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Rosh Hashanah ( , literally "head of the year," Ashkenazic: , Israeli: , Yiddish: ) is a Jewish holiday commonly referred to as the "Jewish New Year." It is observed on the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, as ordained in the Torah, in . Rosh Hashanah is the first of the High Holidays or ("Days of Awe"), or (Ten Days of Repentance) which are days specifically set aside to focus on repentance that conclude with the holiday of Yom Kippur.

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. However, according to one view in the Talmud, that of R. Eleazar, Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of man, which entails that five days earlier, the 25 of Elul, was the first day of creation of the Universe.

The Mishnah, the core text of Judaism's oral Torah, contains the first known reference to Rosh Hashanah as the "day of judgment." In the Talmud tractate on Rosh Hashanah 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 righteous 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."

Malchuyot, zichronot, shofrot

In Jewish liturgy Rosh Hashanah is described as "the day of judgment" (Yom ha-Din) and "the day of remembrance" (Yom ha-Zikkaron). Some midrashic descriptions depict God as sitting upon a throne, while books containing the deeds of all humanity are opened for review, and each person passing in front of Him for evaluation of his or her deeds.

The Talmud provides the guidelines for the day's prayers and the rationale for the three central ideas behind the day:

"The Holy One said, 'on Rosh Hashanah recite before Me [verses of] Sovereignty, Rememberance, and Shofar blasts (malchuyot, zichronot, shofrot): Sovereignty so that you should make Me your King; Remembrance so that your remembrance should rise up before Me. And through what? Through the Shofar.' (Rosh Hashanah 16a, 34b)" This is reflected in the prayers composed by the classical rabbinic sages for Rosh Hashanah found in all machzorim where the theme of the prayers is the strongest theme is the "coronation" of God as King of the universe in preparation for the acceptance of judgments that will follow on that day, symbolized as "written" into a Divine book of judgments, that then hang in the balance for ten days waiting for all to repent, then they will be "sealed" on Yom Kippur. The assumption is that everyone was sealed for life and therefore the next festival is Sukkot (Tabernacles) that is referred to as "the time of our joy" (z'man simchateinu.)

Observance of the day

Rosh Hashanah is observed as a day of rest ( ) like other Jewish holidays. When not on Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah is characterized by the blowing of the shofar, a trumpet made from a ram's horn and not from the horn of any other kind of animal, intended to symbolically awaken the listeners from their "slumbers" and alert them to the coming judgment.

Services and greetings

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. The traditional Hebrew greeting on Rosh Hashanah is שנה טובה shana tova for "[a] good year", or shana tova umetukah for "[a] good and sweet year." Because Jews and the world are being judged by God for the coming year, a longer greeting translates as "may you be written and sealed for a good year" (ketiva ve-chatima tovah). It is customary that during the afternoon of the first day (second day if the first coincides with Shabbath) 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.

Names and origins

The term "Rosh Hashanah" does not appear in the Torah. refers to the festival of the first day of the seventh month as "Zicaron Terua" ("a memorial with the blowing of horns"). calls the festival Yom Terua, ("Day [of] blowing [the horn]") and symbolizes a number of subjects, such as the Binding of Isaac and the animal sacrifice that were to be performed. (In there is a general reference to the time of Yom Kippur as the "beginning of the year", but it is not referring specifically to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.)

Number of days

The Hebrew Bible defines Rosh Hashanah as a one-day observance, and since days in the Hebrew calendar begin at sundown, the beginning of Rosh Hashanah is at sundown at the end of 29 Elul. The rules of the Hebrew calendar are designed such that the first day of Rosh Hashanah will never occur on the first, fourth, or sixth day of the Jewish week (i.e., Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday).

Since the time of the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalemmarker in 70 CE and the time of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, normative Jewish law appears to be that Rosh Hashanah is to be celebrated for two days, due to the difficulty of determining the date of the new moon. Nonetheless, there is some evidence that Rosh Hashanah was celebrated on a single day in Israel as late as the thirteenth century CE. Orthodox, Conservative Judaism, and Reconstructionist Judaism now generally observe Rosh Hashanah for the first two days of Tishrei, even in Israelmarker where all other Jewish holidays dated from the new moon last only one day. The two days of Rosh Hashanah are said to constitute "Yoma Arichtah" (Aramaic: "one long day"). The observance of a second day is a later addition and does not follow from the literal reading of Leviticus. In Reform Judaism, some communities only observe the first day of Rosh Hashanah, while others observe two days. Karaite Jews, who do not recognize Rabbinic Jewish oral law and rely on their own understanding of the Bible, observe only one day on the first of Tishrei, since the second day is not mentioned in the Torah.This holiday is considered to be one of the more important Jewish holidays.


Laws on the form and use of the shofar and laws related to the religious services during the festival of Rosh Hashanah are described in Rabbinic literature such as the Mishnah that formed the basis of the tractate "Rosh HaShana" in both the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud. This also contains the most important rules concerning the calendar year.

Dates and timing

Jewish Year Starts (at sundown)
5769 September 29, 2008
5770 September 18, 2009
5771 September 8, 2010

Rosh Hashanah occurs 163 days after the first day of Passover (Pesach). In terms of the Gregorian calendar, the earliest date on which Rosh Hashanah can fall is September 5, as happened in 1899 and will happen again in 2013. The latest Rosh Hashanah can occur relative to the Gregorian dates is on October 5, as happened in 1967 and will happen again in 2043. After 2089, the differences between the Hebrew calendar and the Gregorian calendar will result in Rosh Hashanah falling no earlier than September 6.

Rosh Hashanah will occur on the following days of the Gregorian calendar:

  • Jewish Year 5769: sunset September 29, 2008 - nightfall October 1, 2008
  • Jewish Year 5770: sunset September 18, 2009 - nightfall September 20, 2009
  • Jewish Year 5771: sunset September 8, 2010 - nightfall September 10, 2010
  • Jewish Year 5772: sunset September 28, 2011 - nightfall September 30, 2011
  • Jewish Year 5773: sunset September 16, 2012 - nightfall September 18, 2012

Historical origins

In the earliest times the Hebrew year began in autumn with the opening of the economic year. There followed in regular succession the seasons of seed-sowing, growth and ripening of the corn (here meaning any grain) under the influence of the former and the latter rains, harvest and ingathering of the fruits. In harmony with this was the order of the great agricultural festivals, according to the oldest legislation, namely, the feast of unleavened bread at the beginning of the barley harvest, in the month of Aviv; the feast of harvest, seven weeks later; and the feast of ingathering at the going out or turn of the year. "Aviv" literally means "Spring". (See ; ).

It is likely that the new year was celebrated from ancient times in some special way. The earliest reference to such a custom is, probably, in the account of the vision of Ezekiel ( ). This took place at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month (Tishri). On the same day the beginning of the year of jubilee was to be proclaimed by the blowing of trumpets ( ). According to the Septuagint rendering of , special sacrifices were to be offered on the first day of the seventh month as well as on the first day of the first month. This first day of the seventh month was appointed by the Law to be "a day of blowing of trumpets". There was to be a holy convocation; no servile work was to be done; and special sacrifices were to be offered ( ; ). This day was not expressly called New-Year's Day, but it was evidently so regarded by the Jews at a very early period.

Religious observance and customs

Rosh Hashanah is a day of rest ( ): with some variations, the activities prohibited on Shabbat are not prohibited on all major Jewish holidays unless that day also falls on Shabbat, excluding Yom Kippur which the Torah refers to as a "Shabbaton" and is always observed with the strictures of Shabbat.

Rosh Hashanah is characterized by the blowing of the shofar, a trumpet made from a ram's horn.

Preceding month

The Yamim Noraim are preceded by the month of Elul, during which Jews are supposed to begin a self-examination and repentance, a process that culminates in the ten days of the Yamim Noraim known as beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with the holiday of Yom Kippur.

The shofar is blown in traditional communities every morning for the entire month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah. The sound of the shofar is intended to awaken the listeners from their "slumbers" and alert them to the coming judgment.

Orthodox and some Conservative Jewish communities do not blow the shofar on Shabbat.

In the period leading up to the Yamim Noraim (Hebrew, "days of awe") penitential prayers, called selichot, are recited.

Erev Rosh Hashanah

The day before Rosh Hashanah is known as Erev Rosh Hashanah in Hebrew ("Rosh Hashanah eve"). It falls on the 29th day of the Hebrew month of Elul, the day before the 1st of Tishrei. Some communities have the customs to perform Hatarat nedarim - a nullification of vows - after the morning prayer services during the morning of Erev Rosh Hashanah. The mood becomes festive but serious in anticipation of the new year and the synagogue services. Many Orthodox men have the custom to immerse in a mikveh in honor of the coming day.

Day of Rosh Hashanah

On Rosh Hashanah itself, religious poems, called piyyuttim, are added to the regular services. Special prayer books for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, called the mahzor (plural mahzorim), have developed over the years. Many poems refer to : "Blow the shofar on the [first day of the] month, when the [moon] is covered for our holiday".

Rosh Hashanah has a number of additions to the regular service, most notably an extended repetition of the Amidah prayer for both Shacharit and Mussaf. The Shofar is blown during Mussaf at several intervals. (In many synagogues, even little children come and hear the Shofar being blown.) Biblical verses are recited at each point. According to the Mishnah, 10 verses (each) are said regarding kingship, remembrance, and the shofar itself, each accompanied by the blowing of the shofar. A variety of piyyutim, medieval penitential prayers, are recited regarding themes of repentance. The Alenu prayer is recited during the repetition of the Mussaf Amidah.

There are three different sounds that the Shofar makes:
  • Tekiah (one long sound)
  • Shevarim (3 broken sounds)
  • Teruah (many short, staccato sounds, at least 9)

In addition to the three sounds there are two variations:
  • Tekiah Gedolah (a very long sound, used at the end of the Ashkenazi rite prayer services)
  • Teruah Gedolah (a very long series of short staccato sounds used at the end of the Sefardi rite prayer services)


During the afternoon of the first day occurs the practice of tashlikh, 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. In some communities, if the first day of Rosh Hashanah occurs on Shabbat, tashlikh is postponed until the second day. The traditional service for tashlikh is recited individually and includes the prayer "Who is like unto you, O God...And You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea", and Biblical passages including ("They will not injure nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea") and , 121 and 130, as well as personal prayers.

Rosh Hashana meals and symbolic foods

Rosh Hashanah table set with symbolic foods.

Rosh Hashanah meals usually include apples and honey, to symbolize a sweet new year. Various other foods with a symbolic meaning may be served, depending on local minhag ("custom"), such as cooked tongue or other meat from the head of an animal or fish (to symbolize the "head" of the year).

Foods consumed with the Yehi Ratzons vary depending on the community. Some of the symbolic foods eaten are dates, black-eyed beans, leek, spinach and gourd, all of which are mentioned in the Talmud. Pomegranates are used in many traditions. The use of apples and honey is a late medieval Ashkenazi addition, though it is now almost universally accepted. Typically, round challah bread is served, to symbolize the cycle of the year. Gefilte fish and Lekach are commonly served by Ashkenazic Jews on this holiday. On the second night, new fruits are served to warrant inclusion of the shehecheyanu blessing, the saying of which would otherwise be doubtful (as the second day is part of the "long day" mentioned above).

Sephardic Rosh Hashanah Seder

Other symbolic foods are eaten in a special Rosha Hashana Seder, particularly in the Sephardic and Mizrahi communities. Symbolic foods are eaten in a ceremony called the Yehi Rasones or Yehi Ratzones.

Yehi Rason / Ratzon means "May it be Your will", and is the name of the ceremony because the names of the symbolic foods eating have names that are puns in Hebrew or Aramaic. Each pun serves as a desire or prayer that God will fulfill that desire represented by the pun.

In rabbinic literature

The Mishnah, the core text of Judaism's oral Torah, contains the first known reference to the "day of judgment". It says: "Four times in the year the world is judged: On Passover a decree is passed on the produce of the soil; on Shavuot, on the fruits of the trees; on Rosh Hashanah all men pass before Him ("God"); and on the Feast of Tabernacles a decree is passed on the rain of the year.

Philo, in his treatise on the festivals, calls Rosh Hashanah the festival of the sacred moon and feast of the trumpets, and explains the blowing of the trumpets as being a memorial of the giving of the Torah and a reminder of God's benefits to mankind in general ("De Septennario," § 22).

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky explains that in earlier generations it was considered preferable not to reveal that it was a "day of judgment" so as not to mix any other feeling into "the day of the coronation of G-d". In later generations as people lost touch with the significance of the day it was necessary to reveal that it was also "the day of judgment" so that people would approach the holiday with proper awe and respect. (B'Mechitzot Rabbenu)

According to rabbinic tradition, the creation of the world was completed on 1 Tishrei.

The observance of the 1 Tishrei as Rosh Hashanah is based principally on the mention of "zikkaron" ("memorial [day]"; ) and the reference of Ezra to the day as one "holy to the Lord" ( ) seem to point. The passage in referring to the solemn feast which is held on New Moon Day, when the shofar is sounded, as a day of "mishpat" (judgment) of "the God of Jacob" is taken to indicate the character of Rosh Hashanah .

In Jewish thought, Rosh Hashanah is the most important judgment day, on which all the inhabitants of the world pass for judgment before the Creator, as sheep pass for examination before the shepherd. The Talmud states, in tractate on Rosh Hashanah 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 righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life, and they are sealed "to live." The middle class are allowed a respite of ten days till Yom Kippur, to repent and become righteous; the wicked are "blotted out of the book of the living." ( )

The zodiac sign of the balance for Tishrei is claimed to indicate the scales of judgment, balancing the meritorious against the wicked acts of the person judged. The taking of an annual inventory of accounts on Rosh Hashanah is adduced by Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac from the passage in , which says that the care of God is directed from "the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year". 1 Tishrei was considered as the beginning of Creation.

It is said in the Talmud that on Rosh Hashanah the means of sustenance of every person are apportioned for the ensuing year; so also are his destined losses.

The Zohar, a medieval work of Kabbalah, lays stress on the universal observance of two days, and states that the two passages in and , "when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord," refer to the first and second days of Rosh Hashanah, observed by the Heavenly Court before the Almighty.

Traditional Rosh Hashanah greetings

  • On the first night of Rosh Hashanah after the evening prayer, it is the Ashkenazi and Hasidic custom to wish Leshana Tova Tikoseiv Vesichoseim (Le'Alter LeChaim Tovim U'Leshalom) which is Hebrew for "May you immediately be inscribed and sealed for a Good Year and for a Good and Peaceful Life"
  • Shana Tova ( ) is the traditional greeting on Rosh Hashanah which in Hebrew means "A Good Year."
  • Shana Tova Umetukah is Hebrew for "A Good and Sweet Year."
  • Ketiva ve-chatima tovah which translates as "May You Be Written and Sealed for a Good Year."
  • The formal Sephardic greeting is Tizku leshanim rabbot ("may you merit many years"), to which the answer is ne'imot ve-tovot ("pleasant and good ones"). Less formally, people wish each other "many years" in the local language.

Fast of Gedalia follows Rosh Hashanah

The Fast of Gedalia (or Gedaliah) Tzom Gedaliah) is a Jewish fast day from dawn until dusk to lament the assassination of the righteous governor of Judeamarker of that name, which ended Jewish rule and completed the destruction of the First Templemarker.

The fast is observed immediately after the second day of the High Holy Day of Rosh Hashana, commencing on the third of Tishrei according to the Hebrew calendar. The Gregorian date for The Fast of Gedalia varies from year to year based on when it corresponds with the third of Tishrei.

When Rosh Hashanah falls on Thursday and Friday, the fast is postponed until Sunday (which would be the fourth of Tishrei), since no public fast may be observed on Shabbat (Saturday) with the exception of Yom Kippur.

In 2008, this fast day was observed on October 2.

In 2009, this fast day was observed on September 21.

In 2010, this fast day will be observed on September 12 (fourth of Tishrei).

In 2011, this fast day will be observed on October 2 (fourth of Tishrei).

In 2012, this fast day will be observed on September 19.

The fast is observed from daybreak until the stars appear at night. As a minor fast day, other laws of mourning are not required.

See also


  1. The first month being Nisan, see Hebrew calendar.
  2. OU on Elul
  3. ( ).
  4. ArtScroll Machzor, Rosh Hashanah. Overview, p. XV.
  5. In accordance with .
  6. Maimonides, Yad, Laws of Repentance 3:4
  7. See Numbers 29:1
  8. Jacobs, Louis. "Rosh Ha-Shanah." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 17. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 463-466.
  9. A popular mnemonic is "lo adu rosh" ("Rosh [Hashanah] is not on adu"), where adu has the numerical value 1-4-6 (corresponding to the numbering of days in the Jewish week, in which Saturday night and Sunday daytime make up the first day).
  10. Tractate Rosh Hashana 1:1
  11. There is an exception. Jewish Law permits the Shofar to be blown in the presence of a rabbinical court called the Sanhedrin, which had not existed since ancient times. A recent group of Orthodox rabbis in Israel claiming to constitute a modern Sanhedrin held, for the first time in many years, an Orthodox shofar-blowing on Shabbat for Rosh Hashanah in 2006. Shofar Blowing on Shabbat (translation of Haaretz article)
  12. See Exploring Sephardic Customs and Traditions, Marc Angel, p. 49
  13. Maimon Family Yehi Ratzones
  14. The Orthodox Union Yehi Ratzones
  15. Zohar, Pinchas, p. 231a

External links


  • Exploring Sephardic Customs and Traditions, ed. Marc Angel, Ktav 2000

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