The beginning of the Jewish New Year falls on
the first day of the month of Tishri. The month before, Elul, is a
period for reflecting on all the deeds of the previous year, and for
acts of repentance that help prepare for the decision God takes during
Rosh Hashanah about whether a person should live or die.
In the month of Elul, after morning prayers the shofar (ram's horn)
is sounded. During the week preceding Rosh Hashanah, the slichot prayer
is said, in which one asks for forgiveness, the absolution of sins and
for God to pass a merciful judgment.
Blowing the ram's horn has a deeply symbolic meaning. Its three main
blasts, Tekiah (constant) Shevarim (three short) and Teruah (nine short
sounds) are a reflection of this holiday's three-fold meaning: the
anniversary of the creation of the world, the time of judgment and the
day of renewing bonds between God and Israel. During this time, the
graves of the dead are visited in order to ask them for intercession
Many customs are associated with this holiday. On the eve (erev) of
Rosh Hashanah, one must have a ritual bath in the mikvah, thanks to
which one attains a state of spiritual purity. One's hair must also be
cut, and new, light-colored set of holiday clothing must be donned.
The synagogue itself also takes on a holiday
atmosphere: the ark (aron kodesh) is covered with white ark curtains
(parochet). The covers on the pulpits on the bima and the Torah mantle
(the meil, usually velvet or silk) are also white, as white is a symbol
of purity, sinlessness and innocence. The prayers said that day reflect
the holiday's serious character-their words contain requests for the
life and health of oneself and one's dear ones. They are full of
humility and contrition for all sins that have been committed. One of
the prayers contains the request: "Remember us for life, O King Who
desires life, and inscribe us in the Book of Life-for Your sake, O
Living God." These words are repeated many times, because it is on this
holiday that God inscribes people's fates into the Book of Life (the
righteous) or the Book of Death (sinners), while judgments for the rest
of the people are made during Yomim Noraim, the ten days between Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These words have also become the wish expressed
to friends one meets that day: Leshana Tova Tikatevu ("may you all be
inscribed for a good year").
Another custom associated with Rosh Hashanah is tashlich, which
entails tossing the contents of your pockets into the water-whether it
be a river, pond or spring. This gesture symbolizes the discarding and
elimination of sins. A passage from the prophecy of Micah is recited at
the same time: "You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our
sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea."
After returning home, people sit down to a
holiday meal, comprised of foods symbolizing the beginning of a new
year-for example a dish made of the head of a lamb or fish, recalling
the maxim: "begin the year from the head, not the feet".
There is also a belief that the coming year will resemble the dishes
on the holiday table. As a result, bitter, sour and salty foods are
banned Rosh Hashanah, since it would mean a year full of bitterness,
quarrels and tears. This is why this holiday is the only day of the year
when the challah is not salted before the prayer is said over it, but
is instead dipped into honey. The table must also have apples with
honey, raisins and dates. In addition, there are also grapes and
pomegranates, whose structure (many parts forming one whole) symbolizes
the spiritual unification of the Jewish people with God.