Jewish Calendar - Rosh Hashanah Basics
Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) is celebrated on the first two days of Tishrei,
the first month in the Jewish calendar. Rosh Hashanah does not commemorate any
historical event in Jewish history but rather is acclaimed as the day of the
world's creation. Rosh Hashanah has been since rabbinic times a time of introspection,
spiritual self-examination and spiritual renewal.
The Jewish year is calculated
according to a lunar/solar system. The beginning of a new month is gauged by
the appearance of the moon, while the beginning of the year is determined by
the earth's position in relation to the sun. While the Jewish calendar year
begins with the first of Tishrei, the biblical numbering of the months begins
day of Tishrei is specified in the Bible as a festival: "A Sabbath, a memorial
of the sounding of the shofar" (Leviticus 23:23-24) and as "a day of the sounding
of the shofar" (Numbers 29:1-6). Interestingly, no mention is made of it there
as the New Year. The sounding of the shofar is one of the distinctive features
of the religious celebration of the festival, and has largely determined the
character of the liturgy.
names for Rosh Hashanah
Hashanah is known by several other names: Day of the Blowing of the Shofar (Yom
Teru'ah), Day of Remembrance (Yom ha-Zikkaron) - the day on
which God remembers humankind; Day of Judgment (Yom ha-Din). The
liturgy focuses on the Jewish people's yearning for the establishment of God's
sovereignty over the entire world and the ushering in of the millennium.
On this day God judges
mankind for the forthcoming year, a judgment that is finally sealed ten days
later on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Hence the traditional greeting
on Rosh Hashanah is "May you be inscribed [in the Book of Life] for a
good year" and on Yom Kippur "May you be sealed [in the Book of
Life]." Thus Rosh Hashanah initiates, and Yom Kippur closes, a ten-day
period of supplication for a new year of blessing and peace, a period known
as Aseret Yemei Teshuva (the Ten Days of Penitence). Both days
are also referred to as Yamim Nora'im (Days of Awe).
It is traditional synagogue practice among Ashkenazi Jews (of east European
descent) for congregants, rabbi and cantor to dress in white kittels
(Yiddish for robes), symbolic of purity and renewal. White also recalls the
verse in Isaiah (1:1) "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall become as
white as snow."
it is customary to dress the Torah scroll and the ark with white curtains
and covers, in place of the colored ones used the rest of the year. The shofar
is sounded repeatedly (at least 30 times) in the synagogue service (except
when Rosh Hashanah falls on the Sabbath), awakening the people to repentance
as well as hailing God as King of the universe, much as a trumpet is sounded
at the coronation of a king (as tradition acclaims this day as that on which
the world was created).
The shofar also recalls
the giving of the Torah at Sinai which was accompanied by blasts of the shofar,
and alludes to "the great shofar" (Isaiah 27:13) that will herald the messianic
age. The scriptural sources for this ritual (Leviticus 23:24; and Numbers
29:1 - see above) do not define the specific instrument to
be used. Although the tractate Rosh Hashanah in the Mishnah (code of Jewish
life compiled c.200 CE) rules that the horn of any ritually pure animal (except
the cow) may be used as a shofar, the ram's horn was preferred at a later
period, as it recalls the Binding of Isaac for whom a ram was substituted
as a sacrifice to God (Genesis 22:13).
custom of Tashlikh
custom observed on the first day of Rosh Hashanah in the afternoon (or on
the second day in the afternoon if the first day is the Sabbath), is to gather
at a stream or river to symbolically cast away one's sins. The ceremony is
known as Tashlikh ("cast off" in Hebrew) involves the
throwing of crumbs from one's pockets into the running waters and the reciting
of biblical verses.
|A central verse in the ceremony is from
the Book of Micah (7:19): "And you kill cast [vetashlikh] all their
sins in the depths of the sea."
preceding month of Elul
The Hebrew month of Elul which precedes Rosh Hashanah has likewise
became a sort of preparatory time of repentance and spiritual preparation.
The shofar is sounded daily at the morning service (except on the Sabbath)
and Psalm 27 is read. Special penitential prayers, Selihot, are recited.
It is customary to visit the graves of one's departed family members before
Rosh Hashanah, during the month of Elul.
penitential prayers, Selihot, are recited in the Ashkenazi tradition
during the last four to nine days of Elul, while in the Sephardi tradition
daily throughout the month. Selihot comes from the Hebrew rootword
s-l-h which means "to forgive."
Festival candles are lit at sunset in the home and the blessing over the wine,
the Kiddush, is recited at the table. The Shehe'heyanu prayer
is then recited, thanking God for the gift of life and for having brought
us to this season.
atah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha'olam, she'hecheyanu v'kiymanu v'higiyanu
laz-mahn ha-zeh. (Praised are You, Sovereign of the Universe, for
granting us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this
is also recited when eating a new fruit for the first time in a season. Apples
are dipped in honey, expressing the hope that the coming year will be one
of goodness and sweetness. It is also customary to recite the Motzi
(blessing over bread) over a round hallah, recalling a king's crown
- hence God's kingship, or alternately, the ongoing continuity of the life
cycle. Dishes are meant to augur well for the new year, such as apples dipped
in honey. The Shehe'heyanu blessing, recited at first occasions, is
recited over the festival itself. On the second night, however, a new fruit
is eaten in order to be able to recite the Shehe'heyanu blessing once
|Barukh atah Adonai eloheinu
melekh ha'olam, asher kid-shanu be'mitzvotav ve'tzivanu le-hadlik ner
shel Yom Tov (when the festival falls on Shabbat, the concluding words
are "ner shel Shabbat v'Yom Tov"). (Praised are You, Sovereign
of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your mitzvot and has commanded
us to kindle light for the festival.)
A round hallah suggest God's crown (kingship being a central theme),
as well as the continuing cycle of life. Apples dipped in honey express the
wish for a sweet and fruitful year.
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