Rosh HaShanah: Rosh HaShanah in Hebrew, ראשׁ הַשָׁנַה, literally means “head of the year”.  In most communities Rosh HaShanah is commonly referred to as the “Jewish New Year”.

It is observed on the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar.  It is ordained in the Torah as Zicaron Teruah, זיִכַּרוֹן תֶרּעַה, a memorial with the blowing of horns or Yom HaZikkaron, יוֹם חָזיִכַּרוֹן, the day of remembrance, which is instituted in Leviticus 23:24-25.  The name “Rosh HaShanah” is not used in the Torah to discuss this holiday. Rosh HaShanah is the first of the High Holidays or Yamim Noraim, יָמיִם נוֹרַיִם, (Days of Awe) or “Asseret Yemei Teshuvah” (Ten Days of Repentance), which are days specifically set aside to focus on repetance that conclude with the holiday of Yom Kippur.  It is common, on the eve of Rosh HaShanah, to gather a mini-court of three men and declare in their presence one’s desire to be free of all personal vows undertaken during the previous year.

Rosh HaShanah is the start of the civil year in the Hebrew calendar (one of four “new year” observances that define various legal “years” for different purposes as explained in the Mishnah and Talmud).  It is the new year for people, animals, and legal contracts. The Mishnah also sets this day aside as the new year for calculating calendar years and sabbatical (shmita) and jubilee (yovel) years.  Jews believe Rosh HaShanah represents either analogically or literally the creation of the World, or Universe.  The Mishnah, the core text of the oral Torah, contains the first known reference to Rosh HaShanah as the “day of judgement”.  In the Talmud it states that three books of account are opened on Rosh HaShanah, wherein the fate of the wicked, the righteous, and those of an intermediate class are recorded. The names of the righetous are immediately inscribed in the book of life, and they are sealed “to live”. The middle class are allowed a respite of ten days, until Yom Kippur, to repent and become righteous; the wicked are “blotted out of the book of the living”.

There are a number of additions to the regular Jewish service, most notably an extended repetition of the Amidah prayer for both Shacharit and the longest Mussaf of any holiday. Religious services for the holiday focus on the concept of G-d’s sovereignty.  The Rosh HaShanah liturgy depicts God sitting upon his throne, inscribing each of his creatures in the Book of Life (or the opposite); each person’s livelihood is determined for the coming year, as well. There is a threefold prescription to help in obtaining a favorable decree: teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer), tzedakah (charity).  No work is permitted on Rosh HaShanah and much of the day is spent in a synagogue.  The traditional Hebrew greeting on Rosh HaShanah is שנה טובה, shana tova, which means, “good year”.  Another greeting is shana tova umetukah, “good and sweet year”. Because Jews and the world are being judged by G-d for the coming year, a longer greeting, ketiva ve-chatima tovah, “may you be written and sealed for a good year”. It is customary that during the afternoon of the first day (second day if the first coincides with Shabbat) the practice of tashlikh is observed, in which prayers are recited near natural flowing water, and one’s sins are symbolically cast into the water. Many also have the custom to throw bread or pebbles into the water, to symbolize the “casting off” of sins.

The Shofar is a ram’s horn which is blown somewhat like a trumpet.  One of the most important observances of this holiday is hearing the sounding of the shofar in the synagogue. A total of 100 notes are sounded each day.  There are four different types of shofar notes: tekiah, a 3 second sustained note; shevarim, three 1-second notes rising in tone; teruah, a series of short, staccato notes extending over a period of about 3 seconds; and tekiah gedolah (literally, “big tekiah”), the final blast in a set, which lasts (I think) 10 seconds minium. The Torah gives no specific reason for this practice. One that has been suggested is that the shofar’s sound is a call to repentance. The shofar is not blown if the holiday falls on Shabbat.  Another popular observance during this holiday is eating apples dipped in honey, a symbol of our wish for a sweet new year.