What do members of the Jewish faith celebrate during Rosh Hashanah?

Rosh Hashanah officially beings the evening of Wednesday, September 4th and continues through Friday evening, September 6th.

Rosh Hashanah commemorates the time when God created Adam and Eve.  It is the day that Jews consider the birthday of all human beings. It is also the day when God judges the world and each human being living in it, and thus this holiday is also considered the Day of Judgment. God weighs the deeds of every person.  On one side are the good deeds, the mitzvot, and on the other side are the sins. Those people that have many good deeds will be inscribed in God’s Book of Life and Blessing. Those who are wicked and have many sins are inscribed in the Book for Death and Misfortune. For those people who are in the middle, God gives them one last chance to be good before He makes his decision about the coming year.

As God gave the world the Ten Commandments, he gives us ten days to improve our lives. Ten days later, Yom Kippur begins the New Year with a Day of Atonement for one’s wrongdoings.    This stretch of time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called “The Days of Awe,” a period of judgment and repentance, forgiveness and spiritual renewal.

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the central act of the service in every synagogue is the sounding of the shofar or the ram’s horn. Four different types of shofar blasts punctuate the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, each interpreted as signaling its own message. The sounding of the shofar has the following popular explanations:

  1. a)     It was sounded during the days when the Jews wandered in the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land – commanding them to move on or to go forward – a message today to improve our lives and grow.
  2. b)    It was used in ancient times as a call to battle, to rouse the people, and today we can consider the shofar blast to be a wake-up call to do what is right, to take ourselves and our actions as seriously as they deserve.
  3. c)    It was heard when the Jews gathered around Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah, announcing the presence of God. So we are reminded that God is always around us.
  4. d)    It was blown in biblical time to proclaim the ruler-ship of a king, and so we are reminded that God is our king.
  5. e)    When Abraham was tested by God and was about to sacrifice his son Isaac, God stopped him, and immediately after there appeared a ram whose beautiful horns were tangled in the bushes. Abraham sacrificed the ram instead of his son, and the ram’s horn is now used to remind us of our communion with God.
  6. f)     And finally when the Messiah is due to appear to usher in a new age of universal peace, his arrival will be announced by the blowing of the ram’s horn. So we are reminded on Rosh Hashanah about this song of redemption – our yearly new beginning.

On Rosh Hashanah to celebrate the sweet new year, we dip our challah (Jewish bread) in honey, as well as apple slices in honey as well. It is also customary for Jews to symbolically throw away their sins into a body of flowing water.  This custom, called Tashlich, encourages Jews to throw bits of bread into the water with the hope that their sins will be carried away, and we will be purified. Rosh Hashanah and the ten days of repentance are a time to ask for forgiveness from God and from our fellow human beings that we may have wronged. We make a firm commitment never to repeat the wrong behavior. God can forgive us for the sins we committed against Him, but He cannot forgive us for those sins we committed against others. We must approach every person we may have hurt by word or deed throughout the past year and ask for forgiveness.  God cannot forgive us if we haven’t made peace with our fellow man and woman.

So very soon, Jews will be wishing each other a good year: “L’shana tovah!” We will invoke the image of the Book of Life in which we hope to be inscribed for another year, and we will extend the greeting “May you be written and sealed for a good year.” And then we will focus on the ten days of awe and repentance, and think about our errors and ask for forgiveness, prior to the beginning of Yom Kippur, which begins on the evening of Friday, September 13th!

Thank you, Gail Katz, for answering our question this week!