was posted in Holidays, Rosh Hashana. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.