Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins tonight, and lasts for 2 days, until sundown on Friday night. This year, since Rosh Hashana falls on Thursday and Friday, we then run straight into Shabbat, giving us a 3-day festival (so I won’t be online again until Sunday at the earliest). 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 5778.
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.
Here’s a short clip to give you an idea of what the Shofar sounds like. In the synagogue it will be sounded altogether 100 times in two sets of 30 and 4 sets of 10.
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.
Even our Challahs are baked in a round shape to symbolise the circle of life and the circle of the year. They are often extra-sweet and have raisins inside for added sweetness. Here are my very own challot freshly baked out of the oven 🙂
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.
Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, invited dignitaries of the Jewish community to a reception to wish us all Shana Tova. She also expressed strong support for Israel:
The US President Donald Trump also wished us Shana Tova, reaffirming the unbreakable bond between the US and Israel: