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Rosh HaShanah

Rosh Hashanah is a Jewish holiday marking the first and second days of the Jewish year. (In 2022, Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Sunday, September 25, and continues through nightfall on Tuesday, September 27). It’s the day G‑d created Adam and Eve, and it’s celebrated as the head of the Jewish year.

 

Rosh Hashanah Is Celebrated With

  • Hearing the sounding of the ram’s horn (shofar) on both mornings
  • Lighting candles each evening
  • Eating festive meals with sweet delicacies during the night and day, which include:
  • Kiddush over wine or grape juice
  • Round, raisin challah bread dipped in honey
  • Apples dipped in honey (on the first night)
  • The head of a fish, pomegranates, and other foods symbolizing our wishes for the coming year (on the first night)
  • A new fruit (on the second night)
  • Performing Tashlich, a brief prayer said at a body of fresh water
  • Attending services in synagogue (House of prayer)
  • Desisting from creative work

The Shofar-Blowing

A Yemenite Jew blows shofar (circa 1930s).

Rabbi Ovadia Tank blowing the shofar

The central observance of Rosh Hashanah is hearing the sounding of the shofar,the ram’s horn. It is a mitzvah to hear the shofar on both mornings of the holiday (except if the first day is Shabbat, in which case we only blow the shofar on the second day).

The first 30 blasts of the shofar are blown following the Torah-reading during morning services, and as many as 70 are then blown during (and immediately after) the Musaf service. For someone who cannot come to synagogue, the shofar may be blown the rest of the day. If you cannot make it out, please contact your Rabbi to see about arranging a “house call.”

The shofar is representative of the calls of the biblical prophets who called upon the Jewish people to become better in the service of God. The shofar also evokes the freedom we gained when we returned to the Holy Land, the destruction of the Temple, and the need to keep fighting for its renewal.

 

What are the 4 sounds of the shofar?

The shofar has four sounds: Tekiah, a long, loud blast calling people to attention; Shevarim, three broken blows which sound like crying; Teruah, nine or more staccato rings serving as a wakeup call to the new year; and Tekiah Gedolah, a great blast played at the end of the Rosh Hashanah service.

 

If one blows with the shofar facing downwards it is unacceptable,22 since the shofar must be blown in the position that it faces in nature, upwards. One must blow from the narrow end, the side facing the Heavens in nature23 If one widens the narrow end and narrows the wide end it will not be a kosher shofar.

A long and loud shofar blast marks the end of the fast day of Yom Kippur. While the blower must first take a big breath, the shofar only sounds when the air blows out. This is a symbol for Rosh Hashanah: we must turn inward to fix ourselves so we can then burst out and contribute to the world.

 

 

Candle-Lighting 

Shabbat and holiday dinners are ushered in with candle lighting (Photo: Mushka Lightstone).

As with every major Jewish holiday, women and girls light candles on each evening of Rosh Hashanah and recite the appropriate blessings. On the second night (or if lighting after nightfall on the first night), make sure to use an existing flame. Think about a new fruit that you will be eating (or garment that you are wearing) while you say the Shehechiyanu blessing. 

 

Festive Meal

We eat festive meals every night and day of the holiday. Like all other holiday meals, we begin by reciting kiddush over wine and then say the blessing over bread. But there are some important differences, as we’ll explain below.

 

Round Challah in Honey

Round challah is a traditional Rosh Hashanah treat.

The bread (traditionally baked into round challah loaves, and often sprinkled with raisins) is dipped into honey instead of salt, expressing our wish for a sweet year. We do this on Rosh Hashanah, Shabbat Shuvah (the Shabbat before Yom Kippur), in the pre-Yom Kippur meal and during Sukkot.

 

Apples in Honey

On Rosh Hashanah, we eat pomegranate to ask G-d that our merits multiply like the seeds of this delicious fruit.

On Rosh Hashanah, we eat pomegranate to ask G-d that our merits multiply like the seeds of this delicious fruit.

Furthering the sweet theme, it is traditional to begin the meal on the first night with slices of apple dipped in honey. Before eating the apple, we make the ha’eitz blessing and then say, “May it be Your will to renew for us a good and sweet year.”

 

Fish Head and Pomegranates

Many people eat parts of the head of a fish or a ram, expressing the wish that “we be a head and not a tail.”

In many communities, there are additional traditional foods eaten, each symbolizing a wish for the coming year. Many eat pomegranates, giving voice to a wish that “our merits be many like the [seeds of the] pomegranate.” Another common food is tzimmes, a sweet, carrot-based dish eaten because of its Yiddish name, merren, which means both “carrot” and “increase,” symbolizing a wish for a year of abundance.

 

Keep It Sweet

It is traditional to avoid nuts as well as vinegar-based, sharp foods, most notably the horseradish traditionally eaten with gefilte fish, since we don’t want a bitter year.

New Fruit

On the second night of the holiday, before we break bread (and dip it in honey), we eat a “new fruit,” something we have not tasted since the last time it was in season. 

 

Rosh Hashanah Greetings

When you meet a fellow Jew on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, wish him, “Leshana tovah tikatev v’tichatem,” or, for a female, “Leshana tovah tikatevee v’tichatemee” (“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year”). After the first night, wish them a “G’mar chatimah tovah” (“A good inscription and sealing [in the Book of Life]”).

 

Tashlich

Credit: Collection of Yeshiva University Museum

On the first afternoon of Rosh Hashanah (provided that it is not Shabbat), it is customary to go to a body of water (ocean, river, pond, etc.) and perform the Tashlich ceremony, in which we ceremonially cast our sins into the water. With this tradition we are symbolically evoking the verse “And You shall cast their sins into the depths of the sea.” The short prayer for this service can be found in your machzor.

 

Rosh Hashanah Prayers

Much of the day is spent in the synagogue. The evening and afternoon prayers are similar to the prayers said on a regular holiday. However, the morning services are significantly longer.

The holiday prayerbook—called a machzor—contains all the prayers and Torah readings for the entire day. The most significant addition is the shofar-blowing ceremony. However, there are also other important elements of the prayer service that are unique to Rosh Hashanah.

 

Torah Readings

A Torah scroll

 

A Torah scroll

The Torah is read on both mornings of Rosh Hashanah.

On the first day, we read about Isaac’s birth and the subsequent banishment of Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21:1–34). Appropriately, the reading is followed by a haftarah reading about the birth of Samuel the Prophet (I Samuel 1:1–2:10). There is a common theme in these readings: prayers for children were answered, and both births took place on Rosh Hashanah.

On the second morning, we read about Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac, a powerful display of Abraham’s devotion to G‑d, which has characterized His children ever since (Genesis 22:1–24). As mentioned above, the shofar-blowing recalls the ram, which figures prominently in this story. The haftarah tells of G‑d’s eternal love for His people (Jeremiah 31:1–19).

 

Extra Prayers

The open ark in the main sanctuary of Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie.

The open ark in the main sanctuary

The cantor’s repetition of the Amidah (Silent Prayer) is peppered with piyyutim, poetic prayers that express our prayerful wishes for the year and other themes of the day. For certain selections, those deemed especially powerful, the ark is opened. Many of these additions are meant to be said responsively, as a joint effort between the prayer leader and the congregation.

Even without the added piyyutim, the Rosh Hashanah Musaf prayer is significantly longer than it is the rest of the year. This is because its single middle blessing is divided into three additional blessings, each focusing on another one of the holiday’s main themes: G‑d’s kingship, our wish that He “remember” us for the good, and the shofar. Each blessing contains a collage of biblical verses that express its theme, and is then followed by a round of shofar-blowing.

 

What’s Next?

Rosh Hashanah is the start of the Yamim Nora’im (High Holidays). The holy day of Yom Kippur, when we gather in the synagogue for 25 hours of fasting, prayer and inspiration, is just a week later. The days in between (known as the 10 Days of Repentance, or the Ten Days of Return) are an especially propitious time for teshuvah, returning to G‑d. Yom Kippur is followed by the joyous holidays of Sukkot also known as Feast of Tabernacles. It goes on for 7 days, just like G-d commanded in the Torah. For Sukkot, Jewish people build a hut, the sukkah, in their garden. And Simchat Torah (last day of sukkot) when we start reading the Torah from Bereishit (Genesis) again.

The season of the High Holidays is an epic journey for the soul, and Rosh Hashanah is where it all begins.

Wishing you all a sweet blessed new year!

Rabbi Ovadiah, Esther, Bracha Malka, Shaina Elisa and Liora Rachel Tank

Mon, October 3 2022 8 Tishrei 5783