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What Is Rosh Hashanah?

What Is Rosh Hashanah?

The Jewish New Year, anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, a day of judgment and coronation, and sounding of the shofar . . .


What: It is the birthday of the universe, the day G‑d created Adam and Eve, and it’s celebrated as the head of the Jewish year.

When: The first two days of the Jewish new year, Tishrei 1 and 2, beginning at sundown on the eve of Tishrei 1. Rosh Hashanah 2018 begins at sundown on September 9 and continues through nightfall on September 11 (see more details here).

How: Candle lighting in the evenings, festive meals with sweet delicacies during the night and day, prayer services that include the sounding of the ram’s horn (shofar) on both mornings, and desisting from creative work. See our calendar for details.

Why Rosh Hashanah Is Important

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah actually means “Head of the Year.” Just like the head controls the body, our actions on Rosh Hashanah have a tremendous impact on the rest of the year.

As we read in the Rosh Hashanah prayers, each year on this day “all inhabitants of the world pass before G‑d like a flock of sheep,” and it is decreed in the heavenly court “who shall live, and who shall die ... who shall be impoverished and who shall be enriched; who shall fall and who shall rise.”

It is a day of prayer, a time to ask the Almighty to grant us a year of peace, prosperity and blessing. But it is also a joyous day when we proclaim G‑d King of the Universe. The Kabbalists teach that the continued existence of the universe depends on G‑d’s desire for a world, a desire that is renewed when we accept His kingship anew each year on Rosh Hashanah.

What’s It Called?

● The most common name for this holiday is Rosh Hashanah, the name used in the eponymous tractate of Talmud devoted to the holiday.

● The Torah refers to this day as Yom Teruah (Day of Shofar Blowing).1

● In our prayers, we often call it Yom Hazikaron (Day of Remembrance) and Yom Hadin (Day of Judgement) since this is the day when G‑d recalls all of His creations and determines their fate for the year ahead.

● Together with Yom Kippur (which follows 10 days later), it is part of the Yamim Nora'im (Days of Awe, or: High Holidays).

First Priority: Hear the Shofar

The central observance of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn, on both days of the holiday (except if the first day is Shabbat, in which case we blow the shofar only on the second day).

The first 30 blasts of the shofar are blown following the Torah reading during morning services, and as many as 70 additional are blown during (and immediately after) the Musaf service, adding up to 100 blasts over the course of the Rosh Hashanah morning services (some communities sound another round of 30 blasts after services as well). For someone who cannot come to synagogue, the shofar may be heard the rest of the day. If you cannot make it out of your home, please contact your closest Chabad center to see about arranging a “house call.”

The shofar blowing contains a series of three types of blasts: tekiah, a long sob-like blast; shevarim, a series of three short wails; and teruah, at least nine piercing staccato bursts.

(Read more about the shofar blasts here.)

The blowing of the shofar represents the trumpet blast that is sounded at a king’s coronation. Its plaintive cry also serves as a call to repentance. The shofar itself recalls the Binding of Isaac, an event that occurred on Rosh Hashanah in which a ram took Isaac’s place as an offering to G‑d. (Read more on the reasons for shofar here.)

Other Rosh Hashanah Observances

Greetings:On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, wish a male, “Leshanah tovah tikatev vetichatem;” for a female say,“Leshanah tovah tikatevee vetichatemee” (“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year”). At other times, wish them a “Gemar chatimah tovah” (“A good inscription and sealing [in the Book of Life]”). (More on the Rosh Hashanah greetings here.)

Candles: As with every major Jewish holiday, women and girls light candles on each evening of Rosh Hashanah and recite the appropriate blessings. On the second night, make sure to use an existing flame and think about a new fruit that you will be eating (or garment that you are wearing) while you say the Shehechiyanu blessing. Click here for candle lighting times in your area and here for the blessings.

Tashlich: On the first afternoon of Rosh Hashanah (provided that it is not Shabbat), it is customary to go to a body of water (ocean, river, pond, etc.) and perform the Tashlich ceremony, in which we ceremonially cast our sins into the water. With this tradition we are symbolically evoking the verse, “And You shall cast their sins into the depths of the sea.” The short prayer for this service can be found in your machzor.

For additional instruction regarding this year, see our Rosh Hashanah calendar.

Rosh Hashanah Prayers

Much of the day is spent in synagogue, where we pray that G‑d grant all of His creations a sweet new year. The evening and afternoon prayers are similar to the prayers said on a regular holiday. However, the morning services are significantly longer.

The holiday prayerbook—called a machzor—contains all the prayers and Torah readings for the entire day. The most significant addition is the shofar blowing ceremony. However, there are also other important elements of the prayer service that are unique to Rosh Hashanah.

The Torah is read on both mornings of Rosh Hashanah.

On the first day, we read about Isaac’s birth and the subsequent banishment of Hagar and Ishmael.2 Appropriately, the reading is followed by a haftarah reading about the birth of Samuel the Prophet.3 Both readings contain the theme of prayers for children being answered, and both of these births took place on Rosh Hashanah.

On the second morning, we read about Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac.4 As mentioned above, the shofar blowing recalls the ram, which figures prominently in this story as a powerful display of Abraham’s devotion to G‑d that has characterized His children ever since. The haftarah5 tells of G‑d’s eternal love for His people.

(More on the Torah readings for Rosh Hashanah, here.)

The cantor’s repetition of the Amidah (Silent Prayer) is peppered with piyyutim, poetic prayers that express our prayerful wishes for the year and other themes of the day. For certain selections, those deemed especially powerful, the ark is opened. Many of these additions are meant to be said responsively, as a joint effort between the prayer leader and the congregation.

Even without the added piyyutim, the Rosh Hashanah Musaf prayer is significantly longer than it is the rest of the year. This is because its single middle blessing is divided into three additional blessings, each focusing on another one of the holiday’s main themes: G‑d’s kingship, our wish that He “remember” us for the good, and the shofar. Each blessing contains a collage of Biblical verses that express its theme, and is then followed by a round of shofar blowing.

Rosh Hashanah Feasts

We eat festive meals every night and day of the holiday. Like all other holiday meals, we begin by reciting kiddush over wine and then say the blessing over bread. But there are some important differences:

a. The bread (traditionally baked into round challah loaves, and often sprinkled with raisins) is dipped into honey instead of salt, expressing our wish for a sweet year. We do this on Rosh Hashanah, Shabbat Shuvah (the Shabbat before Yom Kippur), in the pre-Yom Kippur meal and during Sukkot.

b. Furthering the sweet theme, it is traditional to begin the meal on the first night with slices of apple dipped in honey. Before eating the apple, we make the ha’eitz blessing and then say, “May it be Your will to renew for us a good and sweet year.”

c. Many people eat parts of the head of a fish or a ram, expressing the wish that “we be a head and not a tail.”

d. In many communities, there are additional traditional foods eaten, each symbolizing a wish for the coming year. Many eat pomegranates, giving voice to a wish that “our merits be many like the [seeds of the] pomegranate.” Another common food is tzimmes, a sweet carrot-based dish eaten because of its Yiddish name, merren, which means both “carrot” and “increase,” symbolizing a wish for a year of abundance.

e. It is traditional to avoid nuts (here’s why) as well as vinegar-based, sharp foods, most notably the horseradish traditionally eaten with gefilte fish, since we don’t want a bitter year.

f. On the second night of the holiday, we do not eat the apples, fish heads, pomegranates, etc. However, before we break bread (and dip it in honey), we eat a “new fruit,” something we have not tasted since the last time it was in season. (Read this blog post to learn the reason for the new fruit and the other traditional foods.)

(Read about the elaborate array of symbolic foods eaten in Sephardic communities here.)

What’s Next?

Rosh Hashanah is the start of the Yamim Nora’im (High Holidays). The holy day of Yom Kippur when we gather in synagogue for 25 hours of fasting, prayer and inspiration, is just a week later. The days in between (known as the 10 Days of Repentance, or the Ten Days of Return) are an especially propitious time for teshuvah, returning to G‑d. Yom Kippur is followed by the joyous holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah.

The season of the High Holidays is a time for an epic journey for the soul, and Rosh Hashanah is where it all begins.

More Heads of the Year

Although this is the most famous Rosh Hashanah, the Mishnah actually lists four heads of the year. One is 1 Nissan, in the springtime month when we left egypt, and another is 15 Shevat, the New Year for Trees. And just to make things exciting, chassidic tradition celebrates 19 Kislev as the New Year for Chassidism.

Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Anonymous September 20, 2017

Indeed, my prayers are always with Israel. May all of His people be blessed in this coming year.

James Reply

Anonymous New York City September 20, 2017

Thank you for a great reference article.
One minor clarification

You write that

> The days in between (known as the 10 Days of Repentance,

I would clarify here that the 10 Days are not "in between" Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Rather, the 10 days start with Rosh Hashana and end with Yom Kippur. Reply

Ezra September 20, 2017

This will be my first Rosh Hashanah since my conversion to Judaism from Atheism. It will definitely be interesting to see how it goes. G-d bless you all and G-d bless sacred Israel. Reply

Anonymous September 23, 2017
in response to Ezra:

How was it ? Reply

liad September 18, 2017

shana tova Reply

Anonymous New York September 18, 2017

U right g-d because it is not polite to say it in vein Reply

inge reisinger zwickau September 18, 2017

thank you, i wish all your staff shana towa we haima towa aswell abroad and all israel
i will read as i cannot take part in any festival this year because of an accident Reply

Michael Stuart September 18, 2017

A very informative article, but what is conspicuously missing is the emphasis on God's love as the essential and primary component of the whole occasion. If the article is read again, one will see a sense of "duty"---although much of it non-biblical in nature---but not "love." This is a reason why so many Jews see Judaism as a religion of identity, and not one of spiritual growth where one continually draws closer to God. All the practices presented in this article will not bring anyone closer to
God without the emphasis on His love and our love for Him. The rabbis, even Chabad rabbis, have missed the point....entirely. Reply Staff September 18, 2017
in response to Michael:

That aspect is explored in other articles in this section. This particular article is meant to be a practical guide for practical observances. Reply

Sydney September 22, 2017
in response to Michael:

That is such an important point. While at Shul I noticed how often the prayers and songs were filled with love. G-d loving us and us loving G-d. How wonderful I felt as if I were soaked in everything feeling so good. I feel blessed Reply

Michael Jacksonville September 18, 2017
in response to Staff:

Without the emphasis on God's love in Judaism, there is no practical observance in the entire religion. Chabad is supposed to know that. Reply

Anonymous Miami Lakes October 1, 2017
in response to Michael :

Miami Lakes In complete agreement with the points you brought to attention. Thanks. Reply

Anonymous September 10, 2017

May this new year make us remember that no jewish will ever again take the place of any other jewish, Dina levy Reply

Anonymous Ga September 19, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

What does this comment mean please? What is meant by this? Reply

K. Ann Campbell, Esq. USA September 9, 2017

God bless Israel and all who participate in Rosh Hashana.
Prayers for a prosperous and joyous new year. Reply

Samuel Buya Kargbo Sierra Leone October 3, 2016

Happy New Year A blessed New Year to the people of Israel. May Israel enjoy peace and love. Reply

Joyce Ohio October 2, 2016

shofar Thanks for the explanation of the blowing of the shofar. Have a sweet new year. Reply

Anonymous October 2, 2016

Good Yontef and Shana Tova Umetukah,

May we all have a good year, filled with good health, happiness, peace, parnasa and shalom bayit.

Chabad of Agoura Hills, CA Reply

Simcha Bart for October 2, 2016

Shofar outside of Synagogue Though it is preferable to hear the Shofar in the Synagogue, one may blow or hear the Shofar and make the appropriate blessings outside of the synagogue, provided that one follows the specific rules concerning blowing the Shofar - please see about this. Reply

PAUL DUBOIS October 1, 2016

Shona tovah to all from Trinidad and Tobago Reply

Dvaid Chester Petach Tikva, Israel October 1, 2016

Is it OK if I blow my own shofer outside of a synagogue on Rosh HaShanna? Am I obliged to recite the two blessings first? Reply

Daniela Germany September 30, 2016

Best wishes Happy and sweet New Year! G`d bless you Israel. Reply

Gary USA September 28, 2016

Rosh Hashanah Why 2 days? Lev 23 says Tishri 1 so why is it 2 days now? Reply

Andrew PASADENA via September 23, 2016

Great answer! Thanks Shoshana!! Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem May 3, 2016

anonymous April 26 The reason that we don't write His name out fully is because we are not allowed to destroy His name, and if it is written out and we throw away the paper, we have destroyed it. There is a difference of contemporary Rabbinic opinion as to whether or not the computer is considered writing, but many people are careful even with the computer not to write it our fully.
What Becky wrote about reverence is true and similar to this. Also, for that reason, we spell His holy name with a capital G.

So the question arises, what do we do with a paper with His name on it that we want to dispose of, and even more problematic, a torn prayer book, etc? So these are buried. Where? Usually there is a collection box in the synagogue, with people in charge, who give it to the people who take care of this. Reply

Elaine Toth Huntington Beach September 19, 2017
in response to Shoshana:

We are not to take this idea literally. There is nothing in the bible to support that. Although it is to show respect to our Creator, not to take His name in vain.
On Rosh Hashanah we should take the time to thank Him for his loving kindness towards us. Have a happy new year. Reply

Anonymous April 26, 2016

Why do you use g-d instead of god? Reply

jennifer September 18, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

saying the lord's name is forbidden so many sites use g-d instead of properly writing god and this is why the bible uses "the lord" instead of god Reply

Michael Jacksonville October 1, 2017
in response to jennifer:

No really. Elohim is used throughout the Tanaach. "Lord" is used only to designate where the four letters of God"s name are written. As we no longer know how to pronounce His name , "Adonai", or "Lord," is used. Reply

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