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Home » Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah: A Basic Overview

Submitted by on November 4, 2005 – 8:06 pmNo Comment | 2,895 views

The Jewish New Year

The Rosh Hashanah holiday falls on the first day of the Jewish year. The Torah describes this holiday in three different ways, a day of Judgment, a day of repentance and a day of the Shofar. While there are many nuances and meanings to this holiday, it is primarily the first day of the New Year.

At Mt. Sinai, G-d chose the Jewish nation from amongst the many nations of the world and made his covenant with them. “ Now if you obey me and keep my covenant, you shall be my special treasure among all the nations…. You will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation onto me” (Exodus 19:5).

This covenant was extended to a nation that had yet to prove itself, however, in His infinite kindness G-d extended a certain amount of credit. He trusted us and put his faith in us, it is up to us to prove that his confidence was not misplaced.

Every year, on the first day of the year, our “Contract” with G-d is up for renewal. If we want to renew this “Contract”, we must prove that our commitment stands strong and hasn’t wavered. Unfortunately, when we tally the score, when we take our private accounting before G-d, we usually fall short.

At this point we repent for our past actions and resolve to improve our behavior in the future. G-d sits upon his celestial throne of judgement and gauges our level of sincerity. On this day, he decides our destiny. On this day he decides whether or not to extend our covenant with him for one more year.

The sounding of the Shofar has dual meaning. On the one hand it is a call for repentance; on the other hand, it is the trumpet we sound as we crown the Almighty our sovereign king.

The two days of Rosh Hashanah are devoted almost entirely to prayer and supplication, at the synagogue. However, Rosh Hashanah is also a holiday of celebration and festivity. We eat a festive holiday meal and raise our glasses in joy. We express our confidence in G-d that He will indeed forgive us and grant us a healthy and successful New Year.

Laws and Customs of Rosh Hashanah

  1. We sound the Shofar at the synagogue on both days of Rosh Hashanah.
  2. We eat foods that symbolize success, merit, and positive blessing.
  3. We eat apples dipped in honey, to symbolize our hope for a sweet New Year.
  4. We greet each other with the following sentence: “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year”. This greeting is not repeated after the first day (and according to some customs after the first evening) of Rosh Hashanah for the assumption is made that everyone has already been inscribed for a good year.

Order of Rosh Hashanah Services

Selichos Service

The last Saturday evening before the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, we gather at the Synagogue to read a tearful and emotional prayer asking G-d to forgive us and pardon our sins. We begin on Sunday at the earliest hour of the morning (1:00 AM.) and on the following days, leading up to Rosh Hashanah, at 6:30 AM.

Rosh Hashanah Evening Service

This auspicious evening ushers in the new Jewish year. It is customary to dip an apple into honey and recite a special blessing, wishing each other a happy and sweet New Year.

Rosh Hashanah Morning Service

During the services on these two days we ceremoniously blow the “Shofar” (Ram’s horn). The sound of the Shofar is symbolic of repentance as its plaintive and soulful sound inspires us to return to G-d.

Minchah and Tashlich Service

The Hebrew word Tashlich means to cast. During the Tashlich service we stand at the seashore and symbolically cast our sins into the ocean. This is our way of expressing our confidence in G-d. Secure in the knowledge that we have been forgiven, our sins forgotten and cast away.

The Fast of Gedaliah

The fast of Gedaliah falls on the third day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. This fast starts at sunrise and lasts throughout the day.

Following the destruction of the first Temple, Jews were permitted to remain in Israel and form their own colony. A Jewish governor, by the name of Gedaliah, was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king.

Gedaliah was a kind man and a good leader. Under his leadership the colony was able to prosper and grow. Many Jews joined the colony in the hopes of recapturing a semblance of their previous lives.

However, this newfound and anticipated peace was not meant to be. One year on Rosh Hashanah, Gedaliah invited the nation to a banquet at the gubernatorial palace. During this banquet, Gedaliah was murdered by a Jewish rival who hoped to succeed him and capture his position.

With Gedaliah’s assassination, the Jewish hopes for a settlement in the Holy Land vanished. The colony was disbanded by the Babylonian government and the Jews were persecuted and expelled from the land.

Gedaliah was assassinated on Rosh Hashanah, however, the fast was postponed to the day after Rosh Hashanah in order to preserve the sanctity of the holiday.