Roshashana - Jewish New Year


Author: Grace Carter
Last update: 09/10/2008

Celebrated by:

Jewish people all over the globe


RH goes down on the first two days of Tishrei (the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar), 162 days after the first day of Pesach. Since 1178, adding 3760 to the Gregorian calendar year will tell you what year the Hebrew calendar will welcome in autumn. Eventually, the calendars will be out of sync, but not for another 20,000 years. If all this sounds completely confusing to you, all you really have to know is that this year, Rosh Hashanah begins after sunset on October 3rd and lasts until sundown on October 5th.

Next year will be:


How to say Happy New Year:

"Shanah Tova" means "Good year," in Hebrew. (In our minds, we imagine this salutary greeting sounds best when accompanied by a tip of one of those truly awesome large fedoras worn by members of Hasidic communities and Celine Dion. Those things are stylish.)


The first thing we should make clear is that the clever Jewish people have not one, but MANY New Year's events during a year in the Hebrew calendar. There's a New Year for the counting of kings (Nissan 1), for the tithing of animals (Elul 1), and for the date after which it's cool to eat the first fruits harvested (Shevat 15). For thousands of years, they've been celebrating more often than many of us. But what we're dealing with today is the date on which the Hebrew calendar year is increased. Historically, this day represents the beginning of the economic year. It represents the birth of the book of Genesis, and has also been called "the day of blowing trumpets." We'll explain why lower down-and until we do, get your mind out of the gutter.

Values and traditions:

The truth be told, many of the holy days of the Hebrew calendar can be sober and spiritual, and Rosh Hashanah is no exception. The New Year kicks off ten "days of awe" or Yamin Noraim leading up to Yom Kippur-during this time of solemn repentance, Jews contemplate all the sins they've committed in the past year and pray at temple. The regular services are extended to include selihot (penitential prayers) and piyuttim (religious poems). One of the only similarities with Western New Year's Eve is that Jews make New Year's resolutions at this time.

During Rosh Hashanah, no work is permitted. Observant Jews spend both days at the synagogue, praying and listening to some of the 100 trumpet blasts blown. Ah, yes, the trumpets. The ritual sounding of the ram's horn trumpet, known as Shofar, is written into the bible, but no reason is given for it. tells us it's important to hear at least 30 blasts at synagogue on both days of RH. (Someone had better remind Grandma to turn down her hearing aid, or she'll get the fright of her life.)

Though not mentioned in the bible, a longstanding custom is Tashlikh. Celebrants travel to a flowing body of water-a river or the ocean-sometime on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and empty the contents of their pockets into the moving agua as a symbol of casting off the sins of the past year.

In the evening, girls and women light candles 18 minutes before sunset and all recite thankful blessings. Family members wish each other happy new year, and traditional foods are served: an apple with honey symbolizes the sweetness all hope to experience in the coming year. Likewise, the Challah, traditional Jewish bread, is dipped in honey, rather than in salt as is usual. The head of a fish or fowl is served, along with some yummy carrots (also called mern which means "to multiply" in Yiddish.) On the second evening of Rosh Hashanah, Jews eat a fruit that hasn't been eaten in the past year. (Star fruit, anyone? Or how about some tasty persimmon?)

One old ritual associated with Rosh Hashanah is Kapparot, a ceremony which has the participant reciting a prayer while waving a live fowl-say a chicken, or a turkey-over the head. If no fowl is available, a live fish will do. The animal is then slaughtered and given to the poor. This ritual goes down at the end of the Days of Awe, early in the morning before Yom Kippur, and in fact, is rarely practiced any more. Still, we thought we should mention it because you've got to respect anyone who can wave a squawking hen overhead while praying for atonement. You thought you were sweet when you learned to play left-handed ping pong? Yeah, well, this is a whole new level of skill, as far as we're concerned.

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New Years Resolutions & Tips

Before the clock strikes, visit our tips on how to make New Years Resolutions to help keep them this year.

Be safe when you celebrate. Our New Years Eve safety tips are always worth repeating.