Rosh Hashanah

By Lauren Vanzuiden

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year and known as one of the holiest days of the year. It is celebrated with a festival that begins on the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, which usually falls during September or October. Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world and marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, a 10-day period of introspection and repentance that culminates in the Yom Kippur holiday, also known as the Day of Atonement. 

Rosh Hashanah 2021 begins on the evening of Monday, September 6, 2021 and ends on the evening of Wednesday, September 8, 2021. The exact date of Rosh Hashanah varies every year, since it is based on the Hebrew Calendar which is a lunar calendar. 

According to tradition, G-d judges all creatures during the 10 Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, deciding whether they will live or die in the coming year. Jewish law teaches that G-d inscribes the names of the righteous in the “book of life” and condemns the wicked to death on Rosh Hashanah; people who fall between the two categories have until Yom Kippur to perform “teshuvah,” or repentance. As a result, observant Jews consider Rosh Hashanah and the days surrounding it a time for prayer, good deeds, reflecting on past mistakes and making amends with others. 

Unlike modern New Year’s celebrations, which are often raucous parties, Rosh Hashanah is a subdued and contemplative holiday. Because Jewish texts differ on the festival’s length, Rosh Hashanah is observed for a single day by some denominations and for two days by others. Work is prohibited, and religious Jews spend much of the holiday attending synagogue. Because the High Holy Day prayer services include distinct liturgical texts, songs and customs, rabbis and their congregations read from a special prayer book known as the machzor during both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

The sounding of the shofar—a trumpet made from a ram’s horn—is an essential and emblematic part of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The blowing of the shofar is an essential ritual of Rosh Hashanah and reflects the belief that intentional, focused listening is central to the ability to reconnect with other Jews, reconnect with G-d, and refocus relationships with G-d, the earth, oneself, and others. Listening to the shofar being blown is considered a mitzvah (a good deed). Tradition requires the shofar blower to play four sets of notes on Rosh Hashanah: tekiah, a long blast; shevarim, three short blasts; teruah, nine staccato blasts; and tekiah gedolah, a very long blast. Because of this ritual’s close association with Rosh Hashanah, the holiday is also known as Yom Teruah—the day of the sounding of the shofar. 

The following food are consumed during Rosh Hashanah: 

Apples and honey: One of the most popular Rosh Hashanah customs involves eating apple slices dipped in honey, sometimes after saying a special prayer. Ancient Jews believed apples had healing properties, and the honey signifies the hope that the new year will be sweet. Rosh Hashanah meals usually include an assortment of sweet treats for the same reason. 

Round challah: On Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) and other holidays, Jews eat loaves of the traditional braided bread known as challah. On Rosh Hashanah, the challah is often baked in a round shape to symbolize either the cyclical nature of life or the crown of G-d. Raisins are sometimes added to the dough for a sweet new year. 

The following activities occur on Rosh Hashanah: 

Tashlich: On Rosh Hashanah, some Jews practice a custom known as tashlich (“casting off”), in which they throw pieces of bread into a flowing body of water while reciting prayers. As the bread, which symbolize the sins of the past year, is swept away, those who embrace this tradition are spiritually cleansed and renewed. 

“L’shana tovah”: Jews greet each other on Rosh Hashanah with the Hebrew phrase “L’shana tovah,” which translates to “for a good year.” This is a shortened version of the Rosh Hashanah salutation “L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem” (“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year”). 

History.com Editors. (2009, October 27). Rosh hashanah. History.com. https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/rosh-hashanah-history.