Rosh Hashanah literally translates as ‘head of the year’ or ‘first of the year’ and this is because Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year holiday. Rosh Hashanah is the first of the Jewish High Holy Days and it falls during the seventh Jewish lunar/solar calendar month of Tishrei (September/October).
Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of the world and marks the beginning of the Ten Days of Awe. According to tradition, God judges all creatures during the Ten Days of Awe, which is between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is also known as the Day of Atonement. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the two High Holy Days in Judaism.
Jews have until Yom Kippur to perform teshuvah, which translates as ‘repentance.’ This is a time for prayer, reflecting on past errors, performing good deeds and making amends with others.
During Rosh Hashanah, traditional Jewish instruments called Shofar are played. Shofar are trumpet-type instruments made from ram’s horns. The sounds of Shofar are a call for repentance and signify waking up and paying attention to what matters in life.
Unlike other Jewish holidays, which can be more festive, Rosh Hashanah is a more subdued holiday filled with contemplation.
Work is prohibited on Rosh Hashanah and religious Jews spend most of the holiday attending synagogue.
After religious services, many Jews return home for a festive meal that is filled with much symbolism and tradition. New or special clothing may be worn and the tables are decorated with fine linens.
The meal traditionally begins with a ceremonial lighting of two candles. The foods that are eaten represent positive wishes for the new year. Apples dipped in honey are eaten and they signify fertility and a sweet new year. The traditional Jewish oval bread called Challah is also eaten, but for Rosh Hashanah, this bread is baked in a circular shape to signify God’s crown and the cyclical nature of life.
On Rosh Hashanah, a tradition known as tashlich is often practiced. Tashlich translates as ‘casting off’ and, this tradition involves casting off pieces of bread into flowing water whilst reciting prayers. The bread symbolises the sins of the past year and by casting it off into water, one is thought to be spiritually cleansed and renewed.
Jews greet each other on Rosh Hashanah with the Hebrew phrase L’shana tovah, which translates as “for a good year.”
It is interesting to note that Rosh Hashanah is not referred to in the Torah. It is revealed for the first time in the Mishna, a Jewish code of law that was compiled in 200 A.D.
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