Rosh Hashanah is one of the most important Jewish holidays. Literally translated, Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year.”
The New Year 5780 officially starts on September 30th, but all Jewish holidays begin at sundown on the evening before, so Rosh Hashanah actually begins tonight. The night before Rosh Hashanah is known as Kol Nidre, and then the holiday lasts until nightfall two days later, on Tuesday, October 1st. In regards to the Hebrew calendar, the New Year begins on the first day of the seventh Hebrew month; Tishri.
Day of Judgement
The beginning of each year is considered a renewal; when people have the opportunity to be better, because they know that they are being judged by God. For this reason, the first day of Rosh Hashanah is officially known as the “Day of Judgment”. This is when our creator weighs the good and bad deeds each person has done throughout the previous year. He then chooses whether or not to “inscribe us in the next year’s Book of Life.” If it sounds serious, that’s because it is serious—it’s a matter of life and death!
Days of Awe
The Jewish New Year leads into a 10-day grace period, known as the Days of Awe, during which people are encouraged to take the time to repent for their sins through “teshuvah, tefilah and tzedakah,” repentance, prayer, good deeds. During the Days of Awe, Jews ask God for forgiveness and promise to reform their evil ways, so that they will be worthy enough to be inscribed into the next year’s Book of Life. In addition, God requires every Jew to make peace with anyone they had a disagreement with in the previous year. They also have to pay off their debts and think about any mistakes made in the past year.
Thinking about mistakes leads people to ponder ways in which they can do things differently in the coming year. The goal of this entire process is to be inscribed in the Book of Life, because those who do evil and don’t repent risk having their names inscribed in the Book of Death and Misfortune.
“L’shana tova!” is how Jews greet each other during their New Year. Translated from Hebrew, it means “Have a good New Year”. Another popular greeting echoes the goal of living another year, “L’shana tova tika tevu” – may you be inscribed for a good New Year!
Cast Away Your Sins
It’s a tradition for Jews to symbolically cast off their sins into a body of running water. This is known as tashlikh, and the ceremony takes place just before sunset on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. During this time, we recall the last verses of the prophet Micah (7:19), “He will take us back in love; He will cover up our iniquities. You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”
People who aren’t Jewish are surprised to learn that the Hebrew calendar date of Rosh Hashanah is not celebrated on the first day of the year. According to the Torah, the month of Nisan is really the first month. “From now on, this month will be the first month of the year for you. (Exodus 12:2) Nisan is the month when Passover is celebrated.
Tishri, as mentioned previously, is the seventh month. The Babylonians may have had a hand in the origins of this tradition, but the rabbis who lived during the years following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE proclaimed this particular date to be the anniversary of the momentous day when humanity was created.
On Rosh Hashanah, apples and honey are a blessing.
During the Rosh Hashanah meal, it’s customary to wish each other a “sweet New Year.” This typically happens as everyone dips apple slices into honey; a gesture which is seen as a blessing for “a sweet New Year”.
One way to make this tradition more fun is to do a honey tasting, especially if you have access to local honeys and a variety of versions.