Rosh Hashanah ? More Than Mere Celebrations

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of a Hebrew calendar year. It is a serious occasion, more akin to the first day of school than the first day of January. It is a time to see how much we have grown over the year, in a Jewish sense – a time for accounting for spiritual, ethical and religious growth. Hence, the shofar, the ram’s horn: like the alarm clock on the morning of the first day of school, the piercing sounds of the shofar are a wake-up call, challenged to examine the lives led in the year just concluded, and to think about paths for the year ahead.

The two-day celebration of Rosh Hashanah is referred to as ?yoma arichta?, meaning one day, as the forty-eight hour long observance of Rosh Hashanah is considered to be one extended day. This observance of two days is observed not only in Diaspora but in Jerusalem as well. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the first day of Rosh Hashanah will fall only on the following days: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Shabbat. Moreover, there is a subtle difference between the second day of Rosh Hashanah celebrated when the months were calculated based on testimony and the second day celebrated at present. In the former period, if witnesses did not appear, the first day celebrated would be observed according to the dictate of the Rabbi and the second day would be at the behest of the holy book, Torah. Presently, as the calendar is dependent on fixed calculations, the first day Rosh Hashanah of is a Torah obligation and the second day is a Rabbinical enactment.

A custom observed on the first day of Rosh Hashanah in the afternoon (or on the second day in the afternoon if the first day is the Shabbat), is to gather at a stream or river to symbolically cast away one’s sins. The ceremony is known as ?Tashlich? (“cast off” in Hebrew) and involves the throwing of crumbs from one’s pockets into the running waters and the reciting of biblical verses. A central verse in the ceremony is from the Book of Micah (7:19): “And you kill cast [vetashlikh] all their sins in the depths of the sea.”

At the dawn of Rosh Hashanah, it is an old custom to go from house to house with a sack, where people, who have money, put coins in it and those who can?t afford it take coins out of the sack, but no one can know for certain, who donates and who takes away. This custom is known as Tzedakha, or ?Charity? which is observed in adherence to the Mitzvah or commandments which promulgates to share what we have with those in need.

Rosh Hashanah includes the standard holiday choreography of candle lighting and the Kiddush blessing over wine, complemented with a variety of culinary customs highlighting the day’s themes. These begin with a round Challah loaf, recalling a king’s crown – denoting God’s kingship — or alternately the ongoing continuity of the life cycle.

Apples are dipped in honey, expressing the hope that the coming year will be one of goodness and sweetness, and the following is recited: “May it be Your will, our God and God our ancestors, that our new year be good and sweet”. Honey other than being consumed with apple is also used to soak Challah, the traditional bread. In fact there are several dishes prepared with honey to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. Sephardic Jews serve covered fruit baskets so nobody knows what?s inside the basket, likewise no one knows what?s in store for the coming year.

Several other foods became customary to eat, because of the connection of their names (in Hebrew or Yiddish Aramaic) to our prayers for the coming year. Before each food, a prayer is said that begins: “May it be Your will, our God and God of our ancestors…”

On this holiday people spend most of their time praying in Synagogues. It provides them the opportunity to repent and pray for mercy to God side by side with their friends, family or loved ones. Married men dressed up in Kittel, traditional white attire as a symbol of purity. Likewise married women cover their head inside the synagogue. They pray and ardently listen to the ?chazan? which the rabbi recites.

However Rosh Hashanah is not merely about fun and frolicking. It is the time for prayer, profound personal introspection and the time for rekindling spiritual sensitivities. It is the time for the families and friends to look back and try to rectify the felonies that they have committed. Family members ask for forgiveness and forgive in return. Flipping through the family albums and remembering the fond memories of yesteryears is how some like to spend this holiday.

Sean Carter writes on holidays and celebrations around the world. He also writes on family, relationships, women?s issues, birthdays, inspiration, religion, love and friendship. He is a writer with special interest in e-card industry. He writes for

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