Rosh Hashanah

Rosh HaShanah
A shofar, pomegranates, wine, apple and honey – symbols of the Rosh HaShanah holiday
Official nameרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה
Also calledJewish New Year
TypeJudaism
ObservancesPraying in synagogue, personal reflection, and hearing or blowing the shofar.
BeginsStart of first day of Tishrei
EndsEnd of second day of Tishrei
Date1 Tishrei, 2 Tishrei
2023 dateSunset, 15 September –
nightfall, 17 September
2024 dateSunset, 2 October –
nightfall, 4 October
2025 dateSunset, 22 September –
nightfall, 24 September
2026 dateSunset, 11 September –
nightfall, 13 September

Rosh HaShanah (Hebrew: רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה, Rōʾš hašŠānā, literally "head of the year") is the New Year in Judaism. The biblical name for this holiday is Yom Teruah (יוֹם תְּרוּעָה‎, Yōm Tərūʿā, lit. "day of shouting/blasting"). It is the first of the High Holy Days (יָמִים נוֹרָאִים‎, Yāmīm Nōrāʾīm, "Days of Awe"), as specified by Leviticus 23:23–25, that occur in the late summer/early autumn of the Northern Hemisphere. Rosh Hashanah begins ten days of penitence culminating in Yom Kippur, as well as beginning the cycle of autumnal religious festivals running through Sukkot which end on Shemini Atzeret in Israel and Simchat Torah everywhere else.

Rosh Hashanah is a two-day observance and celebration that begins on the first day of Tishrei, which is the seventh month of the ecclesiastical year. In contrast to the ecclesiastical lunar new year on the first day of the first month Nisan, the spring Passover month which marks Israel's exodus from Egypt, Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the civil year, according to the teachings of Judaism, and is the traditional anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman according to the Hebrew Bible, as well as the initiation of humanity's role in God's world.

Rosh Hashanah customs include sounding the shofar (a hollowed-out ram's horn), as prescribed in the Torah, following the prescription of the Hebrew Bible to "raise a noise" on Yom Teruah. Its rabbinical customs include attending synagogue services and reciting special liturgy about teshuva, as well as enjoying festive meals. Eating symbolic foods, such as apples dipped in honey, hoping to evoke a sweet new year, is an ancient tradition recorded in the Talmud.

Etymology

Rosh is the Hebrew word for "head", ha is the definite article ("the"), and shana means year. Thus Rosh HaShanah means "head of the year", referring to the day of the New Year.

The term Rosh Hashanah in its current meaning does not appear in the Torah. Leviticus 23:24 refers to the festival of the first day of the seventh month as zikhron teru'ah ("a memorial of blowing [of horns]") Numbers 29:1 calls the festival yom teru'ah ("day of blowing [the horn]").

The term rosh hashanah appears once in the Bible (Ezekiel 40:1), where it has a different meaning: either generally the time of the "beginning of the year", or possibly a reference to Yom Kippur, or to the month of Nisan.

In the prayer books (siddurs and machzors), Rosh Hashanah is also called Yom haZikkaron "the day of remembrance", not to be confused with the modern Israeli remembrance day of the same name.

Origin

The origin of the New Year is connected to the beginning of the economic year in the agricultural societies of the ancient Near East. The New Year was the beginning of the cycle of sowing, growth, and harvest; the harvest was marked by its own set of major agricultural festivals. Semitic speakers generally set the beginning of the new year in autumn, while other ancient civilizations chose spring for that purpose, such as the Persians or Greeks; the primary reason was agricultural in both cases, the time of sowing the seed and bringing in the harvest.

Some scholars posit a connection between the Babylonian festival Akitu and Rosh Hashanah, as there are some striking similarities. The Akitu festival of Ur was celebrated in the beginning of Nisanu (first month), which lasted at least five days, and again in Tashritu, the seventh month, which lasted eleven days. Akitu was also strongly tied to the creation myth of Enuma Elish and the victory of Marduk over the sea monster Tiamat, and the creation of the universe from her corpse. Similarly it is said that the world was created on Rosh Hashanah.

The Four "New Years"

Rosh Hashanah marks the start of the numbering of a new year in the Hebrew calendar. In halakha, four different New Years are observed: Rosh Hashanah (the first of Tishrei), the first of Nisan (when the Exodus began), the first of Elul, and Tu BiShvat (the fifteenth of Shevat). Each one delineates the beginning of a year for different legal or ecclesiastical purposes. The Talmudic distinctions among the New Years are discussed in the tractate on Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is the new year for calculating ordinary calendar years, Sabbatical years, Jubilee years, and dates inscribed on legal deeds and contracts. Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of Man. In Jewish practice, the months are numbered starting with the spring month of Nisan, making Tishrei the seventh month; Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the new calendar year, is also actually the first day of the seventh month.

The second of these "New Years", the first of the lunar month Nisan (usually corresponds to the months March–April in the Gregorian calendar) is the beginning of the ecclesiastical year; the months are numbered beginning with Nisan. It marks the start of the year for the Three Pilgrimage Festivals. Its injunction is expressly stated in the Hebrew Bible: "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months" (Exodus 12:2). Their injunction is expressly stated in the Hebrew Bible: "Three times in the year you shall keep a feast unto me... the feast of unleavened bread (Passover)... the feast of harvest (Shavuot)... and the feast of ingathering (Sukkot) which is at the departing of the year" (Exodus 23:14–16). "At the departing of the year" implies that the new year begins here according to the Babylonian Talmud. It is also when a new year is added to the reign of Jewish kings.

The third New Year, the first of Elul, the new year for animals, began the religious taxation period for tithing animals in Biblical times. Elul corresponds to the Gregorian August/September, after the spring birthings, when it was relatively simple to count the number of animals in herds.

The fourth New Year, Tu Bishvat, the new year for trees, began the religious taxation period for tithing fruits and nuts from trees. Shevat corresponds to the Gregorian January/February, the end of the Mediterranean wet season when the majority of the year's rainfall had occurred. Taking fruit or nuts from a tree younger than three years old, with the birthday counted as Tu Bishvat, was prohibited.

Religious significance

The Mishnah contains the second known reference to Rosh Hashanah as the "day of judgment" (Yom haDin). In the Talmud tractate on Rosh Hashanah, it states that three books of account are opened on Rosh Hashanah, wherein the fate of the wicked, the righteous, and those of the intermediate class are recorded. The names of the righteous are immediately inscribed in the Book of Life and they are sealed "to live". The intermediate class is allowed a respite of ten days, until Yom Kippur, to reflect, repent, and become righteous; the wicked are "blotted out of the book of the living forever."

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 passes in front of him for evaluation of his or her deeds.

"The Holy One said, 'on Rosh Hashanah recite before Me [verses of] Sovereignty, Remembrance, and Shofar blasts (malchuyot, zichronot, shofarot): Sovereignty so that you should make Me your King; Remembrance so that your remembrance should rise up before Me. And through what? Through the Shofar.' (Rosh Hashanah 16a, 34b)"

This is reflected in the prayers composed by classical rabbinic sages for Rosh Hashanah found in traditional machzors, where the theme of the prayers is the "coronation" of God as King of the universe, in preparation for the acceptance of judgments that will follow on that day.

Shofar blowing

Jewish elder blowing the ram's horn (shofar)
Yemenite-style shofar
Shofar blowing for Rosh Hashana, Ashkenaz version

The best-known ritual of Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shofar, a musical instrument made from an animal horn. The shofar is blown at various points during the Rosh Hashanah prayers, and it is customary in most communities to have a total of 100 blasts on each day. The shofar is not blown on Shabbat.

While the blowing of the shofar is a Biblical statute, it is also a symbolic "wake-up call", stirring Jews to mend their ways and repent. The shofar blasts call out: "Sleepers, wake up from your slumber! Examine your ways and repent and remember your Creator."

Additionally, the act of blowing the shofar, like the rainbow, is ordered by God as a reminder to God of humanity and our plight.

Prayer service

On Rosh Hashanah day, religious poems called piyyutim, are added to the regular services. A special prayer book, the machzor (plural machzorim), is used on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Some additions are made 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. (In many synagogues, even little children come and hear the shofar being blown.)[further explanation needed] A variety of piyyutim, medieval penitential prayers, are recited regarding themes of repentance. The Aleinu prayer is recited during the silent prayer as well as the repetition of the Mussaf Amidah.

The special Avinu Malkeinu prayer is also recited on Rosh Hashanah. In the Ashkenazic rite, Avinu Malkeinu is never recited on Shabbat (except in Ne'ila on Yom Kippur), and it is also omitted at Mincha on Fridays.

The narrative in the Book of Genesis describing the announcement of Isaac's birth and his subsequent birth is part of the Torah readings in synagogues on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, and the narrative of the sacrifice and binding of Isaac is read in synagogue on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

The Mussaf Amidah prayer on Rosh Hashanah is unique in that, apart from the first and last three blessings, it contains three central blessings making a total of nine. These blessings are entitled "Malchuyot" (Kingship, and also includes the blessing for the holiness of the day as in a normal Mussaf), "Zichronot" (Remembrance), and "Shofarot" (concerning the shofar). Each section contains an introductory paragraph followed by selections of verses about the "topic". The verses are three from the Torah, three from the Ketuvim, three from the Nevi'im, and one more from the Torah. During the repetition of the Amidah, the shofar is sounded (except on Shabbat) after the blessing that ends each section. Recitation of these three blessings is first recorded in the Mishna, though writings by Philo and possibly even Psalms 81 suggest that the blessings may have been recited on Rosh Hashanah even centuries earlier.

In many Eastern Ashkenazi congregations, a kittel is worn during daytime Rosh Hashanah prayers, just as one is worn on Yom Kippur.

Customs

Days before Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah is 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 Nora'im, the Days of Awe, beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with the holiday of Yom Kippur.

The shofar is traditionally blown on weekday mornings, and in some communities also in the afternoon, for the entire month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah. The sound of the shofar is intended to awaken the listeners from their "slumbers" and alert them to the coming judgment. The shofar is not blown on Shabbat.

In the period leading up to Rosh Hashanah, penitential prayers called selichot, are recited. The Sephardic tradition is to start at the beginning of Elul, while the Ashkenazic and Italian practice is to start a few days before Rosh Hashanah.

The day before Rosh Hashanah day is known as Erev Rosh Hashanah ("Rosh Hashanah eve"). It is the 29th day of the Hebrew month of Elul, ending at sundown, when Rosh Hashanah commences. Some communities perform hatarat nedarim (a nullification of vows) after the morning prayer services. Many Orthodox men immerse in a mikveh in honor of the coming day.

Symbolic foods

Rosh Hashanah jams prepared by Libyan Jews
Traditional Rosh Hashanah foods: Apples dipped in honey, pomegranates, wine for kiddush

Rosh Hashanah meals usually include apples dipped in honey to symbolize a sweet new year; this is a late medieval Ashkenazi addition. Other foods with a symbolic meaning may be served, depending on local minhag ("custom"), such as the head of a fish (to symbolize the prayer "let us be the head and not the tail").

Many communities hold a "Rosh Hashanah seder" during which blessings are recited over a variety of symbolic dishes. The blessings have the incipit "Yehi ratzon", meaning "May it be Thy will." In many cases, the name of the food in Hebrew or Aramaic represents a play on words (a pun). The Yehi Ratzon platter may include apples (dipped in honey, baked or cooked as a compote called mansanada); dates; pomegranates; black-eyed peas; pumpkin-filled pastries called rodanchas; leek fritters called keftedes de prasa; beets; and a whole fish with the head intact. It is also common among Sephardim to eat stuffed vegetables called legumbres yaprakes.

Some of the symbolic foods eaten are dates, black-eyed peas, leeks, spinach, and gourd, all of which are mentioned in the Talmud: "Let a man be accustomed to eat on New Year's Day gourds (קרא), and fenugreek (רוביא), leeks (כרתי), beet [leaves] (סילקא), and dates (תמרי)."

Carrots can have multiple symbolic meanings at the Rosh Hashanah table. The Yiddish word for carrot is ma’rin (מערין), which also means “increase.” By eating carrots one asks for their merits and blessings to be increased. Sliced carrots are also typically eaten to symbolize gold coins and hopes for continued wealth and prosperity. In Hebrew the word for carrot is gezer (גזר) which sounds similar to the word g’zar - the Hebrew word for “decree.” Serving carrots on Rosh Hashanah symbolizes a desire to have God nullify any negative decrees against us.

Pomegranates are used in many traditions, to symbolize being fruitful like the pomegranate with its many seeds. Typically, round challah bread is served, to symbolize the cycle of the year. From ancient to quite modern age, lamb head or fish head were served. Nowadays, lekach (honey cake) and gefilte fish are commonly served by Ashkenazic Jews on this holiday. On the second night, new fruits are served to warrant the inclusion of the shehecheyanu blessing.

The general Ashkenazic custom is to eat sweet foods, such as honey cake and teiglach, to auger a sweet year. The Sephardic and Mizrahi custom is frequently to eat light-coloured foods, or rather, to avoid dark ones, so as to avoid a dark year.[citation needed]

Tashlikh

Jews performing tashlikh on Rosh Hashanah, painting by Aleksander Gierymski, 1884

The ritual of tashlikh is performed on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah by most Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews (but not by Spanish and Portuguese Jews or some Yemenites, as well as those who follow the practices of the Vilna Gaon). 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 until 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, Psalms 121 and Psalms 130, as well as personal prayers. Though once considered a solemn individual tradition, it has become an increasingly social ceremony practiced in groups. Tashlikh can be performed any time until Hoshana Rabba, and some Hasidic communities perform Tashlikh on the day before Yom Kippur.

Greetings

The Hebrew common greeting on Rosh Hashanah is Shanah Tovah (Hebrew: שנה טובה; pronounced [ˈʃona ˈtɔ͡ɪva] in many Ashkenazic communities and pronounced [ʃaˈna toˈva] in Israeli and Sephardic communities), which translated from Hebrew means "[have a] good year". Often Shanah Tovah Umetukah (Hebrew: שנה טובה ומתוקה‎), meaning "[have a] Good and Sweet Year", is used. In Yiddish the greeting is אַ גוט יאָר "a gut yor" ("a good year") or אַ גוט געבענטשט יאָר "a gut gebentsht yor" ("a good blessed year"). The formal Sephardic greeting is Tizku Leshanim Rabbot ("may you merit many years"), to which the answer is Ne'imot VeTovot ("pleasant and good ones"); while in Ladino, they say אנייאדה בואינה, דולסי אי אליגרי "anyada buena, dulse i alegre" ("may you have a good, sweet and happy New Year").[citation needed]

A more formal greeting commonly used among religiously observant Jews is Ketivah VaChatimah Tovah (Hebrew: כְּתִיבָה וַחֲתִימָה טוֹבָה‎), which translates as "A good inscription and sealing [in the Book of Life]", or L'shanah tovah tikatevu v'techatemu meaning "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year". After Rosh Hashanah ends, the greeting is changed to G'mar chatimah tovah (Hebrew: גמר חתימה טובה‎) meaning "A good final sealing", until Yom Kippur. After Yom Kippur is over, until Hoshana Rabbah, as Sukkot ends, the greeting is Gmar Tov (Hebrew: גְּמָר טוֹב‎), "a good conclusion".

In Karaite Judaism

Unlike the denominations of Rabbinical Judaism, Karaite Judaism believes the Jewish New Year starts with the first month and celebrates this holiday only as it is mentioned in the Torah, that is as a day of rejoicing and shouting. Karaites allow no work on the day except what is needed to prepare food (Leviticus 23:23, 24).

In Samaritanism

Samaritans preserve the biblical name of the holiday, Yom Teruah, and do not consider the day to be a New Year's day.

Duration and timing

The Torah defines Rosh Hashanah as a one-day celebration, and since days in the Hebrew calendar begin at sundown, the beginning of Rosh Hashanah is at sundown at the end of 29 Elul. Since the time of the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the time of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, normative Jewish law appears to be that Rosh Hashanah is to be celebrated for two days, because of the difficulty of determining the date of the new moon. Nonetheless, there is some evidence that Rosh Hashanah was celebrated on a single day in Israel as late as the thirteenth century CE.

Orthodox and Conservative Judaism now generally observe Rosh Hashanah for the first two days of Tishrei, even in Israel where all other Jewish holidays dated from the new moon last only one day. The two days of Rosh Hashanah are said to constitute "Yoma Arichtah" (Aramaic: "one long day"). In Reform Judaism, while most congregations in North America observe only the first day of Rosh Hashanah, some follow the traditional two-day observance as a sign of solidarity with other Jews worldwide. Karaite Jews, who do not recognize Rabbinic Jewish oral law and rely on their own understanding of the Torah, observe only one day on the first of Tishrei, since the second day is not mentioned in the Written Torah.

Date

Originally, the date of Rosh Hashanah was determined based on observation of the new moon ("molad"), and thus could fall on any day of the week. However, around the third century CE, the Hebrew calendar was fixed, such that the first day of Rosh Hashanah never falls out on Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday.

Rosh Hashanah occurs 163 days after the first day of Passover, and thus is usually (but not always) determined by the new moon closest to the autumnal equinox.

In terms of the Gregorian calendar, the earliest date on which Rosh Hashanah can fall is 5 September, as happened in 1842, 1861, 1899, and 2013. The latest Gregorian date that Rosh Hashanah can occur is 5 October, as happened in 1815, 1929, and 1967, and will happen again in 2043. After 2089, the differences between the Hebrew calendar and the Gregorian calendar will result in Rosh Hashanah falling no earlier than 6 September. Starting in 2214, the new latest date will be 6 October.

In 2020 the Jewish President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, announced that Ukraine would declare Rosh Hashanah a national holiday. This makes Ukraine the only country besides Israel where the day is a national holiday.[citation needed]

Gallery of Rosh Hashanah greeting cards

See also


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