Jewish Holidays

Rosh Hashanah   

Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first and second days of Tishri. In Hebrew,
Rosh Hashanah means, literally, "head of the year" or "first of the year."
Rosh Hashanah is commonly known as the Jewish New Year. This name is
somewhat deceptive, because there is little similarity between Rosh
Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year, and the American midnight
drinking bash and daytime football game.

There is, however, one important similarity between the Jewish New Year and
the American one: Many Americans use the New Year as a time to plan a
better life, making "resolutions." Likewise, the Jewish New Year is a time to
begin introspection, looking back at the mistakes of the past year and
planning the changes to make in the new year.

The name "Rosh Hashanah" is not used in the Bible to discuss this holiday.
The Bible refers to the holiday as Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the day of
remembrance) or Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar). The
holiday is instituted in Leviticus 23:24-25.

The shofar is a ram's horn that is blown somewhat like a trumpet. One of the
most important observances of this holiday is hearing the sounding of the
shofar in the synagogue. A total of 100 notes are sounded each day. There are
four different types of shofar notes: tekiah, a 3 second sustained note;
shevarim, three 1-second notes rising in tone, teruah, a series of short,
staccato notes extending over a period of about 3 seconds; and tekiah gedolah
(literally, "big tekiah"), the final blast in a set, which lasts for 10 seconds
minimum. The Bible gives no specific reason for this practice. One that has
been suggested is that the shofar's sound is a call to repentance. The shofar is
not blown if the holiday falls on Shabbat.

No work is permitted on Rosh Hashanah. Much of the day is spent in
synagogue, where the regular daily liturgy is somewhat expanded. In fact,
there is a special prayer book called the machzor used for Rosh Hashanah and
Yom Kippur because of the extensive liturgical changes for these holidays.

Another popular observance during this holiday is eating apples dipped in
honey, a symbol of the Jewish wish for a sweet new year. This is often one of
the first Jewish religious practices that a Jewish child is exposed to (the most
common being the lighting of the Chanukkah candles and participation in
Pesach). Bread is also dipped in honey (instead of the usual practice of
sprinkling salt on it) at this time of year for the same reason.

Another popular practice of the holiday is Tashlikh ("casting off"). Jews walk
to flowing water, such as a creek or river, on the afternoon of the first day
and empty their 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 God'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?

Judaism has several different "new years," a concept which may seem
strange at first, but think of it this way: the American "new year" starts in
January, but the new "school year" starts in September, and many
businesses have "fiscal years" that start at various times of the year. In
Judaism, 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).
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