The Jewish New Year day is called Rosh Hashanah. It is celebrated on the 1st and 2nd days of the Hebrew month "Tishrei", and in fact begins on the 29th (and last) night of the month Elul. This is the only Jewish holiday which lasts for 2 entire days (considered as one very long day), and the reason for this is to emphasize its importance.
Rosh Hashanah's Apples and Honey
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are considered the two most sacred Jewish holidays, and are known as the "High Holy Days". The importance of Rosh Hashanah is not only in celebrating the New Year, but also in remembrance, judgment, and blowing the Shofar. Unlike most holidays, the origin of these two holidays is strictly religious, and has nothing to do with noting any historical events. The bible instructs all Jews to celebrate these important days by blowing the ram's horn on Rosh Hashanah and by a series of prohibitions on Yom Kippur.
Celebrating Rosh Hashanah
The celebration of the New Year begins on the evening of Rosh Hashanah by lighting a candle. Traditionally, the woman who lights the candle wears new clothes, or else places new fresh fruit on the table. This is followed by a traditional Rosh Hashanah Dinner.
The significance of Rosh Hashanah is also its being the Day of Judgment. According to Jewish belief, throughout the year God judges all human beings, and by the time of Rosh Hashanah he decides whether they deserve to be inscribed in "The Book of Life" or not. Those who are inscribed in this book are rewarded with a new year of happiness.
The Days of Awe
After Rosh Hashanah there are ten more days in which a person can change his or her behavior enough for God to change his initial decision. Therefore, on the first day of the holiday it is customary to go to a lake or a river and symbolically "cast away" your sins into the water. In addition, Jews do soul searching and ask for forgiveness for anything that they have done wrong in the past year.
Day of Remembrance
Rosh Hashanah is also considered a Day of Remembrance, because Jewish communities meet in the synagogue, go over their religious history and pray for Israel and for the rest of the Jews around the world (both as individuals and as a nation).
Rosh Hashanah Prayers
The prayers for Rosh Hashanah are found in the Machzor (a prayer book which includes specific prayers for the High Holy Days and for the three Pilgrim Festivals), and are accompanied by the blowing of the Shofar. The significance of this is awakening the soul and arousing it to repentance. It also signals the beginning of "The Days of Awe" - the ten days of introspection between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In fact, blowing the horn is the only religious command for Rosh Hashanah, and during each of its two days one should hear it the Shofar one hundred times!
Rosh Hashanah Dinner
A traditional dinner held on Rosh Hashanah evening. Its unique characteristic is that it begins with many blessings for the New Year, accompanied by various kinds of food:
- A blessing for the wine
- A blessing for the "Challah" - the special bread eaten on Sabbath. Unlike the regular Challah, the Challah on Rosh Ha'Shana is round, a symbol for wanting the New Year to roll smoothly with no sorrow.
- Apples and honey- a blessing for a sweet year. For this reason also the Challah is often dipped in honey.
- Pomegranates - a blessing for many good deeds and commands.
- Head of a fish - a blessing for "being the head and not the tail", encouragement for leadership and initiative, and not following others blindly.