Happy New Year: How Much Do You Know About Rosh Hashanah?

Most people are at least aware enough of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, that they wouldn’t be completely baffled by a “Happy New Year!” in the middle of September. A lot of them would have to admit their knowledge ends there. But that’s not a worry. Read all the information below, and when you get another “Happy New Year!” you’ll know exactly what they’re talking about.

Rosh Hashanah (“the head of the year”) is of course the Jewish New Year, and is actually two days, not one. Since Judaism uses the Hebrew calendar, which is a lunisolar calendar (where the new year is dictated by cycles of the sun and moon combined), the new year doesn’t occur on one specific calendar date but rather 163 days after Passover. The earliest Rosh Hashanah can be on a Gregorian calendar is September 5; however, since the Hebrew calendar adds an extra month every nineteen years, by 2089 the earliest date it can be is September 6. This year is 5776, which was worked out by Maimonides in 1180 C.E. by Biblical references.

The Biblical name for the New Year is usually translated into the Feast of Trumpets. The trumpet is a real thing and is called a shofar. The reference to blowing the horn to mark the new year can be found in Leviticus 23:24. It is blown on the first day of Rosh Hahsnah unless that day is a Saturday; then it it sounded on the second day. There are one hundred shofar blasts in total.

Like almost all Jewish holy days, the New Year is accompanied by a gathering of family and special food. Round challah is served to represent the cycle of the year, as well as dates, pomegranates, leeks, spinich, and black-eyed peas, all of which are mentioned as foods to eat on the New Year in the Bible. A tradition of eating apples dipped in honey, for a “sweet year” was begun by medieval Ashkenazic Jews, but is now a more universal custom. Depending on the ethnicity of the Jews celebrating the new year, other foods may be a tradtition. And yes, the bread can be leavened and corn products eaten on those days; Passover is the holiday with restrictions on those.

It is believed that on Rosh Hashanah, names are written into the book of life for the next year, although that can be modified until Yom Kippur. The new year marks the beginning of the reading of the Torah, the books of the Bible that make up the Old Testament. A reading is done every week and on holy days so that the entirety of the Torah is read every year.

Ten days after Rosh Hashanah occurs, Yom Kippur happens. The ten days in between are called the days of repentence, and are marked to reflect on man’s sins, both individually and plural. Yom Kippur is the Day of Forgiveness, and is intended to reflect on the grace given to the Jewish people. Observers do not eat or drink, change clothes, wear leather, or have sexual relations in the twenty-six hours of Yom Kippur.

No matter whether it’s a holiday for you or not, have a Happy New Year in every way.

(Image via Wikipedia/Gilabrand)