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.
It’s the start of the Jewish month of Tishrei, or Tishri, which falls in September or October, according to the Gregorian calendar. It’s the first month of the civil year for Jews or the seventh month of the ecclesiastical year. Some years, Rosh Hashanah can start in early September or as late as early October.
What is Rosh Hashanah ?
It marks the start of the Jewish New Year, as stated in the Bible (Leviticus 23:23-31).
While some ancient cultures, such as the Celts, celebrated the start of a new year during the spring equinox because it was the time of planting, Semitic cultures in the Near East celebrated the new year in the fall, after the harvest was gathered. The name of Rosh Hashanah can be translated as “first” or “head of the year.” It is also sometimes called “The Feast of Trumpets.”
Given that the Hebrew calendar is more than a week shorter than the Gregorian calendar and, according to tradition, originated with the biblical creation of the universe, this holiday will mark the beginning of the year 5781 for Jews worldwide.
Rosh Hashanah Traditions
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 they 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.
As with every major Jewish holiday, women and girls light candles on each evening of Rosh Hashanah and recite the appropriate blessings.
When lighting on Friday evening, be sure to light well before sunset, and on the following night, be sure night has fallen before you light. 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.
Rosh Hashanah Food
Rosh Hashanah meals usually include apples dipped in 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 prayer “let us be the head and not the tail”).
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, they make the ha’eitz blessing and then say, “May it be Your will to renew for us a good and sweet year.”
Many people eat parts of the head of a fish or a ram, expressing the wish that “they be a head and not a tail.”
Rosh Hashanah Festive Meal
They eat festive meals every night and day of the holiday. Like all other holiday meals, they begin by reciting kiddush over wine and then say the blessing over bread. But there are some important differences, as we’ll explain below.
The bread (traditionally baked into round challah loaves, and often sprinkled with raisins) is dipped into honey instead of salt, expressing thier wish for a sweet year. We do this on Rosh Hashanah, Shabbat Shuvah (the Shabbat before Yom Kippur), at the pre-Yom Kippur meal and during Sukkot.