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Rosh Hashanah

 The month of Elul is the final month in the Jewish year. This month is a particularly propitious time for prayer, self introspection, and repentance. It is a time of intense spiritual preparation for the coming year and the upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashanah. 

Rosh Hashanah is the first and second days of the first Jewish month of Tishrei. It marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year. The celebration of this holiday is marked with solemnity, as it is the day on which the whole world is judged for the coming year. Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world, as it was on this day that G-d created Man on the 6th day of creation. Every year, on this day, we proclaim G-d as our one and true King.

New Beginnings
by Dina Coopersmith from

Rosh Hashana presents a puzzle. It is a celebration of a New Year and a fearsome day of judgment at the same time. How are we to understand this contradiction?

Rosh Hashana is a paradox. On the one hand it is a celebration -- the sweetness of a new year, along with festive clothes and special foods. On the other hand it is a day of judgment: "Who will live and who will die?"

There are more puzzling elements to Rosh Hashana. The holiday includes the first and second of the Ten Days of Repentance, culminating in Yom Kippur. And yet, the prayers of Rosh Hashana mention nothing about repentance. There is no confession of our sins, no regret about the past, no recriminations. So, is Rosh Hashana a day of repentance, or not?

We know it's a day of judgment. And if we are being judged for our behavior this past year, then we'd expect to see at least a few repentance days coming before the day of judgment, not after.

And why are we judged on the first day of the new year? Wouldn't it be more fitting to be judged at the end of the previous year? Some way to celebrate a Happy New Year -- go on trial!

All these inconsistencies demand further investigation.

Spiritual Energy

Every holiday in the Jewish year has a certain spiritual energy and potential which is responsible for creating the holiday. In essence, every year we travel through the cycle of holidays and come again to that same point in time, and to that same event which happened on this date with its spirit and potential intact.

For instance, on Passover we come around to the time of freedom from bondage. All aspects of God's revelation and redemption are available to us again each year, as they were when the Jewish people left Egypt . Other holidays follow the same pattern.

So, what about Rosh Hashana? What historical event happened on this day? Are we commemorating anything? What's the energy inherent on the first day of Tishrei?

In the prayers of Rosh Hashana we get a hint:

This is the day of the beginning of Your creation, a memorial of the first day ... today is the conception of the world.

It seems that the world was created on Rosh Hashana!

Tradition tells us that man was created on this day, and this is where our calendar begins. We date back to Day One of creation of man.

This is the day of the beginning of creation, like R' Eliezer said: "In Tishrei the world was created." (Talmud, Rosh Hashana 27a)

There is a dispute about this in the Talmud. Was the world created on Rosh Hashana, or on Passover? The Tosfot resolves the issue:

Rabbi Yehoshua says differently from Rabbi Eliezer that the world was created in Nissan (the month of Passover) but these and these are words of the living God. And we should assume that in Tishrei, the thought to create came up in [God's] mind, but it was not brought into creation until Nissan. (Tosfot Rosh Hashana 27a)

What could this mean? Does God have a mind? Can something come up in His mind and take six months to "gel"? To plan out and execute? God is above time, and the concept of time wasn't even created until the fourth day of creation along with the sun and the moon! This cannot be a literal description of events. What then is the lesson being taught through this resolution of the creation-day dispute?

God obviously didn't sit and mull over His grand plan to create the world from Rosh Hashana till Passover. Rather, God created the concept of the world on this day, the blueprint, the plan, the idea. This day is a day meant for conception anew, a re-creation, a "pregnancy" of a plan, not for the execution. This is the inherent energy which we can tap into every year.

Every Rosh Hashana we enter into that primal event of pre-creation once again, that time before all time began. There is a planning anew of the world -- in essence. We don't exist in the past at all -- there is no past on this day; the world has not been created yet!

We can begin to fathom the intensity of this idea when we return to one of our earlier questions. Why is there no repentance on this day? No regret, no mention of sins? Because there is no past to regret and repent for. We are recreated today from scratch, with an empty slate.

A new plan of action

The prayers on Rosh Hashana focus instead on God's reign, on God's renewal of His kingdom for another year. God judges His world and the creatures within it on this day, determining their worthiness of existence and their status and circumstances for the New Year.

Since this judgment is not based on our past, for we are "new," pastels beings on this day, what then is it based on? How does God decide whether we are signed in the Book of Life?

We are expected on this day to conceive of a plan, to engage in a vision of the future, to have ambition and desire to take an active part in the Almighty's supreme kingdom in the coming year. And this is what the judgment is based on.

To the extent that we can remove ourselves from our past limitations, and reach for the stars, see ourselves as new beings involved in a new and ambitious plan for reaching our ultimate destiny, as individuals and as a nation, to that extent we have chosen life and have, in fact, signed ourselves into the Book of Life for the coming year.

Ten Most Important Things to Know About Rosh HaShana

by Lisa Katz from

1.Jewish New Year
Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year, the symbolic anniversary of the creation of the world. The words "Rosh Hashana" literally mean Head of the Year. In addition to being the anniversary of the past creation of the world, Jewish tradition sees everyone as being created anew at this time every year. Rosh HaShana occurs on the first and second days of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (which usually falls sometime in September or October).

2. Day of Judgement
Rosh HaShana is the Day of Judgment. On Rosh Hashana, God opens the Books of Life and Death. Jews ask to be forgiven for their sins in the hope that God will give them a good signing in the Book of Life for the coming year.

3. Pre-Rosh HaShana: Slichot and Hatarat Nedarim
In order to enter the new year with a clean slate, Jews ask for forgiveness and annul all vows before Rosh HaShana.

4. Rosh HaShana Prayers: God is King
On Rosh HaShana, most of the day is spent praying in synagogue. There are many unique prayers on Rosh Hashana, so a special prayer book called a machzor is used. The main theme of the Rosh HaShana liturgy is that God is King, and He rewards good.

5. Mitzvah of the Shofar
The essential mitzvah of Rosh Hashana is to hear the sounding of the shofar. The shofar is a ram's horn which is blown like a trumpet. When Rosh HaShana falls on the Sabbath, the shofar is not blown.

6. Meaning of the Shofar
The blasts of the shofar are reminiscent of:
1) The sound of a King's coronation
2) The wailing of a Jewish heart
3) A spiritual wake-up call for Jews to repent
4) Abraham's great faith in God. (Abraham bound his on
Isaac, but was allowed at the last minute to sacrifice a ram in Isaac's stead.)

7. Festive Meal
A festive meal is central to the Rosh Hashana holiday. A round challah, which symbolizes completion, is used. The challah, as well as apple, is dipped into honey to symbolize hope for a sweet new year. Other foods have also become Rosh Hashana traditions, as they symbolize hopes for the coming year.

8. "Shana Tova"
There are two traditional Rosh HaShana greetings . "Shana Tova" means Good Year. "Chatima Tova" means Good Signing in the Book of Life.

9. Tashlich
On Rosh HaShana, Jews walk to flowing water, say a prayer, and symbolically throw their sins into the water. This custom is called tashlich (casting off). Tashlich is done on the first afternoon of Rosh HaShana. If Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbat, then tashlich is done on the second day of Rosh HaShana. If tashlich was not done on Rosh Hashana, it may be said anytime during the Ten Days of Repentance. The practice of tashlich is not discussed in the Bible, but it is a long-standing custom.

10. Ten Days of Repentance
On Rosh HaShana, God signs one in the Book of Life, but only on Yom Kippur does he "seal" one in the book. Therefore, during the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur one's verdict is not certain. This period is referred to as the "Ten Days of Repentance," and it is a time in which Jews engage in intense introspection.

Traditional Ashkenazic Rosh Hashanah Menus & Recipes

The origin of Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year, is Biblical (Lev. 23:23 -25): "a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts (of the Shofar, the ram's horn)." In Talmudic times, Rosh HaShana became a celebration of the anniversary of the world's creation and a day of self-examination, repentance and judgment.

How is Rosh Hashanah celebrated?

Rosh Hashanah, a two day holiday, is both a solemn and happy occassion. Jews are solemn in their repentance, but happy in their confidence that God is merciful and good. On Rosh Hashanah, Jews listen to the Shofar (ram's horn) blown during lengthy prayer services, eat holiday meals, and refrain from work.

After repenting for bad deeds through prayers, they symbolically cast off sins through the Tashlich ceremony.

What are Rosh Hashanah food customs?

After the Rosh HaShana prayer service, Jews eat a festive holiday meal. Special Rosh HaShana food customs have developed over the centuries. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, a piece of apple is dipped into honey in the hopes of a sweet year. On the second day of Rosh HaShana, Jews eat a new fruit not yet eaten in the season so a special blessing (Shehechiyanu) can be recited. Various symbolic foods - such as dates, pomegranates , pumpkin, leeks, beets - are traditionally eaten on the holiday.

What is a traditional Ashkenazic Rosh Hashanah dinner meal?

What is a traditional Rosh Hashanah lunch meal?

Kosher Starter Recipes for the Jewish New Year

Rosh Hashanah Menus

Rosh Hashanah Salad Recipes

Rosh Hashanah Soup Recipes

Kosher Main Courses for the Jewish New Year

Rosh Hashanah Entrees

Rosh Hashanah Sides

Rosh Hashanah Desserts




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