What is Rosh Hashanah?

Learn about Rosh Hashanah and when it's celebrated

Jewish New Year is the most important and widely celebrated of all Jewish holidays. The origin of Jewish New Year can be traced to the Old Testament, and Jewish people have been celebrating it for thousands of years. Rosh Hashanah, which is celebrated the first and second days of Tishri (the first month of the civil year and seventh month of the ecclesiastical year), marks the time when, according to tradition, God created the world.

For Jews worldwide, this is a time of introspection, of looking back at the past year and planning for the new year ahead. It is the only Jewish holiday that is purely religious and not tied to historical or natural events.

The 10-day period known as the Days of Awe starts with Rosh Hashanah and ends with Yom Kippur.

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Rosh Hashanah, which means “head of the year” in Hebrew, is a time of family gatherings and religious celebrations. Families gather for a traditional holiday meal, including apples dipped in honey, which symbolize the wish for a sweet new year, and challah bread baked in a round or dome shape to symbolize a wish for a well rounded year without sorrow.

The sounding of the shofar, an instrument made from a ram’s horn, is an important part of the celebration. The shofar is blown 100 times every day of Rosh Hashanah and at the end of Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur, observed on the 10th day of Tishri, is also called the Day of Atonement. It is the most solemn day of the Jewish year, observed with fasting, reflection and prayer.

One of the guiding principles of the High Holy Days is that it is the time when God decides whose name will be inscribed in the Book of Life and whose name will be in the Book of Death, essentially amounting to who will live, who will die, who will have a good year and who won’t. The books are written on Rosh Hashanah, but an individual’s actions during the Days of Awe can alter God’s decree. The books, and therefore the fates for the year, are sealed on Yom Kippur.

Credits: Includes contributions from Mariya Zilberman.