For my Jewish friends, Rosh Hashanah, which means “Head of the Year” in Hebrew, is considered the Jewish New Year. It is one of the most important days on the Jewish calendar. One of the Jewish High Holy days, it marks the beginning of a ten day time period, called Yamim Nora’im or the Days of Awe. This ten day stretch ends with Yom Kippur, the second High Holy day and the most important day in the Jewish year. While Rosh Hashanah is not celebrated on the first month of the Jewish calendar, it is considered their New Year. It marks new beginnings and sets the tone for the year to come.
Rosh Hashanah is a time for prayer, peace, and to seek blessings for the coming year.
Rosh Hashana is also a time dedicated to celebrating God as the King of the Universe. According to the Kabbalists, or writers of Jewish mysticism and theology, the world exists because God desires it to exist. Thus, the Jewish people celebrate God in order to renew this desire. Also, according to Jewish tradition, God opens three books on Rosh Hashanah, in which He lists the names of all the living people. The first book, which is for the wicked, marks those that God has slated to die in the next year. The second book is for the righteous. But the third book is where the majority of people fall. It is for those who are neither clearly wicked nor righteous. During the ten day period that starts with Rosh Hashanah, those of the Jewish faith believe their actions can help determine their fate in the following year.
The holiday, like Jewish holidays in general, starts at sundown the day before and ends at sundown. Most of the day is spent typically at the Synagogue, where services are held in the morning, afternoon, and evening. An instrument called the Shofar, made from a Ram’s horn, plays a significant part in these services. The Shofar symbolizes the coronation of God as King, but it is has a mournful sound to it that calls for the Jews to both remember and repent. These are important themes throughout the entire ten day period leading up to Yom Kippur.
The Jewish people have a number of wonderful traditions to honor the holiday.
One I find particularly appealing is the practice of Tashlich. For the ceremony, you go to a body of water, such as a river, lake or pond, and perform the Tashlich ceremony. During this, they cast crumbs of bread into the water to symbolize throwing their sins away. They will also often set New Year’s resolutions, similar to the way non-Jews do for the first of January. Jews will often also wear something new, to symbolize wealth and prosperity.
The holiday is marked with celebratory feasts featuring many sweet foods to symbolize a sweet New Year. For example, on the first night, after Sundown, they begin their meal traditionally with apples dipped in honey. Apples are considered a perfect fruit by the Jewsish people for their color, smell, and taste, and honey. Honey, in fact, was historically, was rare and expensive, so it symbolizes both sweetness and prosperity. Similarly, challah, or round loaves of bread, made for Rosh Hashanah is dipped in honey instead of being sprinkled with salt like it usually is. While challah is usually a braided for Shabbats and holidays, for Rosh Hashanah it is often shaped into spirals or circles as a symbol of continuity. On the second night, they partake in a new fruit–one that had not been consumed yet that year–before breaking the challah and dipping it in honey.
“L’shanah tovah!” is a common greeting during Rosh Hashanah, meaning “For a Good Year!”
We here at Researcher’s Gateway wish all our Jewish readers a fantastic New Year, and that the year to come is one filled with health, prosperity, and peace.