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.
A 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.
Traditionally Jews eat sweet foods — like apples and honey, challah and tzimmes — to symbolize a sweet new year. 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.
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.
The prayer book for the holidays is called the Mahzor, and yes, there are numerous words and terms associated with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. You may find our Rosh Hashanah glossary and Yom Kippur glossary helpful.