Rosh Hashanah

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 with God.

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.

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