Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins tonight, and lasts for 2 days, until sundown on Friday night. The Jewish year follows the lunar calendar, and the the number counts the number of years since Creation. This year we will mark the beginning of 5774.
This year, because Rosh Hashana falls on Thursday and Friday, we run straight into Shabbat, giving us a 3-day festival (which means I will be offline until Saturday night at the very least).
To quote from previous Rosh Hashana posts, Rosh Hashana is not marked by great parties and merry-making for the Jewish New Year is also known as the Day of Judgement, the day when all humans are held accountable before Heaven for their good deeds and bad, and their fate for the coming year is decided. A good part of the two days of the festival is spent in emotional and uplifting prayers in the synagogue where we acclaim G-d as the King of Israel and as King of the whole universe, and where we ask Him to write us in the Book of Life, which remains open until Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in 10 days time, giving us time to repent and atone for our sins.
The holiday is marked with the blowing of the Shofar (the ram’s horn), which is meant to literally sound an alarm to wake us up from our bad ways and return us to the righteous path. We also eat sweet foods to symbolise our wish for a sweet New Year. A classic staple at the Rosh Hashana table is the apple, which is round, symbolising the cycle of the year, dipped in honey for a sweet new year.
On the second night of Rosh Hashana it is traditional to eat a fruit from the new season. The most popular fruit is the pomegranate, both for the beauty of its shape, because it is one of the 7 species of produce native to the Land of Israel, and because it is traditionally believed that it has 613 seeds, the same as the number of mitzvot (commandments) that a Jew is commanded to keep.
It is also traditional in many households to eat all different kinds of foods whose names, in a kind of wordplay, remind us of good things that we wish for ourselves. So for example we eat carrots in various forms – tzimmes is a very popular dish amongst Ashkenazim – because the Hebrew name גזר (gezer) is the same root as גזרה (gezera) meaning decree. So we wish for “good decrees” for the coming year.
Other foods are the head of a fish so that we should be at “the head and not the tail”; and beetroot whose Hebrew name is סלק, (selek) similar to לסלק (lesalek) – to get rid of – so we wish to be rid of our enemies.
On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashana (or the second if the first is Shabbat) we walk to a body of flowing water, a river, brook or the sea, or we try to get to a vantage point where we can see some flowing water, and say the prayer of Tashlich in which we symbolically cast our sins into the water.
You can learn more about Rosh Hashana and its traditions here.
Another excellent article detailing Rosh Hashana’s sources and traditions as well as fascinating gematrias (Hebrew numerology) and linguistic insights, and is the Guide to the Perplexed in today’s Algemeiner.
1. The Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah – “the beginning of the year”) is compatible with the agricultural calendar. It commences with the planting of seeds and the first rain, which highlights the centrality of the soil in human life. The Hebrew word for soil is Adamah (אדמה), which starts with the first Hebrew letter, א, encompassing the Hebrew words for human being (אדם) and blood – lifeline (דם). Rosh Hashanah is the only Jewish holiday that is celebrated – for two days in Israel and elsewhere – on the first day of the month.
2. The term Rosh Hashanah was conceived by Jewish sages, during the Second Temple, referring to the Biblical “Day of blowing the Shofar (horn)” and “the Day of commemorating the blowing of the Shofar” (Leviticus 23:23-25, Numbers 29:1-6).
5. The three pillars of Rosh Hashanah are Repentance (returning to good deeds – תשובה– in Hebrew), Prayer,and Charity(doing justice – צדקה – in Hebrew).
6. The Hebrew word for atonement/repentance is Te’shuvah (תשובה), which also means“return” to core morality and values and to the Land of Israel. On Rosh Hashanah, one is expected to plan a “spiritual/behavioral budget” for the entire year.
The three Hebrew words, Teshuvah (Repentance/Atonement, תשובה), Shivah (Spiritual and Physical Return, שיבה), and Shabbat(Creation completed on שבת) emerge from the same Hebrew root. They constitute a triangular foundation, whose strength depends upon the depth of education and commemoration. According to King Solomon, “The triangular cord cannot be broken.”
It’s really worth reading in full.
Despite all the terrible news emanating from Syria, the volatile upheaval in Egypt, and Iran’s ever-nearing nuclear capability, there are also many reasons to be thankful for this year’s blessings. This year, Israel’s population is nearing 8 million, something that a mere 65 years ago our founders would have had thought incredible:
As Israel heads into the holiday season, an annual report by the Central Bureau of Statistics has estimated its population at 8.081 million.
According to the report released on Monday, the Jewish population in the country represents about 6.066 million people – 75.1 percent of the total population – and the Arab population represents 20.7%, the equivalent of some 1.670 million of Israel’s inhabitants.
The remaining 4.2% – approximately 345,000 people – are non-Arab Christians as well as people of other religions and those with no religious affiliation.
The CBS figures also showed that in the past year about 163,000 babies were born in Israel. The most common baby names were Noa, Shira, Tamar, Talia, and Yael for girls. The most popular of the boy names were Itai, Daniel, Ori, Yosef, and Noam.
Forty-thousand deaths were recorded.
In terms of aliya, approximately 22,988 new immigrants and returning residents arrived in the past 12 months, according to statistics provided by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry.
Some 17,484 of them will be celebrating the new year for the first time in the country on Wednesday.
Most of the olim came from countries in the former Soviet Union and the majority of returning residents came from Canada and the United States.
More than half of the immigrants and returning residents were between the ages of 20 and 44, with an equal gender distribution.
According to the Interior Ministry, 16,968 people were officially recorded as Israel’s newest immigrants in the year 5773.
An additional 19,000 people were also added to the population migration balance.
Since last year’s Rosh Hashana, Israel’s population grew by about 142,000 people, a growth rate of 1.8%.
May I wish all my family, friends, and readers worldwide שנה טובה ומתוקה – Shana Tova Umetuka. A Happy and Sweet New Year. May we all be blessed with a year of good health, joy, prosperity and peace. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.
תכלה שנה וקללותיה, תחל שנה וברכותיה
Let the current year and its curses be over, let the new year and its blessings begin.
לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו