Rosh Hashanah Facts Every Jew Should Know - The Jewish Voice
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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Rosh Hashanah Facts Every Jew Should Know

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By: Menachem Posner

  1. Heads Up!

One of the basic concepts in understanding what is expected of us on Rosh Hashanah is to understand the significance of the name of the holiday. “Rosh Hashanah” means ‘Head of the Year’. The Rabbis could have called these days, ‘Beginning of the Year’, or ‘Start of the Year’, or even ‘Happy New Year.’ We call this holiday ‘Head of the Year’ since these two days stand in the same relationship to the rest of year as the head does to the body. Just like the head is the source of the life force of the person, and afterwards this life force is distributed to each individual organ of the body, so also Rosh Hashanah has hidden within it all of the life force of the year, and from the holiday it is apportioned to each and every individual day.

This is the reason that we are so strongly encouraged to use each and every moment of the two days of Rosh Hashanah in a positive way, even taking the trouble to plan how we will use our time in advance, because hidden in every moment is the potential and spiritual force for each of the days of the coming year. We see this in the actual physical organs themselves; the brain in the head is much more sensitive and delicate than the other limbs and organs of the body. Similarly a person must treat Rosh Hashanah differently than he would treat the rest of the year. Only when a person’s head is healthy and complete can his body be always healthy too. This is the service of Rosh Hashanah.

On Rosh Hashanah, we eat pomegranate to ask G-d that our merits multiply like the seeds of this delicious fruit.
  1. Toot, Toot!

The central observance of Rosh Hashanah is listening to the blowing of the shofar on both mornings of Rosh Hashanah. Made from a hollowed-out ram’s horn, the shofar produces three “voices”: tekiah (a long blast), shevarim (a series of three short blasts) and teruah (a staccato burst of at least nine blasts). The shofar is blown at various intervals during the Rosh Hashanah morning service. Add them all up and you get 100 “voices” in total.

The central observance of Rosh Hashanah is listening to the blowing of the shofar on both mornings of Rosh Hashanah.
  1. Silent Shabbat

When Rosh Hashanah coincides with Shabbat, we do not blow the shofar on that day. The sages enacted this as a precaution, in case someone would end up carrying a shofar to an expert to blow. There is a deeper lesson here as well. On Shabbat, the coronation of the King is so deep and so special that it’s accomplished without the bells and whistles of the shofar.

  1. House Calls

Chabad rabbis all over the world walk many miles on Rosh Hashanah (when car travel is forbidden) to blow shofar for people who are unable to make it to synagogue. If you know someone who cannot make it to synagogue, let your closest Chabad rabbi know as soon as possible.

  1. Twice as Nice

Rosh Hashanah is celebrated for two days. In fact, while most holidays get an extra day in the Diaspora, Rosh Hashanah is the only one that is celebrated for two days in Israel as well.

Rosh Hashanah is observed as a two-day holiday, on the first and second of Tishrei, even though the Torah ordains only one day, as the verse (Vayikra 23:24) states: And in the seventh month, on the first of the month, you shall observe a cessation of work – a day of remembrance, of the sounding of the shofar. The first day of Rosh Hashanah can fall only on the following days: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Shabbat. This regulation is an ordinance of the Sages.

  1. But Not Thrice

The Jewish calendar follows a particular rhythm. The first morning of Rosh Hashanah can be Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Shabbat—never Sunday, Wednesday or Friday. See the Rosh Hashanah Calendar.

  1. Fireworks in Your Dining Room

That’s right. Like Shabbat and other Jewish holidays, the Rosh Hashanah meals should be eaten in the joyous glow of candles, lit by the woman (or women and girls) of the house. Remember: On the first night, it is ideal to light before the onset of the holiday. On the second night, light only after nightfall, taking care to use a preexisting flame and not blow out your match when done. (Even though we may light fires and cook on holidays, kindling a new fire or extinguishing flames are forbidden.)

  1. Round Rolls

On Rosh Hashanah we traditionally start our holiday feasts with two loaves of round challah, sweetened with raisins to demonstrate our wish for a sweet new year. To add sweetness to our already sweet wish, we dip the challah in honey before taking the first bite.

  1. Apple Dipped in Honey

The meal then proceeds, including a number of sweet delicacies and other foods that express our prayerful wishes for the year. The most common symbolic food is apple slices dipped in honey (or sugar in some communities). Another favorite is tzimmes, a traditional Eastern European dish that includes carrots.

  1. Head for the Head
It is customary to sample a morsel from the head of a fish on Rosh Hashanah, symbolizing our wish to be “a head and not a tail.”

It is customary to sample a morsel from the head of a fish on Rosh Hashanah, symbolizing our wish to be “a head and not a tail.” Some people prefer the head of a ram, which is appropriate since it evokes the time when Abraham almost followed G‑d’s command to sacrifice his son Isaac, until G‑d stopped him at the last moment and had him sacrifice a ram instead. Phew!

  1. Seed Count!

Many people eat pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah, demonstrating their wish for as many merits as the pomegranate has seeds. It is commonly said that the pomegranate has 613 seeds, corresponding to the 613 mitzvahs in the Torah. However, this has yet to be empirically demonstrated by seed counters worldwide.

  1. Meet and Greet

The traditional Rosh Hashanah greeting is “shanah tovah” (שנה טובה), which means “good year.” The word u’metuka (ומתוקה), “and sweet,” is sometimes added.

  1. A Day to Pray

The Rosh Hashanah morning services are particularly long, mostly due to the extra liturgy inserted into the cantor’s repetition of the Amidah (the standing prayer). Much of it is poetic in style, and arranged according to the Hebrew alphabet—a boon for people wishing to learn the prayers by heart.


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