In Israel, New Year is not on January 1st, it’s on the 1st day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (which usually falls during September). Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. The Hebrew name of the holiday literally means, “head of the year”.
Tradition says that Rosh Hashanah marks the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, in other words, this date is the birthdate of humanity.
Rosh Hashanah is a time for introspection. What have we done in the previous year? How can we do better in the year to come? Have we done anything that is offensive to God? Have we done anything that is hurtful to our brothers and sisters? This is a time of repentance – interestingly Jewish tradition dictates that one must first make amends between people before it is possible to be forgiven by God.
The High Holiday Period
Rosh Hashanah ushers in the Ten Days of Repentance (Aseret Yemei Teshuvah), also known as the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim), which culminate in the major fast day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The Days of Awe represent the climax of a longer process. Starting at the beginning of the previous month, called Elul, the shofar (ram’s horn) is sounded at the conclusion of the morning prayer service. This is intended as a wake-up call for the soul, to prepare for the High Holidays.
One week before Rosh Hashanah, special petitionary prayers called Selichot are added to the ritual. Rosh Hashanah itself is also known as Yom Hadin or the Day of Judgment, on which God opens the Books of Life and Death and decides who will live and who will die in the year to come. On Yom Kippur the books are sealed.
Jewish tradition commonly ties food to rituals of celebration and memory. Rosh Hashanah is no different. The simanim (=signs in Hebrew) are foods used as reminders or symbols for blessings we wish for ourselves, our family and the Nation of Israel for the year to come. Read more about the simanim, their accompanying blessings and ideas for how to prepare them here.