Rosh Hashanah is the holiday marking the Jewish new year, and leads into the Days of Awe, serving as a time to both rejoice and engage in self-reflection. The period concludes with Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.
While Rosh Hashanah always occurs in September or October, the exact day varies because it’s based on the Jewish calendar instead of a Gregorian calendar and follows the moon instead of the sun. In 2018, Rosh Hashanah will begin on Sunday evening at sundown and conclude at sundown on Tuesday.
Why sundown instead of midnight like Christian and secular holidays? The Torah defines the day as beginning with evening, as stated in Genesis: “And there was evening, and there was morning, one day.”
Rosh Hashanah falls in the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, Tishrei, when God is said to have created the world, hence the celebration of the new year. While it’s a day of joy, you likely won’t find any party hats or fireworks going off at your Rosh Hashanah dinner.
Many Jewish people mark the holiday with a nice dinner, commonly featuring apples dipped in honey for dessert. Meant to symbolize the hope for a sweet new year, some families will also eat honey cake and even dip a piece of challah bread in honey.
Several prayers are often said before the dinner, including a blessing of the candles that translates to, “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to light the candles of the holiday.” Other blessings are said over a glass of wine and apples, as well.
A shofar, or a trumpet made from a ram’s horn, is traditionally blown in four sets of notes on Rosh Hashanah, according to History.com. A long blast called tekiah, three short blasts known as shevarim, teruah, which is nine staccato blasts, and tekiah gedolah, a very long blast.
Following the conclusion of Rosh Hashanah, the 10 days of repentance begin, culminating with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, one of the most important holidays in the Jewish faith.
Interestingly enough, the Torah doesn’t mention the holiday by the name of Rosh Hashanah, History.com reported, and its first mention occurs in Mishna, a Jewish code of law, in 200 A.D. The description of the holiday, however, is mentioned in both Numbers 29:1-2 and Leviticus 23:24-25, which say, according to My Jewish Learning:
“In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations…. You shall observe it as a day when the horn is sounded. You shall present a burnt offering of pleasing odor to the Lord.”
“In the seventh month on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts. You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall bring an offering by fire to the Lord.”
This year, Rosh Hashanah falls on the anniversary of the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, and Yaakov Wilansky director of CTeen & Friendship Circle Programs for the Chabad of Roslyn in Roslyn Heights, New York, is going to mark the day with a special blowing of the shofar outside a fire station that lost two first responders.
“Rosh Hashanah is called the day of remembrance, it’s a day of remembrance, so we want to pay tribute and also remember the fallen, to acknowledge the volunteers and pay tribute to them,” Wilansky told Chabad. “On this day of Rosh Hashanah, we want to bless them to have a safe and sweet new year, that they should know no more sorrow.”
Israel hosted a special memorial service on Thursday to honor the lives that were lost during the attacks because of the conflict with the Rosh Hashanah holiday.
It’s not uncommon for Jewish people to invite their non-Jewish friends to celebrate, so if you find yourself at a Rosh Hashanah dinner for the first time, feel free to toss an “L’Shana Tova” out there, which means “good year.”