Hashanah is the autumnal festival celebrating the start of the Jewish New Year.
Hashanah occurs on the first and
second days of Tishri.
the phrase Rosh Hashanah literally means "head of the year" and thus the holiday is commonly
known as the Jewish New Year. This name is somewhat
deceptive to those unaffiliated with Jewish practices, however, as there is little similarity between
Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days in the Jewish year,
and the Western, secular interpretation of New Years.
There is, however, one important similarity
between the Jewish New Year and the secular one: many
people use New Years as a time to make "resolution" and plan to lead a better
life. Likewise, the
Jewish New Year is a time to begin introspection, looking
back at the mistakes of the past year and planning the
changes to make in the new year. This period of introspection does not end at the conclusion of Rosh HaShanah but actualy stretches for ten days, known commonly as the Days of
Awe, until Yom Kippur.
The name "Rosh Hashanah"
is not used in the Bible to discuss this holiday. The
Bible refers to the holiday as Yom HaZikkaron (the
day of remembrance) or Yom T'ruah (the day of the sounding
of the shofar).
The holiday is instituted in Leviticus 23:24-25.
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 minimum. The Bible 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 a Sabbath.
No work is permitted on Rosh Hashanah.
Another popular observance during this
holiday is eating apples dipped in honey, a symbol of
our wish for a sweet new year. We also dip bread in
honey (instead of the usual practice of sprinkling salt
on it) at this time of year for the same reason. In
addition to dipping an apple honey, we eat round challah
bread to symbolize the circle of the life and the cycle
of a new year. The challah is also in the shape of a
crown because we refer to God as royalty several times
throughout the holidays.
Another popular practice of the holiday
is Tashlikh ("casting off"). We walk to flowing
water, such as a creek or river, on the afternoon of
the first day and empty our pockets into the river,
symbolically casting off our sins. This practice is
not discussed in the Bible, but is a long-standing custom.
Religious services for the holiday
focus on the concept of God's sovereignty.
The common greeting at this time is L'shanah tovah ("for a good year").
This is a shortening of "L'shanah tovah tikatev
v'taihatem" (or to women, "L'shanah
tovah tikatevi v'taihatemi"), which means "May
you be inscribed and sealed for a good year." More
on that concept at Days of Awe.
You may notice that the Bible speaks
of Rosh Hashanah as occurring on the first day of the
seventh month. The first month of the Jewish
calendar is Nissan, occurring in March and April.
Why, then, does the Jewish "new year" occur
in Tishri, the seventh month?
Judaism has several different "new years," a concept
which may seem strange at first, but think of it this
way: the American "new year" starts in January,
but the new "school year" starts in September,
and many businesses have "fiscal years" that
start at various times of the year. In Judaism, Nissan
1 is the new year for the purpose of counting the reign
of kings and months on the calendar, Elul 1 (in August)
is the new year for the tithing of animals, Shevat 15 (in
February) is the new year for trees (determining when
first fruits can be eaten, etc.), and Tishri 1 (Rosh
Hashanah) is the new year for years (when we increase
the year number. Sabbatical and Jubilee years begin
at this time).
Marcia Pravder Mirkin states that,
"On Rosh Hashanah we read the tragic and transforming
family story of Sarah, Hagar, Abrham, Ishmael, and Isaac.
We read it on a holiday that emphasizes teshuvah,
turning around, becoming a better person, living a life
closer to what God wants from us. How can we experience teshuvah?...teshuvah needs to include
empathy, empathetic listening, paying attention, hearing
beyond words to the soul and meaning of what is uttered...On
Rosh Hashanah we ask God to be empathetic toward us,
even tough empathy was so often lacking in ourselves."
Day of Jewish Holidays for an explanation of why
this holiday is celebrated for two days instead of the
one specified in the Bible.
Rosh Hashanah will begin at sunset on the night preceeding the following days in the American calendar:
- September 25, 2014 (5775)
- September 14, 15, 2015 (5776)