When is Rosh Hashanah (07.05.2018)
Observed in Countries with Jewish populations, especially Israel, United States, and Canada
Observed on First two days of Tishri, the seventh month of the Jewish calendar
Observed by Jews
The Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah. It falls on the first and second days of the month of Tishri (which means “beginning” in Babylonian), the seventh month of the Jewish ecclesiastical calendar (September–October on the Gregorian calendar).
Meaning the “head of the year” in Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah is so named because Tishri is also the first month of the Hebrew civil calendar; in ancient times this date also coincided with the start of the economic year. In the widely followed Gregorian calendar, the festival generally occurs between September 5 and October 5.
In the Torah, Rosh Hashanah is referred to by many names. It is called Yom Tervah (“Day of Blasting”) or Feast of the Trumpets. This refers to the practice of blowing a shofar to announce this day. A shofar (usually a ram’s horn) was used as a trumpet in ancient times to declare the sighting of the new Moon as well as to announce a time for war. The observance is also known as Yom HaZikaron (“Day of Remembering”), a reference to Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, because God ordered him to. When God saw Abraham’s unquestioning obedience, he told Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac. The Jews believe this occurred on the first of Tishri and remember the occasion reverentially.
Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the 10- day period called Yamim Noraim (“Days of Awe”), a time for repentance that ends with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This period is also called Ben Kesseh Le’Assor; kesseh and assor refer to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, respectively. Thus, the name describes the period between the two festivals.
The festival is widely celebrated by Jews around the world. While it is a time for deep introspection, it is also a time for friends and family to come together and for people to forgive each other.
Most significantly Rosh Hashanah is the time to recognize God as the supreme judge of all living creatures.
Origins and History
There is no mention of Rosh Hashanah as a two-day holiday in the Torah. In fact, the first two days of the month of Tishri were not recognized as Rosh Hashanah until Talmudic times. The leaders of the day were perhaps unwilling to encourage large celebrations around the time of the year when there were numerous pagan harvest festivals. However, in ancient times witnesses who observed the skies in Jerusalem set the date by determining when the new Moon first appeared. This system made it difficult for people living far from Jerusalem; they were unable to learn the precise date of the festival falling on the first day of the year. Even the people living relatively close to the city missed the festival at times. It all depended on whether the witnesses arrived in time. So, to give everyone a chance to join in the observances, two days were set aside for the festival. Today Reform Jews observe Rosh Hashanah for only one day.
Jews associate Rosh Hashanah with many incidents in their religious history. It is believed that on Rosh Hashanah God created humanity. On Rosh Hashanah Isaac was born to Abraham, as promised by God, when Sarah was 90, and Abraham was well over 100 years old. In another story from the Torah-that of Joseph, who was made captive by the Egyptians-the Jews believe that he regained his freedom on this day. Rosh Hashanah is also the day on which the events that would lead to the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt under Moses began; and it was also on this day that God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son.
The signal that Rosh Hashanah has begun is the sound of the shofar being blown. The shofar is mentioned in many famous stories in the Torah. The blowing of trumpets symbolized the return of the Israelites to their homeland. Joshua, the man who succeeded Moses as the leader of the Israelites, brought down the walls of Jericho by the force of blowing trumpets. Isaiah and Zechariah, two of the great prophets in Judaism and Christianity, prophesied the time when the Jews will gather under the Messiah, who will be announced by the blast of trumpets.
According to Jewish beliefs, this festival represents the most important judgment day, when all people still living on Earth, as well as those who have already died, are judged by God. It is written in the Talmud (another Jewish holy scripture) that this day will see the opening of three books in which the deeds of the wicked, the righteous, and those not belonging to either category are recorded. The righteous will be extolled in the book of life, while the wicked will be erased from it. Those occupying the middle ground are granted 10 days until Yom Kippur (“the Day of Atonement”) to repent their sins so their names will be inscribed in the book of life The festival’s observances vary among the different Jewish sects. Whereas Orthodox and Conservative Jews observe Rosh Hashanah for two days, some communities celebrate only the first day. The Samaritans, in keeping with their version of the Torah, celebrate Rosh Hashanah on the first day of the month of Nisan (the first month of the Jewish ecclesiastical calendar, which falls in the March–April period of the Western calendar) in the springtime.
No work at all can be done on Rosh Hashanah.
The day is generally spent in a synagogue, where the everyday liturgy is somewhat altered. A prayer book called a machzor is used on this day. The machzor is used by Jews exclusively during the High Holy Days (Yamim Noraim, “the Days of Awe”), which include Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkoth. It is a specific version of the siddur, the prayer book commonly used by Jews worldwide.
All Jewish religious traditions are inextricably linked with their dietary customs, and Rosh Hashanah is no exception. During Rosh Hashanah apples dipped in honey, representing the wish for a sweet year ahead, are traditionally eaten. It is also the custom to recite a blessing over two loaves of bread called challah. The round shape of challah signifies a crown, a reminder of God’s power. Challah also represents life’s full circle, the hope for the people that their lives will endure without end. The challah is made with a ladder on top to acknowledge that only God can determine who goes up or comes down life’s ladder. Sometimes the challah loaf is shaped like a bird because according to the Torah God will defend Jerusalem just as a bird hovers in the sky and looks down on Earth.
Many people visit the graves of their loved ones during Rosh Hashanah because they believe that the dead can intercede with God on behalf of those still alive on Earth. Another popular tradition associated with the festival is tashlich, which involves throwing either stones or bread crumbs into a flowing body of water, like a creek or a river, to rid oneself of sin. It is a custom of long standing that is still practiced.
Another important tradition of this holiday is the tzedakah. In rural eastern Europe it was customary for a messenger to visit houses carrying a sack.
People who could afford to put money into the sack did so, while the poor took money out of the sack.
Nobody could be embarrassed since it was impossible to know who gave and who took out money.
Giving tzedakah is seen as a significant mitzvah (good deed) among Jews.
While Tishri 1 (Rosh Hashanah) is recognized as the spiritual new year, and the one most widely celebrated by Jews, Judaism is unique in that it has numerous other new years. Shevat 15, which falls in the Gregorian month of February, is the new year for trees, a time when new fruits can be consumed.
Elul 1, which falls in the Gregorian month of August, is the new year for the tithing of animals. Nisan 1 is the new year for the months of the calendar. The new “school year” starts sometime in the Gregorian month of September, while the fiscal new year may take place at different times in the Gregorian calendar.