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 number counts the number of years since Creation. This year we will mark the beginning of 5775.
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, because of 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.
Here’s a picture of the pomegranate trees in flower early in the season, in the park next to my house:
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.
The Picture a Day website posted a nice photo-essay in honour of Rosh Hashana, depicting Shofar-blowers throughout the decades. Here’s one evocative picture:
As Israel enters the new year here is a review of the Israeli population as it stands at the end of this year – at the staggering figure of almost 9 million!:
The population of Israel has reached 8.9 million, the Central Bureau of Statistics revealed in its annual report ahead of the Jewish New Year. As of Sunday, the population of Israel was exactly 8,904,373 people, which is 173,811 more than the same time last year.
The number of new immigrants to Israel over the course of the Jewish year was 24,801, while 176,230 babies were born. Of these babies 90,646 are boys and 85,584 are girls.
While on the topic of babies, it was also revealed that the most popular name given to boys this year was Yosef, and for girls it was Tamar. Other popular names included Daniel, Uri, Itai and Omer for boys and Noa, Shira, Adelle and Talia for girls.
Also over the last year 140,591 people registered as married while 32,457 got divorced.
Even taking into account the non-Jewish population of Israel, the Jewish figures number over 6 million:
At the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on the Central Bureau of Statistics report, calling the population growth a victory over the Holocaust and other tragedies that befell the Jewish people.
“I can say that there are more than 6 million Jews in Israel, in comparison with the number of Jews that were taken from us over the last century,” Netanyahu said.
“Our strength is in uniting as a people and staving off our enemies,” he went on to say, wishing the people of Israel a happy holiday.
This past year has seen so many upheavals in our region, culminating in the Gaza war that took so many precious lives and injured and traumatized hundreds more. May the coming year bring comfort to the bereaved families and refuah shlema to the wounded, and may Hashem grant us peace and tranquility.
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