What does Rosh Hashanah mean?

Rosh Hashanah is Hebrew for "head of the year" (literally), or "beginning of the year" (figuratively).  In the Torah, we read, "In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, there shall be a sacred assembly, a cessation from work, a day of commemoration proclaimed by the sound of the shofar" (Numbers 29:1).  Therefore, we celebrate Rosh Hashanah on the first and second days of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Jewish calendar.

Temple Emanu-El traditionally holds Erev Rosh Hashanah and first day Rosh Hashanah services, along with providing family and youth programming.  For more information about Rosh Hashanah programming for this year, click here.

 Why is the New Year in the fall and in the seventh month?

Our ancestors had several dates marking the beginning of important seasons of the year.  The first month of the Hebrew calendar was Nisan, in the spring. But the first of Tishrei was the beginning of the economic year, when the old harvest year ended and the new one began. Around the month of Tishrei, the first rains came in Palestine and the soil was plowed for the winter grain. The first of Tishrei became not only the beginning of the economic year, but the beginning of the spiritual year as well.

What are the "Days of Awe"?

Rosh Hashanah is the first of the "High Holy Days", and begins the most spiritually intense part of the Jewish year, the "Yamim Noraim", the "Days of Awe".  The Days of Awe begin on Rosh Hashanah and conclude on Yom Kippur, a total of ten days. According to tradition, on Rosh Hashanah the wholly righteous are inscribed in the Book of Life. For the rest of us, judgement is suspended until Yom Kippur, when our good works ad acts of repentance during those ten days can tilt the balance in our favor so that we may live. These ten days are devoted to a careful examination of who we are and the ways we have failed -- failed others, failed ourselves, and failed God. This is the time to ask forgiveness of those you might have failed, hurt, or offended in the past year. During this period, emphasis is placed on the sincerity of one's repentance.

Why is the challah for Rosh Hashanah baked round?

Challah, the egg bread that is ordinarily braided on Shabbat, is baked in a round shape to symbolize the cyclical nature of the year, and of life.  It is customary to celebrate the sweetness of the New Year by baking challah with raisins.

Why is honey eaten on Rosh Hashanah?

The custom of eating sweets on Rosh Hashanah is more than 1,500 years old. It expressed the hope that sweetness will enter the lives of all Jews in the coming year, and a reference to Israel as the "land of milk and honey". It is customary to eat apples (a fall harvest fruit) dipped in honey and honey cake, and not to serve sour foods during Rosh Hashanah.

Blowing the Shofar

On Rosh Hashanah, and every day during the month of Elul preceding Rosh Hashanah, we are commanded to hear the shofar blown. There are four shofar calls:

  • Tekiah - a three second sustained note
  • Shevarim - three one-second notes rising in tone
  • Teruah - a series of nine or eleven short, staccato notes
  • Tekiah gedolah ("big tekiah") - the final blast in a set, held as long as possible but at least ten seconds long

In Biblical times, the shofar was used to gather people together, warn of battles and announce the festivals. On Rosh Hashanah, the shofar calls are designed to make us wake up and repent. The shofar is blown every morning of the month preceding Rosh Hashanah, during Rosh Hashanah services and at the end of Yom Kippur, unless the holiday falls on Shabbat.

Why is a shofar made from a ram's horn?

The ram's horn is used to commemorate the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac. The last moment before Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac, a ram caught in a thicket was used as a substitute sacrifice. To honor the ram, Jews use a ram's horn at certain religious services. Shofars can be made from horns of other kosher animals as well, such as antelope.

Why are 100 shofar blasts sounded on Rosh Hashanah?

The custom that one should hear 100 shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah is probably based on Rabbi Meir's comment that a Jew must recite 100 blessings every day (Menachot 43b). Since hearing the shofar is considered a blessing -- "Blessed is the people who knows the sound of the shofar" (Psalms 89:16) -- in many congregations the shofar is sounded 100 times.

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*Tishah B'av: A Brief History

in Jewish Holidays
Tishah B'Av means "Ninth of Av" and refers to a Jewish day of fasting and mourning. Excerpted from The Jewish Home by Daniel B. Syme. URJ Press Traditionally Tishah B'Av is the darkest of all days, a time set aside for mourning the destruction of both ancient…