Rosh Hashanah designates the beginning of the Jewish new year, starting tomorrow — which according to the Jewish calendar begins at sundown tonight. “Rosh” is Hebrew for “head” and Rosh Hashanah refers to the head of the year on the 1st day of Tishri, the seventh month of the Jewish ecclesiastical calendar. It marks the beginning of the civil year. Judaism has a solar/lunar calendar system, in which the lunar reckoning predominates. The first in the cycle of months is Nissan (which has nothing to do with the automobile manufacturer), the month in which Passover occurs. However, solar years are reckoned to begin at Rosh Hashanah. The new year is heralded with the blowing of the shofar or ram’s horn by the “baal t’kiah” (meaning master of the shofar-blast), during prayers and 100 blasts throughout the day. You’ve heard the story of Joshua leading the Jewish people to march around Jericho blowing their trumpets so that the “walls came a-tumbling down” (Joshua 6:4–5)? That’s the shofar.
Festival meals during Rosh Hashanah include traditional foods mentioned in the Talmud (notes on the Jewish oral tradition, known as the Mishnah), including dates, leeks, spinach, gourd, and black-eyed peas. Also featured as a later medieval addition are apples dipped in honey, with the intention of bringing forth a sweet new year: Shanah Tovah Umetukah which translated from the Hebrew, שנה טובה ומתוקה means
“[have a] Good and Sweet Year”
Rosh Hashanah Background
Some scholars have suggested that the Jews marked the beginning of the year at this time after the period of their Babylonian Captivity, in following with the Babylonian custom. Tradition recons this day to mark the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. It marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days or the Yamim Noraim, the “Days of Awe” when God is said to begin examining the record of each person’s actions during the preceding year. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 3:4 refers to the shofar blasts as a “wake up call” where Jews are beckoned:
“Sleepers, wake up from your slumber! Examine your ways and repent and remember your Creator.”
Jews are called upon to take an “accounting of the soul” with the aim of correcting defects in one’s behavior — the ultimate goal is to help “repair the universe.” The audit is considered to end on Yom Kippur, on the 10th day of Tishri, which we will examine later.
Shanna Tova! שנה טובה — Have a Good Year!
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian