Traditions and Customs of Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah is the start of the Jewish New Year, and is celebrated during the month of Tishrei, which falls during September and/or October. 

On Rosh Hashanah, we think of ourselves as stepping into the courtyard of the majestic palace, onto the threshold of the Heavenly Court. As such we refer to G_d as the King; we look up to Him as to the ruling judge with expectation mingled with trepidation. Sentence is soon to be passed.

On Rosh Hashanah we beseech mercy, in recognition of our human frailty. As such we refer to G_d as our Father who should look down upon his creatures with the same conciliatory attitude as a loving father has to his wayward child.

Rosh Hashanah is considered the time of redemption, the day of judgement and is considered a solemn festival. On this day, G_d Almighty decides the future fate for each and every Jewish individual for the coming year (a person's fate is judged yearly). On Rosh Hashanah we are inscribed in the Book of Life. On Yom Kippur, which is ten days later, the Book is sealed.

Although we are celebrating a New Year, it is also a time when we stand in judgment before our G_d. This invokes a feeling of mixed emotions the joy of starting over (a new beginning), and a time for reflection when one might look back on unpleasantness and/or misdeeds one might have committed against others or oneself. Rosh Hashanah and the coming holiday of Yom Kippur are the holiest holidays in the Jewish faith.

As is customary in Jewish festivals, observance begins on nightfall the day before Rosh Hashanah. Celebrants prepare by bathing, receiving haircuts, donning special clothes and giving treats to children.

Certain types of work are forbidden, though there are some exceptions. Food preparation and the carrying, transferring or increasing of the fire are all permitted. Women of the household light commemorative candles before sunset of the first night and a half-hour before sunset on the second night of Rosh Hashanah, reciting blessings over them.

In the Torah, Rosh Hashanah is also known as Yom Teruah which means the Day of Blowing the Shofar except when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat (Saturday, our day of rest) the Shofar is not blown. The Shofar or Ram's Horn is symbolic on this High Holiday and is the oldest wind instrument. It is blown a number of times during services. When we hear the sound of the Shofar we are reminded to repent and return to God.

To indicate the hope for a sweet year, new fruits are added to the holiday dinner table. These fruits may include any fruit that you have not as yet eaten this year, however, customary special fruit additions are: pomegranates, avocados, and persimmons. It is also customary to dip apples and/or a piece of challah in a dish of honey or sugar to insure sweetness in the coming year. These foods are eaten with the accompanying prayer: May it be Thy will, Oh Lord our God, to renew unto us a happy and pleasant New Year.

The ritual of Tashlich ("casting off") falls out on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, except when the holiday falls on the Shabbat, at which time you would go on the second day. We walk to flowing water, such as a creek or river, on the afternoon of the first day and empty our pockets into the river, symbolically casting off our sins. This practice is not discussed in the Bible, but is a long-standing custom. Religious services for the holiday focus on the concept of G-d's sovereignty. The common greeting at this time is L'shanah tovah ("for a good year"). This is a shortening of "L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem" (or to women, "L'shanah tovah tikatevi v'taihatemi"), which means "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year."

You may notice that the Bible speaks of Rosh Hashanah as occurring on the first day of the seventh month. The first month of the Jewish calendar is Nissan, occurring in March and April. Why, then, does the Jewish "new year" occur in Tishri, the seventh month? In Judaism there are several different new years, Nissan 1 is the new year for the purpose of counting the reign of kings and months on the calendar, Elul 1 (in August) is the new year for the tithing of animals, Shevat 15 (in February) is the new year for trees (determining when first fruits can be eaten, etc.), and Tishri 1 (Rosh Hashanah) is the new year for years (when we increase the year number. Sabbatical and Jubilee years begin at this time).

According to tradition, Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of the world and hence the increase in year number. On this day, we appropriately ask the heavenly Father to look down with compassion on the world that He created. In particular, we ask G_d to recall in tenderness the merits of the fathers. Specifically, we invoke Abraham's faith and the lengths to which he was prepared to demonstrate his faith in the one G_d.

These concepts of faith, kingship, remembrance and paternal mercy are among the several major themes running through the Rosh Hashanah Prayer Book, whether in prose, poem or during the shofar-blowing ceremony. These prayers are read in the synagogue in a special chant with which the members of the congregation often identify and find themselves joining in with the reader or chazan in an undertone.

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called The Ten Days of Penitence which is also known as the Ten Days of Teshuvah. During the ten days, up until Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) one is to evaluate themselves and hopefully come to the realization that they are to do good in accordance with God's will.

 Rosh Hashanah

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