Joy and Judgement
The Jewish New Year
Jacqueline O’ Sullivan explains the annual celebration.
(Rosh Hashanah) takes place in the month of Tishri (September and October on
the Gregorian calendar) and commemorates the anniversary of Creation. It is on this day that G-d opens
the Book of Life and observes his creatures, deciding their fate for the coming year.
As is customary in Jewish festivals, observance begins on nightfall the day before Rosh Hashanah. Celebrants prepare by bathing, receiving haircuts, donning special clothes and giving treats to children.
Certain types of work are forbidden, though there are some exceptions. Food preparation and the carrying, transferring or increasing of the fire are all permitted. Women of the household light commemorative candles before sunset of the first night and a half-hour before sunset on the second night of Rosh Hashanah, reciting blessings over them.
Though G-d opens the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah the judgement is not final. The book is ‘sealed’ on Yom Kippur, ten days later. The time between these two festivals is known as Shabbat Shuva (The Shabbat of Returning). This is a period for self-reflection in which to justify your existence to G-d. Rosh Hashanah is the only Jewish celebration that lasts for two days, signifying the importance of this date in the calendar.
Prayers play an important part in the proceedings. Intense and lengthy devotions on Rosh Hashanah vary from those normally uttered on Sabbath with even the familiar prayers containing subtle differences. Following the evening prayer people will wish each other a Good New Year. There are also specific greetings for each sex. A man is wished, “Leshana tova tikateiv v’techateim.” A woman is bid, “Leshana tova tikateivi vetichatemi.” . The Yiddish equivalent is a “gut yoar.”
Following lunch on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the ritual of the Casting is performed. Crumbs of bread are tossed into water after the Torah verse, “And you will cast all their sins into the depth of the sea.” The hems of the worshippers’ garments are shaken alluding to the fact that sins are being cast away.
One of the essential elements of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the shofar. The shofar is made from an animal’s horn, preferably a ram. The cow’s horn is not acceptable, nor is any animal horn that’s a solid piece.
The horn is blown 100 times every day of Rosh Hashanah upon the command of HaShem with different meanings attached to the varying sounds. The Tekiah is one long ‘blast’ with a clear tone. The Skevarium is a ‘broken’ sighing sound of three short calls. The Teruah is the ‘alarm’ of a rapid series of nine or more quick short notes.
The command to blow the shofar comes from the Torah, but no explanation is attached. Rabbis have provided different reasons. It acts as a reminder for the soul to enter into repentance. It is also a warning to the Jewish people not to fall into temptation. It calls to mind the blasts blown by Moses when he ascended from Mount Sinai for the second time, after pleading with G-d for mercy for the Jews who had worshipped at the alter of a false God.
The shofar blower recites two blessings – the community must listen to the blessings and respond ‘Amen’ to both. It is forbidden to speak once the first blast is sounded until the last one is blown.
In 2002, Rosh Hashanah commences on September 7th and ends on the evening of September 8th. At this time of quiet contemplation, Jews the world over will take the opportunity to express to G-d the value they place in their lives while also reminding G-d how much He cares.