Religious Observance: Rosh Hashanah

A new year is coming up! Not on the Gregorian calendar that we use here in the West, and that is accepted as the international civil calendar, but rather on the Jewish calendar. Even though Rosh Hashanah is celebrated at the beginning of the seventh month of the calendar, it means “head of the year.” Rosh Hashanah represents one of the four “new years” on the Jewish calendar. In particular, Rosh Hashanah is the new year for animals, people, and legal contracts. This is also the date used when calculating sabbatical years and jubilee years.

For 2011, Rosh Hashanah will be celebrated from sundown on September 28 to sundown on September 30.

Rosh Hashanah: Beginning of the High Holy Days

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the High Holy Days, which culminate in Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement.” This time of the year is ideal for reflection, and an opportunity for Jews to repent. Indeed, the lessons learned during the High Holy Days are worth considering for the rest of us. Are there things in our lives that we need to change? Do we have wrongs that need to be put right?

According to the Mishnah, the core of the oral Torah, Rosh Hashanah marks the “day of judgement.” At this time the Book of Life is opened, and God begins to decides who will live and who will died. Rosh Hashanah is also considered the creation of the world or the universe (literally or figuratively), or the creation of man.

Celebrating Rosh Hashanah

Extended services are held during Rosh Hashanah, and a special prayerbook is used. Additionally, the blowing of the shofar is a part of the services. (The shofar is a traditional ram’s horn, blown for certain occasions.) During the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, it is used as a spiritual wake-up call, a reminder to awaken the spirit to God. Rosh Hashanah also includes the ritual of tashlikh. Prayers near natural flowing represent the symbolic casting off of sins into the water. Some Jews also throw small stones or bread into the water to make the connection stronger. There is also a Rosh Hashanah Seder (ritual meal) that is eaten.

The appropriate greeting for Rosh Hashanah is translated into English as “a good and sweet new year.” Some of the foods considered especially appropriate for Rosh Hashanah include apples (King Solomon referred to the people as apples: “unique among the trees of the forest”) and honey (Israel is often referred to scripturally as “the Land of Milk and Honey). Honey cake, pomegranate and raisin challah are also traditional foods eaten in honor of Rosh Hashanah. (My local bakery makes challah every Friday, and I really hope that raisin challah is on the menue for this coming Friday.) It is also a tradition, among some, to eat something that represents the “head” of the new year — sometimes fish heads or cow tongues.

Even if you aren’t Jewish, this season is a great time for reflection. As we move toward the end of the Western year, it doesn’t hurt to remember that you can make a new beginning any time.

Sources:

Rosh Hashanah“: Wikipedia

Rosh Hashanah 2011: Dates, History, Customs, Jewish New Year Explained“: Huffington Post.

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