Jewish Holidays --> Rosh Hashanah
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This article is about the Jewish
holiday of Rosh Hashanah. For the tractate in the
Talmud with the same name, see Rosh Hashanah (Talmud).
Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew: ראש השנה, Biblical: ˈɾoʃ
haʃ:ɔˈnɔh, Israeli: ˈroʃ haʃaˈna, Yiddish: ˈroʊʃ
hɑˈʃɔnə) is literally translated as "head of the
year", and idiomatically refers to the Jewish New
Year. The term first appears in the Tanakh, in Ezekiel
40:1. There, however, it does not refer specifically
to the first day of the year, but to the "beginning"
of the year.
In fact, Judaism has four "new year" observances which
mark various legal "years", much like 1 January marks
the "New Year" of the Gregorian calendar while other
dates mark fiscal or other "new year" events. Rosh
Hashanah is the new year for people, animals, and
legal contracts. The Mishnah also sets this day aside
as the new year for calculating calendar years and
sabbatical (shmita) and jubilee (yovel) years.
|The Torah refers to
the day as "The Day of the Blowing of the Shofar" (Yom
Terua, Leviticus 23:24), and rabbinic literature and
the liturgy itself describe Rosh Hashanah as "The Day
of Judgment" (Yom ha-Din) and "The Day of Remembrance"
(Yom ha-Zikkaron). Some midrashic descriptions depict
God as sitting upon a throne, while books containing
the deeds of all humanity are opened for review, and
each person passing in front of Him for evaluation of
his or her deeds. All of these names are also
referenced in the holiday's extensive liturgy.
This holiday is the first of the High Holidays or
Yamim Noraim (Hebrew, "Days of Awe"), the most solemn
days of the Jewish year; the Yamim Noraim are preceded
by the month of Elul, during which Jews are supposed
to begin a self-examination and repentance, a process
that culminates in the ten days of the Yamim Noraim
known as Asseret Yemei Teshuva - The Ten Days of
Repentance, beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending
with the holiday of Yom Kippur.
Rosh Hashanah extends over the first two days of the
Hebrew month of Tishrei, even in Israel where most
Jewish holidays last only one day. Since days in the
Hebrew calendar begin at sundown, the beginning of
Rosh Hashanah is at sundown the end of the 29th of
The second day is a later addition and does not follow
from the literal reading of the Biblical commandment,
which states that the holiday should be celebrated on
the first day. The two days of Rosh Hashanah are
considered "Yoma Arichtah" (Aramaic: "one long day").
There is some evidence that Rosh Hashanah was
celebrated for only one day in Jerusalem as late as
the thirteenth century. In Reconstructionist Judaism
and Reform Judaism, some communities do indeed observe
only the first day of Rosh Hashanah, while others
observe two days. Orthodox and Conservative Judaism
observe both the first and second days. The Karaite
Jews, who do not accept the "oral law" but rely only
on Biblical scripture, observe only one day on the
first day of Tishrei, since the second day is not
mentioned in the Torah.
Rosh Hashanah occurs 163 days after the first day of
Pesach (Passover). In the Gregorian calendar at
present, Rosh Hashanah can occur September 5 at the
earliest, as happened in 1899 and will happen again in
2013. After the year 2089, the differences between the
Hebrew calendar and the Gregorian calendar will force
Rosh Hashanah to be not earlier than September 6. Rosh
Hashanah can occur on October 5 at the latest, as
happened in 1967 and will happen again in 2043. The
Hebrew calendar is so constituted that the first day
of Rosh Hashanah can never occur on the first, fourth,
or sixth days of the Jewish week; the popular mnemonic
is "lo adu rosh" ("Rosh [Hashanah] is not on adu"),
where adu has the numerical value 1-4-6 (corresponding
to the numbering of days in the Jewish week, in which
Saturday night and Sunday daytime make up the first
The following table lists the two days of Jewish Rosh
Hashanah for some years. Rosh Hashanah begins at
sunset on the evening on the first day listed in the
Jewish New Year Starts (at sundown) Ends (at night)
5768 2007-09-12 2007-09-14
5769 2008-09-29 2008-10-01
5770 2009-09-18 2009-09-20
5771 2010-09-08 2010-09-10
Traditions and customs
A shofar in the Yemenite Jewish style. (Photo by Olve
A shofar in the Yemenite Jewish style. (Photo by Olve
This holiday is characterized by the blowing of the
shofar (per Leviticus 23:24), a trumpet made from a
ram's horn. In fact, the shofar is blown in
traditional communities every morning for the entire
month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah. The
sound of the shofar is intended to awaken the listener
from his or her "slumber" and alert them to the coming
judgment (Maimonides, Yad, Laws of Repentance 3:4).
Orthodox Judaism and some Conservative Judaic
communities will not blow the shofar on Shabbat.
(There is an exception. Jewish Law permits the Shofar
to be blown in the presence of a rabbinical court
called the Sanhedrin, which had not existed since
ancient times. A recent group of Orthodox rabbis in
Israel claiming to constitute a modern Sanhedrin held,
for the first time in many years, an Orthodox shofar-blowing
on Shabbat for Rosh Hashana in 2006. )
In the period leading up to the Yamim Noraim ("Hebrew,
"Days of Awe") penitential prayers, called selichot,
are recited, and on Rosh Hashanah itself, religious
poems, called piyyuttim, are added to the regular
services. Special prayer books for Rosh Hashanah and
Yom Kippur, called the mahzor (mahzorim pl), have
developed over the years. Many poems refer to Psalms
81:3: "Blow the shofar on the [first day of the]
month, when the [moon] is covered for our holiday".
Rosh Hashanah has a number of additions to the regular
service, most notably an extended repetition of the
Amidah prayer for both Shacharit and Mussaf. The
Shofar is blown during Mussaf at several intervals.
Biblical verses are recited at each point. According
to the Mishnah, 10 verses (each) are said regarding
kingship, remembrance, and the shofar itself, each
accompanied by the blowing of the shofar. A variety of
piyyutim, medieval penitential prayers, are recited
regarding themes of repentance. The Alenu prayer is
recited during the repetition of the Mussaf Amidah.
The traditional greeting on Rosh Hashanah is "Shana
Tova" IPA [ʃaˈ na toˈ va], Hebrew for "A Good Year,"
or "Shana Tova Umetukah" for "A Good and Sweet Year."
Because Jews are being judged by God for the coming
year, a longer greeting translates as "May You Be
Written and Sealed for a Good Year" (ketiva ve-chatima
During the afternoon of the first day occurs the
practice of tashlikh, in which prayers are recited
near natural flowing water, and one's sins are
symbolically cast into the water. Many also have the
custom to throw bread or pebbles into the water, to
symbolize the "casting off" of sins. In some
communities, if the first day of Rosh Hashanah occurs
on Shabbat tashlikh is postponed to the second day.
The traditional service for tashlikh is recited
individually and includes the prayer "Who is like unto
you, O God...And You will cast all their sins into the
depths of the sea", and Biblical passages including
Isaiah 11:9 ("They will not injure nor destroy in all
My holy mountain, for the earth shall be as full of
the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the
sea") and Psalms 118:5-9, 121 and 130, as well as
Rosh Hashanah table set with symbolic foods.
Rosh Hashanah table set with symbolic foods.
Rosh Hashanah meals often include apples and honey, to
symbolize a "sweet new year". Various other foods with
a symbolic meaning may be served, depending on local
minhag (custom), such as tongue or other meat from the
head (to symbolise the "head" of the year). Other
symbolic foods are dates, black-eyed beans, leek,
spinach and gourd, all of which are mentioned in the
Talmud. Pomegranates are used in many traditions: the
use of apples and honey is a late medieval Ashkenazi
addition, though it is now almost universally
accepted. Typically, round challah bread is served, to
symbolize the cycle of the year. On the second night,
new fruits are served to warrant inclusion of the
shehecheyanu blessing, the saying of which would
otherwise be doubtful (as the second day is part of
the "long day" mentioned above).
In the Torah
In the earliest times the Hebrew year began in autumn
with the opening of the economic year. There followed
in regular succession the seasons of seed-sowing,
growth and ripening of the corn (here meaning any
grain) under the influence of the former and the
latter rains, harvest and ingathering of the fruits.
In harmony with this was the order of the great
agricultural festivals, according to the oldest
legislation, namely, the feast of unleavened bread at
the beginning of the barley harvest, in the month of
Abib; the feast of harvest, seven weeks later; and the
feast of ingathering at the going out or turn of the
year (See Exodus 23:14-17; Deuteronomy 16:1-16).
It is likely that the new year was celebrated from
ancient times in some special way. The earliest
reference to such a custom is, probably, in the
account of the vision of Ezekiel (Ezek. xl. 1). This
took place at the beginning of the year, on the tenth
day of the month (Tishri). On the same day the
beginning of the year of jubilee was to be proclaimed
by the blowing of trumpets (Lev. xxv. 9). According to
the Septuagint rendering of Ezek. xlv. 20, special
sacrifices were to be offered on the first day of the
seventh month as well as on the first day of the first
month. This first day of the seventh month was
appointed by the Law to be "a day of blowing of
trumpets". There was to be a holy convocation; no
servile work was to be done; and special sacrifices
were to be offered (Lev. xxiii. 23-25; Num. xxix.
1-6). This day was not expressly called New-Year's
Day, but it was evidently so regarded by the Jews at a
very early period.
In rabbinic literature
Philo, in his treatise on the festivals, calls
New-Year's Day the festival of the sacred moon and
feast of the trumpets, and explains the blowing of the
trumpets as being a memorial of the giving of the
Torah and a reminder of God's benefits to mankind in
general ("De Septennario," § 22).
The Mishnah, the core text of Judaism's oral Torah,
contains the first known reference to the "Day of
Judgment". It says: "Four times in the year the world
is judged: On Passover a decree is passed on the
produce of the soil; on Shavuot, on the fruits of the
trees; on New-Year's Day all men pass before Him
("God"); and on the Feast of Tabernacles a decree is
passed on the rain of the year.
R' Yaakov Kamenetsky explains that in earlier
generations it was considered preferable not to reveal
that it was a "day of judgement" so as not to mix any
other feeling into "the day of the coronation of G-d".
In later generations as people lost touch with the
significance of the day it was necessary to reveal
that it was also "the day of judgement" so that people
would approach the holiday with proper awe and
respect. (B'Mechitzot Rabbenu)
According to rabbinic tradition, the creation of the
world was finished on Tishri 1.
The observance of the 1st of Tishri as Rosh ha-Shanah
is based principally on the mention of "Zikkaron" (=
"memorial day"; Lev. xxiii. 24) and the reference of
Ezra to the day as one "holy to the Lord" (Neh. viii.
9) seem to point. The passage in Psalms (lxxxi. 5)
referring to the solemn feast which is held on New
Moon Day, when the shofar is sounded, as a day of "mishpat"
(judgment) of "the God of Jacob" is taken to indicate
the character of Rosh ha-Shanah.
In Jewish thought, Rosh ha-Shanah is the most
important judgment-day, on which all the inhabitants
of the world pass for judgment before the Creator, as
sheep pass for examination before the shepherd. It is
written in the Talmud, in the tractate on Rosh
Hashanah that three books of account are opened on
Rosh ha-Shanah, wherein the fate of the wicked, the
righteous, and those of an intermediate class are
recorded. The names of the righteous are immediately
inscribed in the book of life, and they are sealed "to
live." The middle class are allowed a respite of ten
days till Yom Kippur, to repent and become righteous ;
the wicked are "blotted out of the book of the living"
(Ps. lxix. 28).
The zodiac sign of the balance for Tishri is claimed
to indicate the scales of judgment, balancing the
meritorious against the wicked acts of the person
judged. The taking of an annual inventory of accounts
on Rosh ha-Shanah is adduced by Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac
from the passage in Deut. xi. 12, which says that the
care of God is directed from "the beginning of the
year even unto the end of the year". The 1st of Tishri
was considered as the beginning of Creation.
It is said in the Talmud that on Rosh ha-Shanah the
means of sustenance of every person are apportioned
for the ensuing year; so also are his destined losses.
Originally, only the 1st day of Tishri was celebrated
as New-Year's Day in the Land of Israel, prior to the
time of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai. However, ever since
his time, Jewish law has Rosh ha-Shanah celebrated for
The Zohar, a medieval work of Kabbalah, lays stress on
the universal observance of two days, and states that
the two passages in Job (i. 6 and ii. 1), "when the
sons of God came to present themselves before the
Lord," refer to the first and second days of Rosh ha-Shanah,
observed by the Heavenly Court before the Almighty. (Zohar,
Pinchas, p. 231a)
* High Holidays
* Jewish holidays
* Hebrew calendar
* Rosh Hashana kibbutz (Breslov)
* Ras as-Sanah