EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT ROSH HASHANAH (But were afraid to ask)

WHAT IS ROSH HASHANAH ALL ABOUT?

The festival of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a joyous occasion celebrated by members of the Jewish community all over the world. 

Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, a day of judgment and coronation, and the first sounding of the shofar for the year. This is a time for reflection and for wishing everyone a happy, healthy, sweet new year.

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It is the birthday of the universe, the day G‑d created Adam and Eve, and it’s celebrated as the head of the Jewish year. It’s the time when our fate stands in the balance as God reviews our past year and decides whether or not to renew our lease on His planet.

It occurs on the first two days of the Jewish New Year, Tishrei 1 and 2, beginning at sundown on the eve of Tishrei 1. It always begins at sundown and continues through nightfall on the next day.

ALL ABOUT LIGHTING OF THE CANDLES

Candles are lit to usher in all Jewish holidays, including Rosh Hashanah with warmth and light. Since Jewish days begin with the setting sun, a lit candle creates a sacred space, a glimmer in a dark night. 

Baruch atah adon-ai eloh-einu melech ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu lihadlik ner shel Yom HaZikaron.

Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandment to light candles for the Day of Judgment.

The next prayer is recited while lighting the candles, 

Baruch atah adon-ai elo-heinu melech haolam, shehechiyanu v’kiyimanu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh.

Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has given us life, and sustained us, and allowed us to reach this day.

ROSH HASHANAH BLESSINGS AND GREETINGS

Jewish greetings for this time of year reflect our prayers for a good, sweet year up ahead.

The catch-all greeting you can use for the entire season is “Shanah Tovah” (שנה טוב), which means “Good year.” The word “u’metuka” (ומתוקה), and sweet, is sometimes appended to the end.

Here are some other greetings that you may hear:

Before Rosh Hashanah, people wish each other “Ketivah v’chatima tovah”(כתיבה וחתימה טובה) “A good inscription and sealing [in the Book of Life].” On Rosh Hashanah eve, as we return from synagogue service, it is traditional to greet one another with “Leshana tovah tikatev v’tichatem” (לשנה טובה תכתב ותחתם). 

BLOWING THE SHOFAR

A shofar is a ram’s horn that is blown in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and every day during Elul, the Hebrew month that precedes Rosh Hashanah. It is also blown at the conclusion of Yom Kippur.

Made from the horn of a ram or other kosher animal, It is a very positive Torah commandment to hear the Shofar blasts on the day of Rosh Hashanah, as the verse states, “It shall be a day of [Shofar] blasts for you.”

TRADITIONAL FOODS ON ROSH HASHANAH

One of the most anticipated aspects of Rosh Hashanah is undeniably all of the delicious, sweet foods that Jewish people eat throughout the festival.

The sweet foods that are eaten during Rosh Hashanah are therefore meant to symbolize the hope for a sweet and happy year ahead.

The dipping of the apple in the honey is one of the most recognizable traditions associated with Rosh Hashanah, a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries.

This is accompanied by a song that is taught to young children at cheder (Jewish Sunday school), which goes: “Dip the apple in the honey, make a Bracha [blessing] loud and clear. L’Shana Tova U’Metuka, have a happy sweet New Year.”  We dip the honey in the apple because apples are connected to the Garden of Eden, which has been described as smelling like an apple orchard (Genesis 27:27). Just as significant, apples are considered a sweet fruit, and the honey adds lots more sweetness. 

In addition to dipping the apple in the honey, Jewish people also frequently eat honey cake, pomegranates, and round raisin loaves of challah to see in the New Year.

SYMBOLIC NEW FRUIT

There is a tradition at Rosh Hashanah to eat symbolic foods (simanim) meant to help ensure a good New Year. 

On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, it is common to eat a new fruit– a fruit that participants have not tasted for a long time. This tradition has become a way to literally taste the newness of the year, by enjoying an unfamiliar food. Often, pomegranate is used as the new fruit, as the pomegranate is said to have 613 seeds, corresponding to the 613 mitzvot (commandments). The pomegranate has also long been a symbol of fertility, and thus of the unlimited possibilities for the New Year.

OTHER ROSH HASHANAH FOOD

It is traditional to serve the head of a fish or lamb (though meat substitutes would also do the trick for vegetarians) in the hope that everyone at the table will be at the “head” and not at the “tail” of whatever they do in the New Year. You might add personal meaning to these rituals by asking everyone at the table to offer a wish for the New Year as they dip the apple or challah in honey. 

Another traditional dish for the Jewish New Year is Carrot or Gezer in Hebrew which sounds very much like g’zar, the Hebrew word for decree. Eating them on Rosh Hashanah is meant to express our desire that G-d will nullify any negative decrees against us.

DIPPING HONEY WITH CHALLAH

Dipping challah bread in honey instead of salt, (the usual tradition which is done every Shabbat evening) is to symbolize further how we emphasize the significance of wishing for a year filled with sweetness and blessings.

GUIDE TO THE ORDER OF THE HOLIDAY BLESSINGS

The tradition of the Rosh Hashanah festive meal is chock full of blessings, here we offer our guide to help you maneuver through them all.

The Order of the Rosh Hashanah Ritual

  • Lighting Candles
  • Reciting Kiddush (sanctifying the day with a blessing over the wine) 
  • Washing Hands 
  • Chanting Hamotzi (a blessing over the bread)
  • Blessing over apples and honey
  • The new fruit
  1. Lighting Candles – The holiday celebration begins with the lighting of candles, symbolizing the transition between profane and sacred time, much like the lighting of candles both at the beginning and end of Shabbat.

Praised are You, Our Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe whose commandments add holiness to our lives and who gave us the commandment to kindle lights for (Shabbat and for) the Festival. 

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, Asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav, V’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel (Shabbat v’shel) Yom Tov.

After lighting the candles, you say Shehecheyanu to thank God for enabling us to reach this season.   

  1. Reciting Kiddush We sanctify the holiday by reciting the special Kiddush (blessing over wine) for Rosh Hashanah. It is a custom to ensure that all family members and guests are able to participate by holding and drinking from their own cup of wine or grape juice. 

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.

Baruch atah Ado-nai Elo-heinu melech ha’olam borei p’ri hagafen. 

  1. Washing Hands

Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments to wash our hands. Baruch atah Ado-nai Elo-heinu melech ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu, al netilat yadayim.

  1. Chanting Hamotzi (a blessing over the bread)

Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

Baruch atah Ado-nai, Elo-heinu melech ha’olam, hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz. 

Dip a piece of bread in honey, take a bite, and pass the challah around the table.

  1. Blessing Over Apples And Honey

 Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, king of the universe, who created the fruit of the tree.

Baruch atah adon-ai elo-heinu melech ha’olam borei p’ri ha’eitz.

Recite this line before you take the first bite:

May it be Your will to renew for us a good and sweet year.

Yehi ratzon shet’chadesh aleinu shanah tovah um’tukah. Now dip and enjoy!

  1. The New Fruit (For the second night of Rosh Hashanah)

Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has given us life, and sustained us, and allowed us to reach this day. 

Baruch atah adon-ai elo-heinu melech haolam, shehechiyanu v’kiyimanu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh. 

THE ROSH HASHANAH SEDER

A number of other food-based rituals can also enliven the home celebration of Rosh Hashanah. Sephardic communities (which trace their ancestry to Mediterranean lands) have developed a Rosh Hashanah Seder, which revolves around the eating of symbolic foods and the recitation of prayers that transform these foods into wishes for the coming year.

Many of these prayers are based on Hebrew puns involving the food in question. For instance, the prayer before eating a date (tamar in Hebrew) includes the phrase “yitamu hataim”— may the wicked cease. 

Before eating pumpkin or squash (k’ra’a in Hebrew), Sephardic Jews say “yikaru l’fanekha z’khuyoteinu“– may our good deeds call out our merit before you. Alternatively, they might use the resemblance between the word k’ra’a (pumpkin) and the word kara (to cut or rip) to express the hope that any bad deeds will be ripped out of God’s book.

Other symbolic foods include leeks and onions, which are associated with the Exodus from Egypt; beets, whose Aramaic name silka, similar to the Hebrew salak (go away) is used to express the hope that our enemies disappear; and peas or beans, mentioned in the Talmud as ruviah, a word that sounds like the Hebrew “to increase,” and therefore indicates a desire for increased blessings in the new year.

THE TASHLICH

The tashlich is a Jewish rite, in which the participants symbolically cast off their sins by gathering along the banks of a river, stream, or the like and reciting prayers of repentance. A fun tradition includes bringing small pieces of bread to feed to the fish.

The ceremony includes reading the source passage for the practice, the last verses from the prophetMicah (7:19), “He will take us back in love; He will cover up our iniquities. You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”

Selections from Psalms, particularly Psalm 118 and Psalm 130, along with supplications and a kabbalistic prayer hoping God will treat Israel with mercy, are parts of Tashlich in various communities.

Rosh Hashanah can be an opportunity for reflecting on the year that has passed and setting goals for the year to come. Taking time for such reflection can make the themes of the holiday come alive for the entire family.

Wishing everyone a healthy, prosperous, and sweet New Year! 

SHANA TOVAH U’METUKA Y’ALL

How to Care For A Shofar

A shofar is an ancient Jewish musical instrument made from a ram’s horn, used for religious purposes. It’s blown on Rosh Hashanah and at the end of Yom Kippur; the shofar is also sounded every weekday morning in the month of Elul leading up to Rosh Hashanah. Shofars are available in various sizes and shapes, depending on the animal chosen and the level of finish desired.

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