What is Rosh Hashanah?
Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) is simultaneously a time of great celebration and subtle trepidation. It is a day to celebrate our creation, but also a day of accounting and judgment for our actions. On Rosh Hashanah, we relate to God as the Ultimate Judge. The Book of Life is opened before the Divine Being and we become advocates for our personal inscription into this book. We review the choices we have made over the past year, our actions and our intentions, as we attempt to honestly evaluate ourselves. You may want to consult this list of questions to help in your introspection.
What is a shofar?
A shofar is a ram’s horn that is blown like a trumpet during the Jewish month of Elul that leads up to Rosh Hashanah, at Rosh Hashanah services and at the end of Yom Kippur. The four sounds of the shofar–tekiah, shevarim, teruah, and tekiah gedolah – remind many people of a crying voice. Hearing the shofar’s call is a reminder for us to look inward and repent for the sins of the past year.
What traditional foods are served? Are any foods forbidden? And what’s the reason for those round challah loaves?
Traditionally Jews eat sweet foods — like apples and honey, challah, and tzimmes — to symbolize a sweet new year. In Sephardic tradition, a number of foods believed to signify our wishes for the coming year, such as pomegranates, leeks and pumpkins, also appear on the Rosh Hashanah table. All foods that can be eaten year-round are permitted. And the challah? It’s round as a reminder of the never-ending cycle of life.
What do “shana tova” and “gmar hatima tova” mean?
Shana tova means “Have a good year” or “Happy New Year.” A similar expression is L’shana tova tikatevu, which means “for a good and sweet year.” Gmar hatima tova literally means “a good signing/sealing.” This is a traditional greeting during the days from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, referring to the belief that on Rosh Hashanah our fates are written, or inscribed, in the Book of Life, and on Yom Kippur we are sealed in it.
How long does Rosh Hashanah last?
Traditionally Jews observe two days of Rosh Hashanah: in 2016, it is from sundown on Sunday, October 2 and ends on the evening of Tuesday, October 4. But the holidays don’t end there: Yom Kippur falls 10 days later, followed by Sukkot, and Simchat Torah.
What prayers do we read on Rosh Hashanah?
While some of the liturgy is similar to other weekday or Shabbat services, much of it is unique, and several of these prayers are repeated later on Yom Kippur. Arguably the most famous part of Rosh Hashanah services is the blowing of the shofar, and the most famous prayer is Unetanah Tokef. A close second is “Avinu Malkeinu,” which means “our father, our king.”