Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah

What is Rosh Hashanah about exactly?

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 symbolic Book of Life is opened and we become advocates for our personal inscription in it. 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?

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 round challah loaves?

Traditionally Jews eat sweet foods — like apples and honey, challah and tzimmes — to symbolize a sweet new year. (Here are some Rosh Hashanah recipes you may want to try.) Chicken and brisket are frequently served at Rosh Hashanah meals. In Sephardic tradition, a number of foods believed to signify our wishes for the coming year are eaten, such as pomegranates, leeks and pumpkins. 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.” A similar expression is L’shana tova umetukah, 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. However, many Reform congregations observe only the first day. But the holidays don’t end there: Yom Kippur falls 10 days later, followed by Sukkot and Simchat Torah.

Is it true that you are supposed to throw bread in the water on Rosh Hashanah?

Yes, during the Tashlich ceremony, usually held on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Jews symbolically cast off their sins by throwing pieces of bread into a body of water. Click here for our Tashlich Prayer Booklet.