Rosh Hashanah is the occasion of the Jewish New Year. This Hebrew term literally means the beginning or head of the year. This holiday has a biblical name “Yom Teruah” which means a day of shouting or blasting. “Yom Teruah” is often translated as the “Feast of Trumpets”.
Leviticus talked about certain days known as the Jewish High Holy Days or Days of Awe which generally takes place in the early autumn of the Northern Hemisphere. Rosh Hashannah celebrations extend for a time span of two days and the first day falls on the first day of the month of Tishrei.
Tishrei is the seventh month of the ecclesiastical year and also the first month of the Jewish civil year. It begins on the hour of sundown on the eve of the first day of Tishrei. Another traditional significance of this day is the coming of Adam and Eve who are considered to be the first man and woman as said by the Hebrew Bible.
The first actions of Adam and Eve gave way to humanity’s role in God’s world. In the year 2017, Rosh Hashannah begins on the evening of Wednesday, 20th September and ends on the evening of Friday, 22nd of September. There are various rabbinical customs associated with this day.
From the etymological point of view, the term Rosh Hashannah can be split into “Rosh” which means head in Hebrew and “shanah” which means year. According to the Siddur and Machzor Jewish prayer books, this festival is also known as “Yom Hazikaron” which implies a day of remembrance. Muslim Law makers have their own version of a name for the Islamic New Year and that’s Arabic Ras as – Sanah. It’s a new year for people, animals and legal business matters and is also taken to be the base for calculating shmita and yovel years by the Mishnah.
Origin And Religious Importance
It has its origins in the starting of the economic year in the agrarian societies based in Ancient Near East and thus marks the beginning of the agricultural cycle. The New Year was considered to be the starting of the cycle of sowing, growth, harvest following agricultural festivals hosted dedicated to a good harvest. The Semites used to consider autumn to be the season of New Year while the Persians or Greek took spring to be the one. Either way, the New Year was chosen based on the time the agricultural season commenced and when the seed was sowed and harvest was brought in. Rosh Hashannah is reffered to and leads to the “day of judgment”. Three books are said to be opened on this day including the fates of the wicked ones, the righteous souls and that of the intermediate classes. The righteous soul’s names are written in the book of life and they are allowed to live. The intermediate ones are granted a chance to resurrect in a time span of ten days leading to Yom Kippur and the wicked names are erased out of the book of the living forever. The Holy One said, “On Rosh Hashanah recite before Me the verses of Sovereignty, Remembrance, and Shofar blasts: 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.”
Eve Of The Festival
The evening prior to Rosh Hashannah is called Erev Rosh Hashannah. Elul is the month that comes before Rosh Hashannah during which the Jews are instructed to start a self-examination and repentance process. On the eve of this festival, Hatarat Nedarim is performed which is a sort of a nullification of vows. This takes place after the morning prayers are done with on the 29th day of the month of Elul which finishes on the sundown after which the eve of Rosh Hashannah starts. On the eve, many orthodox religious men take part in Mikveh that’s actually a bath used in religious immersion ceremonies of Judaism.
Customs And Traditions
- Shofar Blowing – ‘Shofar’ is the ram’s horn that plays a significant role during this festival and is blown on the mornings of both the days. After the Torah readings are done with after the morning services, the shofar is blown for 30 times and during or following the Musaf service, this horn is blasted for 70 times. The shofar blowing is made up of three sorts of blasts: tekiah that’s a long blast resembling a sob, Shevarim that’s a set of three short wails one after the other and teruah that’s nine shrill piercing staccato bursts. The sound of a shofar resembles the sound of a trumpet that is played at a king’s coronation. The cry of a shofar also signifies a call for repentance.
- Prayer Services – The Morning Prayer sessions are longer than usual on these days and the major part of the days are spent in synagogue. The machzor and Torah contain all the prayers and these are read on both the mornings. On the first morning, the recitations are about Isaac’s birth and then the following banishment of Hagar and Ishmael. After this, there’s a haftarah reading about the birth of Samuel the Prophet. On the second morning of Rosh Hashannah, people are enlightened about the almost sacrifice of Abraham’s son Isaac by Abraham himself. Various medieval, religious, penitential poems known as piyyuttim are recited in the prayer services and also, the Alenu prayer is added during Mussaf service.
- Food – Meals on this day generally begun with honey dipped apples symbolizing a sweet new year. The head of a fish or a ram is eaten to signify that “we are the head and not the tail”. A common food item is round challah loaves of bread that have been dipped in honey and sprinkled with raisins. It’s a tradition of Rosh Hashannah to abstain from eating nuts, horseradish, vinegar – involved foods and gelfilte fish. Pomegranates are eaten and the seeds are wished upon to get merit. Another prevalent food is tzimmes that’s a sweet carrot revolving dish signifying the wish for a plenty and bountiful year. On the second and last night of Rosh Hashannah, it’s a custom to eat a “new” fruit meaning to eat a fruit that’s not been eaten since the previous time it was in season.
- Tashlikh – This ritual is carried out on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashannah and is done so by the most Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews. During this ceremony, the person is supposed to go to a nearby ocean or river or pond and recite prayers near it or throw bread or pebbles in the water. Doing so, they perform the act of casting away or washing off their sins. If the first day of Rosh Hashannah coincides with ‘Shabbat’ then this custom is performed on the second day.