The Jewish New Year commemorates the “birthday” of the creation of the world. This year will be the 5777th birthday, counting back to the biblical account of creation.
Rosh Hashanah is also known as the Day of Remembrance and the Day of Blowing the Shofar (a Ram’s Horn). The Shofar is sounded as form of non-verbal liturgy, the piercing sounds awaken the listener to the sanctity and awesome nature of the day. Rosh Hashanah is also the Day of Judgement, the day on which we are judged for our behavior for the past year. The outcome of the judgement is inscribed in the Book of Life, the Book of Death, or left indeterminate, to be finalized 10 days later on the Holy Day of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). Rosh Hashanah starts the 10 day period of the “Days of Awe” and is an especially auspicious time for self-reflection, recognition of misbehavior, admission of sin, and requesting forgiveness. Rosh Hashanah is a time for “teshuvah”, turning or returning to the right path in life. Jews ask for pardon for their misdeeds from God and from their fellow beings; the tradition insists that we must make amends and seek pardon from our fellow beings before we can be pardoned by God.
There are many family and communal customs associated with Rosh Hashanah. Despite the serious and awesome nature of the day, it is still a festive celebration. Among the practices are eating sweet foods ( dipping bread in honey to better have a sweet year), extending new year’s greetings to one another, enjoying family dinners, and even wearing new clothes for the first time. There is an extended and extensive liturgy for the Rosh Hashanah services in the synagogue and synagogue attendance on that day is second only to Yom Kippur. Many modern Jews attend synagogue only a few days a year and Rosh Hashanah is ordinarily one of those days.
One of the most unusual Rosh Hashanah ritual traditions is called Tashlich. Usually on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Jews will visit bodies of water, i.e., ocean, lakes, rivers, etc., and throw bread crumbs into the water to symbolize casting away sins. The familiar proverb of “casting bread upon the waters” is thought to have derived from this tashlich practice.
L’shanah Tovah Tikatevu, May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year ahead!
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