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definitions - Rosh_Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah (n.)

1.(Judaism) a solemn Jewish feast day celebrated on the 1st or 1st and 2nd of Tishri; noted for the blowing of the shofar

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Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah
A shofar, symbol of the Rosh Hashanah holiday
Official name Hebrew: ראש השנה
Also called Jewish New Year
Observed by Judaism and Jews; Samaritans.
Begins Start of first day of Tishrei
Ends End of second day of Tishrei
Observances Praying in synagogue, personal reflection, and hearing the shofar.

Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew: ראש השנה‎), (literally "head of the year"), is the Jewish New Year. It is the first of the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora'im ("Days of Awe") which occur in the autumn. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated on the first two days of Tishrei. It is described in the Torah as יום תרועה (Yom Teru'ah, a day of sounding [the Shofar]).[1] Rosh Hashanah customs include sounding the shofar and eating symbolic foods such as apples dipped in honey.



The term "Rosh Hashanah" does not appear in the Torah. Leviticus 23:24 refers to the festival of the first day of the seventh month as "Zikhron Teru'ah" ("a memorial with the blowing of horns"), it is also referred to in the same part of Leviticus as 'שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן' or penultimate Sabbath or meditative rest day, and a "holy day to God". These same words are commonly used in the Psalms to refer to the anointed days. Numbers 29:1 calls the festival Yom Teru'ah, ("Day [of] blowing [the horn]") and symbolizes a number of subjects, such as the Binding of Isaac and the animal sacrifices that were to be performed.[2][3] (The term Rosh Hashanah appears once in the Bible in Ezekiel 40:1 where it means generally the time of the "beginning of the year" or is possibly a reference to Yom Kipur,[2] but the phrase may also refer to the month of Nissan in the spring, especially in light of Exodus 12:2 where the month of Nissan is stated as being "the first month of the year" and Ezekiel 45:18 where "the first month" unambiguously refers to Nissan, the month of Passover, as made plain by Ezekiel 45:21.[4])

The Hebrew Rosh Ha-Shanah is etymologically related to the Arabic Ras as-Sanah, the name chosen by Muslim lawmakers for the Islamic New Year, reflecting the common Semitic ancestry of both languages and traditions. Pre-Islamic mid-eastern cultures, besides the Jews, did not use this unique name, e.g., Egypt, Persia or Babylon. Rosh Hashanah marks the start of a new year in the Hebrew calendar (one of four "new year" observances that define various legal "years" for different purposes as explained in the Mishnah and Talmud). It is the new year for people, animals, and legal contracts. The Mishnah also sets this day aside as the new year for calculating calendar years and sabbatical (shmita) and jubilee (yovel) years. Jews believe Rosh Hashanah represents either figuratively or literally the creation of the World, or Universe. However, according to Rabbi Eleazar ben Shammua Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of man.[5]

  Religious significance

The Mishnah contains the first known reference to Rosh Hashanah as the "day of judgment".[6] In the Talmud tractate on Rosh Hashanah it states that three books of account are opened on Rosh Hashanah, wherein the fate of the wicked, the righteous, and those of an intermediate class are recorded. The names of the righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life, and they are sealed "to live." The intermediate class are allowed a respite of ten days, until Yom Kippur, to reflect, repent and become righteous;[7] the wicked are "blotted out of the book of the living forever."[8]

In Jewish liturgy Rosh Hashanah is described as "the day of judgment" (Yom ha-Din) and "the day of remembrance" (Yom ha-Zikkaron). Some midrashic descriptions depict God as sitting upon a throne, while books containing the deeds of all humanity are opened for review, and each person passing in front of Him for evaluation of his or her deeds. The Talmud provides three central ideas behind the day:

"The Holy One said, 'on Rosh Hashanah recite before Me [verses of] Sovereignty, Remembrance, and Shofar blasts (malchuyot, zichronot, shofrot): Sovereignty so that you should make Me your King; Remembrance so that your remembrance should rise up before Me. And through what? Through the Shofar.' (Rosh Hashanah 16a, 34b)"[9] This is reflected in the prayers composed by the classical rabbinic sages for Rosh Hashanah found in all machzorim where the theme of the prayers is the strongest theme is the "coronation" of God as King of the universe in preparation for the acceptance of judgments that will follow on that day, symbolized as "written" into a Divine book of judgments, that then hang in the balance for ten days waiting for all to repent, then they will be "sealed" on Yom Kippur. The assumption is that everyone was sealed for life and therefore the next festival is Sukkot (Tabernacles) that is referred to as "the time of our joy" (z'man simchateinu).

  Shofar blowing

Laws on the form and use of the shofar and laws related to the religious services during the festival of Rosh Hashanah are described in Rabbinic literature such as the Mishnah that formed the basis of the tractate "Rosh HaShanah" in both the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud. This also contains the most important rules concerning the calendar year.[10]

The shofar is blown in long, short and staccato blasts that follow a set sequence:

  • Teki'ah (long sound) Numbers 10:3
  • Shevarim (3 broken sounds) Numbers 10:5
  • Teru'ah (9 short sounds) Numbers 10:9
  • Teki'ah Gedolah (very long sound) Exodus 19:16,19
  • Shevarim Teru'ah (3 broken sounds followed by 9 short sounds)

  Duration and timing

Rosh Hashanah occurs 163 days after the first day of Passover (Pesach). In terms of the Gregorian calendar, the earliest date on which Rosh Hashanah can fall is September 5, as happened in 1899 and will happen again in 2013. The latest date that Rosh Hashanah can occur relative to the Gregorian dates is October 5, as happened in 1967 and will happen again in 2043. After 2089, the differences between the Hebrew calendar and the Gregorian calendar will result in Rosh Hashanah falling no earlier than September 6.[11]

Rosh Hashanah will occur on the following days of the Gregorian calendar:

  • Current Jewish Year 5772: sunset September 28, 2011 - nightfall September 30, 2011
  • Coming Jewish Year 5773: sunset September 16, 2012 - nightfall September 18, 2012

Although the Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycle, so that the first day of each month originally began with the first sighting of a new moon, since the fourth century it has been arranged so that Rosh Hashanah never falls on a Wednesday, Friday, or Sunday.[12]

The Torah defines Rosh Hashanah as a one day celebration, and since days in the Hebrew calendar begin at sundown, the beginning of Rosh Hashanah is at sundown at the end of 29 Elul. The rules of the Hebrew calendar are designed such that the first day of Rosh Hashanah will never occur on the first, fourth, or sixth day of the Jewish week[13] (i.e., Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday). Since the time of the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the time of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, normative Jewish law appears to be that Rosh Hashanah is to be celebrated for two days, due to the difficulty of determining the date of the new moon.[2] Nonetheless, there is some evidence that Rosh Hashanah was celebrated on a single day in Israel as late as the thirteenth century CE.[14] Orthodox and Conservative Judaism now generally observe Rosh Hashanah for the first two days of Tishrei, even in Israel where all other Jewish holidays dated from the new moon last only one day. The two days of Rosh Hashanah are said to constitute "Yoma Arichtah" (Aramaic: "one long day"). In Reform Judaism, some communities only observe the first day of Rosh Hashanah, while others observe two days. Karaite Jews, who do not recognize Rabbinic Jewish oral law and rely on their own understanding of the Torah, observe only one day on the first of Tishrei, since the second day is not mentioned in the Written Torah.

  Pre-Rosh Hashanah customs

The Yamim Nora'im are preceded by the month of Elul, during which Jews are supposed to begin a self-examination and repentance, a process that culminates in the ten days of the Yamim Nora'im known as beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with the holiday of Yom Kippur.

The shofar is traditionally blown each morning for the entire month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah. The sound of the shofar is intended to awaken the listeners from their "slumbers" and alert them to the coming judgment.[15] The shofar is not blown on Shabbat.[16]

In the period leading up to the Yamim Nora'im (Hebrew, "days of awe") penitential prayers, called selichot, are recited.

  Rosh Hashanah eve

The evening before Rosh Hashanah day is known as Erev Rosh Hashanah ("Rosh Hashanah eve"). As with Rosh Hashanah day, it falls on the 1st day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, since days of the Hebrew calendar begin at sundown. Some communities perform Hatar'at nedarim (a nullification of vows) after the morning prayer services during the morning on the 29th of the Hebrew month of Elul, which ends at sundown, when Erev Rosh Hashanah commences. The mood becomes festive but serious in anticipation of the new year and the synagogue services. Many Orthodox men immerse in a mikveh in honor of the coming day.

  Rosh Hashanah prayer service

On Rosh Hashanah day, religious poems, called piyyuttim, are added to the regular services. A special prayer book, the mahzor, is used on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (plural mahzorim). A number of additions are made to the regular service, most notably an extended repetition of the Amidah prayer for both Shacharit and Mussaf. The Shofar is blown during Mussaf at several intervals. (In many synagogues, even little children come and hear the Shofar being blown.) Biblical verses are recited at each point. According to the Mishnah, 10 verses (each) are said regarding kinship, remembrance, and the shofar itself, each accompanied by the blowing of the shofar. A variety of piyyutim, medieval penitential prayers, are recited regarding themes of repentance. The Alenu prayer is recited during the repetition of the Mussaf Amidah.

  Symbolic foods

  Rosh Hashanah jams prepared by Libyan Jews
  Traditional Rosh Hashanah foods: Apples and honey, pomegranates, wine for kiddush

Rosh Hashanah meals usually include apples and honey, to symbolize a sweet new year. Other foods with a symbolic meaning may be served, depending on local minhag ("custom"), such as the head of a fish (to symbolize the "head" of the year).

The Sephardi and Mizrahi communities hold a "Rosh Hashanah seder" during which blessings are recited over a variety of symbolic dishes.[17][18][19] The blessings start with the phrase "Yehi ratzon," meaning "May it be thy will." In many cases, the name of the food in Hebrew or Aramaic represents a play on words or pun. The Yehi Ratson platter may include apples (dipped in honey, baked or cooked as a compote called mansanada); dates; pomegranates; black eyed peas; pumpkin-filled pastries called rodanchas; leek fritters called keftedes de prasa; beets; and a whole fish with the head intact. It is also common to eat stuffed vegetables called legumbres yaprakes.[20]

Some of the symbolic foods eaten are dates, black-eyed peas, leek, spinach and gourd, all of which are mentioned in the Talmud. Pomegranates are used in many traditions, to symbolize being fruitful like the pomegranate with its many seeds.[21] The use of apples and honey, symbolizing a sweet year, is a late medieval Ashkenazi addition, though it is now almost universally accepted. Typically, round challah bread is served, to symbolize the cycle of the year.[21]Gefilte fish and Lekach are commonly served by Ashkenazic Jews on this holiday. On the second night, new fruits are served to warrant inclusion of the shehecheyanu blessing.


  Hasidic Jews performing tashlikh on Rosh Hashanah, painting by Aleksander Gierymski, 1884

The ritual of tashlikh is performed on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Prayers are recited near natural flowing water, and one's sins are symbolically cast into the water. Many also have the custom to throw bread or pebbles into the water, to symbolize the "casting off" of sins. In some communities, if the first day of Rosh Hashanah occurs on Shabbat, tashlikh is postponed until the second day. The traditional service for tashlikh is recited individually and includes the prayer "Who is like unto you, O God...And You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea", and Biblical passages including Isaiah 11:9 ("They will not injure nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea") and Psalms 118:5-9, 121 and 130, as well as personal prayers. Though once considered a solemn individual tradition, it has become an increasingly social ceremony practiced in groups.

  Traditional greetings

  • On the first night of Rosh Hashanah after the evening prayer, it is the Ashkenazi and Hasidic custom to wish Le'shana Tova Tikoteiv Vetichoteim (Le'Alter LeChaim Tovim U'Leshalom) which is Hebrew for "May you (immediately) be inscribed and sealed for a Good Year (and for a Good and Peaceful Life)" [22]
  • Shana Tova (pronounced [ʃaˈna toˈva]) is the traditional greeting on Rosh Hashanah which in Hebrew means "A Good Year." (שנה טובה)
  • Shana Tova Umetukah is Hebrew for "A Good and Sweet Year." (שנה טובה ומתוקה)
  • Ketiva ve-chatima tovah which translates as "May You Be Written and Sealed for a Good Year." (כתיבה וחתימה טובה)
  • The formal Sephardic greeting is Tizku leshanim rabbot ("may you merit many years"), to which the answer is ne'imot ve-tovot ("pleasant and good ones"). Less formally, people wish each other "many years" in the local language.

  See also


  1. ^ Leviticus 23
  2. ^ a b c Jacobs, Louis. "Rosh Ha-Shanah." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 17. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 463-466.
  3. ^ See Numbers 29:1
  4. ^ Mulder, Otto (2003). Simon the High Priest in Sirach 50: An Exegetical Study of the Significance of Simon the High Priest As Climax to the Praise of the Fathers in Ben Sira's Concept of the History of Israel. BRILL. pp. 170. ISBN 9789004123168. 
  5. ^ OU on Elul
  6. ^ Tractate on Rosh Hashanah I,2
  7. ^ Tractate on Rosh Hashanah, I,16b
  8. ^ (Psalms 69:29).
  9. ^ ArtScroll Machzor, Rosh Hashanah. Overview, p. XV.
  10. ^ Tractate Rosh Hashanah 1:1
  11. ^ Rosh HaShanah and the Gregorian calendar
  12. ^ Why is Yom Kippur never on a Sunday
  13. ^ A popular mnemonic is "lo adu rosh" ("Rosh [Hashanah] is not on adu"), where adu has the numerical value 1-4-6 (corresponding to the numbering of days in the Jewish week, in which Saturday night and Sunday daytime make up the first day).
  14. ^ Rav David Bar-Hayim. "Rosh HaShanna One day or Two?". Machon Shilo website. Jerusalem: Machon Shilo. http://machonshilo.org/content/view/100/1/lang,english/. Retrieved 2008-09-25. "Includes link for Audio Shiur in English" 
  15. ^ Maimonides, Yad, Laws of Repentance 3:4
  16. ^ Jewish Law permits the Shofar to be blown in the presence of a rabbinical court called the Sanhedrin, which had not existed since ancient times. A recent group of Orthodox rabbis in Israel claiming to constitute a modern Sanhedrin held, for the first time in many years, an Orthodox shofar-blowing on Shabbat for Rosh Hashanah in 2006. TheSanhedrin.net: Shofar Blowing on Shabbat (translation of Haaretz article)
  17. ^ Exploring Sephardic Customs and Traditions, Marc Angel, p. 49
  18. ^ Maimon Family Yehi Ratzones
  19. ^ The Orthodox Union Yehi Ratzones
  20. ^ Sternberg, Robert The Sephardic Kitchen: The Healthful Food and Rich Culture of the Mediterranean Jews, Harper Collins, 1996, pp. 320-321, ISBN 0-06-017691-1
  21. ^ a b Spice and Spirit: The Complete Kosher Jewish Cookbook, 1990, New York, p. 508
  22. ^ Jewish Holiday Greeting Chart


  • Angel, Marc (2000). Exploring Sephardic Customs and Traditions. Hoboken, N.J.: KTAV Pub. House in association with American Sephardi Federation, American Sephardi Federation--South Florida Chapter, Sephardic House. ISBN 0-88125-675-7. 

  External links



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