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Rosh Hashanah
A Rosh Hashanah postcard, 1978

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is celebrated on the first and second day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. The holiday has deep spiritual significance in Jewish tradition as it begins the “Ten Days of Repentance,” which end on Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is the first of the four holidays that fall during Tishrei, followed by Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simcḥat Torah (Shemini Atzeret).

In the biblical text, the holiday is called “Yom Tru’ah” (lit. "the day of sounding" [of the shofar] and “Zikhron Tru’ah” (lit. "remembrance of the sounding"), and is celebrated for only one day, with the ceasing of all work and the offering of sacrifices. The Jewish sages added the name “Rosh Hashanah,” as well as the two main meanings of the holiday accepted today in Jewish tradition: the first is the Day of Judgment, when God judges everyone in the world based on their deeds over the past year. The essence of the second is the renewal of God's coronation as King of the World.

The second day of the holiday was added due to the uncertainty surrounding the exact date of the beginning of the month, which is determined by the lunar cycle. According to one of the commentaries, Rosh Hashanah is also called Kassa (lit. "to cover"), to denote the "covered" moon that begins to be revealed with the beginning of the holiday on the first of Tishrei. In the biblical period, Tishrei was known as the seventh month and marked the beginning of the new agricultural year, while Nissan was considered the first month. Later, the name Tishrei and its place as the first month in the Hebrew calendar became established, further deepening the holiday’s meaning as the beginning of the new year.

Blowing the Shofar and Holiday Prayers

Blowing the shofar (ram’s horn) is the main commandment associated with Rosh Hashanah. Various explanations for this have been given, and according to one, the purpose of the shofar was to rouse the soul. The shofar is blown on both days of the holiday, except when the holiday falls on the Sabbath. It is customary to blow at least a hundred blasts each day. The blasts are divided into three types of sounds: tekiah, shevarim and tru’ah (a medium-length blast, a series of short blasts, and one long blast).

On Rosh Hashanah, special prayers are recited, and many who are not regular synagogue goers during the year make a point to attend. The wording of the prayers varies among the different ethnic groups and include many piyyutim (liturgical hymns) in a variety of melodies. Special passages recited in the Mussaf prayer (deriving from the Hebrew word meaning supplement, blessings traditionally recited after the morning prayers and Torah reading), around the blowing of the shofar, are Malkhuyot (lit. kingdoms), Zikhronot (lit. commemoration) and Shofarot (plural for shofar), whose contents express the day’s essence. The holiday prayers are gathered into a special prayer book (Mahzor), with variations across different ethnic groups, reflecting various traditions.

On the eve and next afternoon of the holiday, it is customary to hold Hatarat Nedarim ceremonies, during which vows made over the past year can be annulled under certain conditions. Another tradition involves going to a body of water (for example, a stream, lake or sea) and reciting the Tashlikh prayer, which literally means "to cast off", in the context of casting off one’s sins. Many hold a special Rosh Hashanah meal called a Seder Simanim, where a series of blessings are recited over symbolic foods. Others greet the New Year with blessings over foods such as the pomegranate, date and an apple with honey.

 

Rosh Hashanah at the National Library

The National Library preserves many historical items relating to various aspects of Rosh Hashanah. The Library has collected rare prayer books (Mahzors) of great historical value, texts that have had an impact on Jewish and Israeli culture, special New Year postcards, calendars and recordings of prayers, piyyutim and holiday songs. In addition, you can read stories about the holiday on the Library’s blog, or find lesson plans, photographs, and ads related to Rosh Hashanah.

 

Lesson Plans for Rosh Hashanah

The array of items in the National Library’s collections offers teachers creative, interactive and fun ways to teach their students about Rosh Hashanah. The Library website offers educators ready to use, enriching and imaginative lesson plans that include worksheets, resource packages and ideas for discussing original sources.