What: It is the birthday of the universe, the day G‑d
Adam and Eve, and it’s celebrated as the head of the Jewish
When: The first two days of the Jewish year, Tishrei
1 and 2, beginning at sundown on the eve of Tishrei 1 (check out
this year’s date).
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.
Why Rosh Hashanah Is
Rosh Hashanah 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
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
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
What’s It Called?
common name for this holiday is Rosh Hashanah, the name used in the eponymous
tractate of Talmud devoted to the holiday.
Torah refers to this day as Yom Teruah (Day of Shofar Blowing).
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.
First Priority: Hear the
The central observance of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s
horn, on both mornings 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
are then blown during (and immediately after) the Musaf service. Many
communities listen to 100 blasts over the course of the Rosh Hashanah morning services. For someone
who cannot come to synagogue, the shofar may
be blown the rest of the day. If you cannot make it out, 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,
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
Other Rosh Hashanah
Greetings: When you meet a fellow Jew on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, wish
him, “Leshana tovah tikatev v’tichatem” or,
for a female,“Leshana tovah tikatevee
v’tichatemee” (“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year”).
Afterward, wish them a “G’mar 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.
Rosh Hashanah Prayers
Much of the day is spent in synagogue. 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.
Appropriately, the reading is followed by a haftarah
reading about the birth of Samuel the Prophet. 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
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.
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
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
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.”
people eat parts of the head of a fish or a ram, expressing the wish that “we
be a head and not a tail.”
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
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.
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
(Read about the elaborate array of symbolic foods eaten in
Sephardic communities here.)
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.