Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year)


 The Jewish New Year

Rosh Hashana literally means the head of the year. It is the first day of the Jewish Year and the first day of the ten days of penitence. These ten days begin the Tishrei (first month of the Jewish Year, which usually coincides with September and October) holiday season (which ends with Simhat Tora on the 23rd of Tishrei).

Rosh Hashana: the Preparation

Rosh Hashana is a time for introspection and prayer. Because of this, Jews around the world prepare for Rosh Hashana. Sephardic Jews (Jews who originally came from Spain) get up early throughout the month of Elul (the month before Rosh Hashana) to say Slihot (prayers requesting forgiveness for our sins). Ashkenazic Jews (Jews from Eastern Europe and Germany) say Slihot from the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana. In addition, Ashkenazic Jews also blow the shofar (the ram's* horn blown on Rosh Hashana) during the month of Elul.

Rosh Hashana: The Day

Rosh Hashana, like all Jewish holidays, begins at sundown. Right around this time, evening services begin at synagogues around the world. At dinner, after synagogue services, kiddush (a blessing over wine that sanctifies the day) is recited, just as it is recited on other Jewish holidays and Shabbat (the Sabbath). And, again just as is done on Shabbat and holidays, a blessing is made over Halla (bread). During the rest of the year, Halla is generally braided, but for Rosh Hashana, the Halla is baked in a circle to represent the cycle of the year. On Rosh Hashana, the halla is dipped in honey as a symbol for a sweet year. Then a slice of apple (or a new fruit -- a fruit that one hasn't eaten yet that year -- like a pomegranate) is dipped into the honey and a blessing asking for a sweet year is recited.

On the days of Rosh Hashana (there are two days of Rosh Hashana), services begin in the synagogue much like every Jewish holiday and Shabbat. But in the later part of the services, there are more prayers and the Shofar, a Ram's horn*, is sounded. The total number of blasts on the Shofar adds up to 100 per day. In the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashana, Tashlikh (a prayer said at a body of water) is said. In large Jewish communities, synagogue members often congregate together at the nearest body of water to pray together. It is a custom during Tashlikh to drop bread crumbs, which symbolizes getting rid of our sins, into the water.

 * While a Ram's horn is the traditional horn used as a Shofar (because of the biblical story of the Binding of Isaac), other kosher mammals' horn may be used.

After Rosh Hashana: What comes next?

Tishrei is the Month for Jewish Holidays

The 10 days of Penitence ends on the 10th or Tishrei, which is Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is a fast day. People spend the entire day praying. Many people dress in white to represent purity and our similarity to angels. Five days after the high holy days, with their introspection and somber mood, comes Sukkot, a holiday that is called "the time of our joy". Sukkot is the harvest holiday and one of the pilgrimage holidays. In ancient Israel, people would go to Jerusalem on the pilgrimage holidays and worship at the Holy Temple. The holiday season of Tishrei ends with Sh'mini Atzeret (the additional 8th day after the 7 days of Sukkot) and Simhat Tora. Simhat Tora is a day for celebration and dancing and singing with the Tora scrolls. When we read the Tora, each week we read a different section of the Tora. On Simhat Tora, we read the final section, which describes Moses's death, and then begin over again with the story of the Genesis. After all this holiday revelry, is it any wonder that the next month, Heshvan, has no holidays?

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