Patheos answers the question:

What is Rosh Hashanah and Why is it Celebrated?

Special honey dishes

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, and it is a holiday which starts on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. Rosh Hashanah is a two-day holiday that is celebrated with a variety of rituals, prayers, and special blessings. These include the blowing (in the synagogue) of the shofar, a specially made ram’s horn. One of the reasons traditionally given for blowing the ram’s horn includes the idea that the shofar will “wake people up” to the reality of this new year, and hopefully to their need for repentance, prayer, and commitment to live a better life this coming year. The ram's horn is also said to represent the ram in the Bible who sacrificed in place of Isaac, when God stayed the hand of Abraham after Abraham proved he was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac to God. Another way in which Rosh Hashanah is celebrated is through eating symbolic foods, such as the eating of apples dipped in honey (symbolic of having a sweet new year). Traditional Rosh Hashanah meals will also often include a variety of dishes whose names can become linguistic puns and blessings, in both Hebrew and the vernacular language.


Rosh Hashanah is a celebratory holiday that is sometimes called “the birthday of the world,” and it is commemorated with special prayers, songs, and scriptural readings in synagogue, all of which can last many hours. The month preceding Rosh Hashanah is the month of Elul, and it is a time of spiritual preparation. There are also additional supplicatory prayers recited in the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah. This is a time for many Jews to gather with family and celebrate in community. Jews who do not attend synagogue during the week will often still make sure to attend Rosh Hashanah services, especially to hear the shofar, which is a highlight of the holiday. Rabbis prepare very carefully for their sermons as well.


This holiday inaugurates a period in the Jewish calendar known as the Days of Awe. The Days of Awe begin with Rosh Hashanah and conclude ten days later with Yom Kippur, the more austere occasion, which—in English—is called the Day of Atonement. In Jewish tradition, the fate of a person’s year is decided on Rosh Hashanah but sealed on Yom Kippur, and it is traditional for people to give extra charity and perform special deeds of kindness during this time, in order to ensure they are written into “the Book of Life.” The holiday of Rosh Hashanah carries all the restrictions and obligations of a biblical Jewish holiday. This means that during the two days of Rosh Hashanah, traditionally observant Jews will not spend money, use electricity (including cell phones), commit any thoughts to writing, or drive their cars, among other restrictions. There are allowances, however, for cooking food and walking freely in the public domain without a legal enclosure, both of which would be forbidden during the weekly Sabbath.


The holiday of Rosh Hashanah is celebrated for two days both in Israel and in countries around the world, even though most Jewish holidays are celebrated for an extra day outside of Israel. 


Learn more about Jewish beliefs here.

3/23/2021 6:32:39 PM