The Jewish New Year goes by the name of Rosh Hashanah and is considered to be of utmost importance by the Jewish people. The references of the celebrations of the Jewish New Year are found even in the holy Bible, and such celebrations can be dated back to more than thousands of years.
Rosh Hashanah is celebrated in accordance to the Jewish calendar on which the month of Tishri in when Rosh Hashanah falls. This when plotted in the modern day calendar is sometime in the months of September or October.
Rosh Hashanah is celebrated with much zeal and zest by the Jewish community, and the celebrations last for about ten days. For the Jews these celebrations are not only of social relevance, but they also have religious significance. Jewish people are of the opinion that God decides the fate of man at the commencement of the New Year, and those people who have repented for the sins they may have committed in the year gone by are blessed with happiness and prosperity in the New Year.
This period of ten days is called Shabbat Shuva. The first two days of the Shabbat Shuva are celebrated as Rosh Hashanah, while the tenth day, the day on which this Shabbat Shuva comes to an end, is known as Yom Kippur. Jewish New Year is celebrations include a lot of traditions like community praying before lit candles, holy bath, reciting lines from Kiddhush, donating to charitable purposes, participating in a festive meal and to wish family and friends a life of wealth, health and contentment.
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- Date: Rosh Hashanah 2015 begins in the evening of Sunday, September 13 and ends in the evening of Tuesday, September 15.
- Timing: Rosh Hashanah is celebrated on the basis of the Lunar Calendar that is traditionally followed by the Jewish community. According to that calendar system a new day begins at the sun sets. In accordance to the Hebrew calendar, the Rosh Hashanah celebrations begin on the last day of the Hebrew month of Elul after the sun is set. Since the 4th century, the Jewish calendar has been arranged in such a way that Rosh Hashanah will never commence on certain days of a week, these days are — Sunday, Wednesday or Friday. Since it is at times difficult to determine the date of the new moon, it is often seen that Rosh Hashanah is celebrated for two days. However, this has no mention of in the Written Torah, and as such some people observe this only on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishri.
- Religious Beliefs: The Jewish people consider Rosh Hashanah to be a “Day of Judgment”. Jewish people believe that on this day, three books of accounts are taken into consideration. On one are the names of the righteous people, on another the names of the wicked ones, while on the third are the names of those who belong somewhere in the middle. The first category is admitted entry to the Book of Life which is the kind of passport to Heaven, the second category is blocked from the Book of Life, while the third category is given a grace period of ten days by when they are supposed to reflect and repent, so that they become righteous.
- Significance of the Shofar: A shofar is given a lot of significance in Jewish practices, shofar being a musical instrument that is made from the horn of a ram. Ram is significant here since it acts as a reminder to the incident of Isaac where God substituted a Ram. Typically a shofar is sounded for 100 or 101 times depending on the community concerned. The sounds of shofar are believed to bring spiritual awakening since the Jewish people believe that shofar was sounded when God handed over the Torah.
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- Rosh Hashanah Eve: This celebration is known by the name of Erev Rosh Hashanah, and is celebrated on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishri. This is because of the fact that the Jewish New Year celebrations take place after sunset, and as such the Eve of the New Year can be celebrated on that day itself. Special prayers mark the occasion. Ritualistic holy bathing too is performed on this occasion.
- Rites and Rituals: Jewish New Year is essentially a time for self examination. This is the period when a person is given the permit to repent and rectify for the sins committed in the past. A shofar is traditionally blown in the morning to alert the people about the upcoming judgment and also for moral and spiritual reawakening. Special prayers are performed, holy bathing too is done, and then people enjoy meals that include special food with symbolic significance.
- Symbolic Meals: Traditionally, some food items are served on Jewish New Year which are believed to be of symbolic significance. It is believed that eating apples and honey would make the coming New Year sweet. Other such food items depend on regional customs. Many people consider it auspicious to recite prayers over Seder. Pomegranate that has countless seeds is believed to make the New Year fruitful. Round challah bread symbolize the cyclic nature of the year. Other foods that have symbolic meanings aree stuffed vegetables (legumbres yaprakes), leeks, black eyed beans, spinach, whole fish with intact head, dates, gourd, etc.
- Tashlikh: This is an afternoon ritual that is observed on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. This is essentially a prayer service in nature that is held near a naturally flowing source of water. Through this prayer, the Jewish people attempt to throw away all the sins that were committed in the past year. There is also a tradition to throw bread or pebbles into the water.
- Greetings: Jewish New Year is celebrated in three important stages. The celebrations last ten days ending on Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah greetings are designed in keeping with the Jewish traditions in mind. Often we hear people wishing each other Shanah Tovah or Ah Gut Yohr, which mean Good Year. People also wish each other other Gmar Tov or Gmar Chatima Tova which literally means May God Pass a Good Judgment. All these wishes stem out of the belief that Jewish New Year is the time to turn a new leaf in the chapter of life when a person can throw away all that is vice and embrace everything virtuous and enter in the good books of God.