COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — At sundown on Sunday, members of the Jewish community will be ringing in the new year as the high holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins. The holiday is celebrated from Friday night to Sunday night as the busy fall Jewish holiday season commences.
Don’t know a lot about Rosh Hashanah? Here are answers to some questions you might have about one of the most celebrated New Year’s days in the world.
What does the Jewish New Year commemorate?
The holiday’s Hebrew name — Rosh Hashanah — means “head of the year” and is one of the most significant Jewish holidays commanded in the Hebrew Bible.
Rosh Hashanah takes place on the first and second day of the Hebrew lunar calendar month of Tishrei, the date believed to be when God’s creation of the Earth took place. Therefore it is the celebration of the earth’s creation in Judaism.
Usually, the holiday falls sometime in the early Fall. According to tradition, this year will mark 5,784 years since the creation in the Jewish calendar. To learn more about the Jewish calendar, click here.
In the biblical text, Tishrei is identified as being the seventh month rather than the first month. So why is the Jewish New Year during the seventh month?
In Judaism, there are several dates in the calendar that are considered a new year’s day for various purposes. Despite Rosh Hashanah happening in the seventh month, since it is the date marking creation, it’s the day that the calendar year increases by one, hence the traditional celebration as the “head” of the year.
The first month in the Jewish calendar is called Nissan — a spring month when Passover takes place — and according to biblical text, the first day of that month is the new year to count the reign of kings and months in the calendar.
Holiday customs and the Shofar?
On Rosh Hashanah, Jews gather with family and friends for a festive meal and go to synagogue for special services.
The holiday starts an intense period of self-reflection, atonement, and forgiveness. Therefore the prayer services are particularly long and compiled in a special prayer book called a “Machzor” (The Cycle), where only the prayers for the two High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are included.
The most known custom done for Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of a shofar, a ram’s horn made to be used as a musical instrument.
The blowing of the shofar in synagogue is done 100 times on each day of Rosh Hashanah to signify a call to repentance as the Jewish New Year is the first of ten days where unique prayers of forgiveness are recited before the holiday of Yom Kippur.
There are four types of blasts played during a service: Tekiah (one note), Shevarim (three notes), Teruah (nine notes), and Tekiah Gedolah (one note for as long as possible).
The High Holidays are the only ones in which the shofar is blown. On Yom Kippur, the shofar is blown once to signify the end of the holiday, fast, and days of repentance.
One unique rule though for blowing shofar is that it cannot be done if Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur takes place on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. This is due to a custom of the prohibition of playing musical instruments on the Sabbath.
Another significant tradition is to go to a natural body of water and have a symbolic casting of sins, called “Tashlich” in Hebrew.
What foods are eaten?
In Judaism, the wish for a new year in Hebrew is “Shanah Tovah U’metukah”, which means “Have a happy and sweet new year.” Part of the tradition is to make blessings on and eat sweet foods for the holiday in keeping with that wish.
The most common food eaten for the holiday are apples dipped in honey, one of the most universal customs in Judaism.
A change is also made to the Challah bread with the shape of the bread being round, to represent the cycle of the year, and dipping the Challah in sugar instead of salt to keep with the sweet theme.
Many people have a short Rosh Hashanah meal, blessing and eating different symbolic foods. For example, having a fully cooked fish on the table and eating part of the head, symbolizing the Jewish blessing for Rosh Hashanah to “be the head and not the tail,” of the new year.
Another common blessing is for “multiplying our good deeds as the seeds of a pomegranate,” which is accompanied by eating one.