Evening Service

The evening services of both nights of Rosh Hashanah are relatively brief; in most synagogues they don't last longer than half an hour. The service starts with the Barchu, and continues with the Shema and the blessings which precede and follow it. All throughout, the chazzan (cantor), together with the congregation sing a haunting tune reserved for the High Holiday evening services. The special Rosh Hashanah Amidah is then recited, followed by the recitation of Psalm 24 and the Aleinu.
[If the first night of Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, the service is slightly lengthier, incorporating various components of the standard Friday night service.]

Morning Service

The morning service (Shacharit and Musaf together) should take approximately 4-5 hours.


The first part of the service, until the Amidah, resembles the service of every Shabbat and holiday — Baruch She'amar, Psalms of Praise, Yishtabach, Shema and its blessings, etc. The Rosh Hashanah Amidah is then recited, followed by a lengthy Repetition of the Amidah by the chazzan, which is inter-sprinkled with different hymns which are traditionally sung together by the entire congregation. Members of the congregation are honored with opening the Ark before the recitation of many of these hymns. When the chazzan concludes his repetition, the congregation rises for the Avinu Malkeinu prayer. This is followed by the recitation of the Song of the Day.

Torah Readings:

At this point two Torahs are taken from the Ark. While the Ark is open, before the Torahs are removed, special prayers designed to evoke Divine mercy are silently recited.

First Day:
The birth of Isaac is the theme of the reading of the first day of Rosh Hashanah. We learn the lesson of Divine Providence and Omnipotence. Sarah, at the age of ninety, gives birth to Isaac, her first and only child. Isaac is entered into the Covenant of our Father Abraham at the age of eight days. In the haftorah we read about the birth of the prophet Samuel.

Second Day:
The "Binding of Isaac" is the theme of today's reading. The Binding of Isaac has come to represent the ultimate in the Jew's devotion to G‑d. On Rosh Hashanah, when the world trembles in judgment before G‑d, we evoke the Binding of Isaac. We tell G‑d, "If we have no other merit, remember how the first Jew bound all succeeding generations of Jews in a covenant of self-sacrifice to You." The haftorah, a reading from the Book of Jeremiah, talks about G‑d's everlasting love for His people and the future ingathering of the exile. In the last verse of the haftorah, G‑d says, "Is Ephraim [i.e., the Children of Israel] not My beloved son? Is he not a precious child that whenever I speak of him I recall him even more?" This follows one of the primary themes of the Rosh Hashanah prayers, our attempt to induce G‑d to remember us in a positive light on this Day of Judgment.

Shofar Blowing:

The shofar blowing service is the central point of the day's services. Preparatory Psalms are recited, and then the shofar blower recites the blessings and sounds the shofar.


In most communities, The Musaf service is prefaced by a passage recited by the chazzan, wherein he requests Divine favor and permission to lead the congregation despite his deficiencies. The Special Rosh Hashanah Musaf Amidah is then recited. The Musaf Amidah has three themes — each contained within its own blessing: G‑d's kingship, G‑d's remembering His people, and the sounds of the shofar. In many communities, the shofar is sounded after the congregation silently concludes each of these blessings. The chazzan then repeats the Amidah, which is again inter-sprinkled with various hymns. A deeply moving section of the Musaf Amidah Repetition is "U'nit-a-neh Tokef" (click here for the history behind this prayer). The shofar is again sounded when the chazzan concludes each of the three aforementioned themed blessings. Towards the end of the service, the priests, or kohanim, direct descendants of Aaron the High Priest, bless the congregation with the Priestly Blessing. The prayer concludes with the Ein Ke'eloheinu and Aleinu.

Afternoon Prayer:

The brief afternoon service consists of the opening prayers, (the Torah reading if Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat,) the Amidah prayer, the chazzan's repetition of the Amidah, the recital of Avinu Malkenu, and the concluding Aleinu prayer.

Tashlich Prayer

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah (or on the second day if the first day falls on Shabbat), it is customary to visit a body of water that has fish, and there to recite a brief prayer. Click here for more on this ceremony.

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