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- This article is about the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. For the tractate in the Talmud with the same name, see Rosh Hashanah (Talmud).
Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew: ראש השנה transliterated ro’sh hash-shānāh, "beginning of the year") is the Jewish spiritual New Year. The Mishnah, the core work of the Jewish oral law, sets this day aside as the new year for calculating calendar years and sabbatical and jubilee years.
Rabbinic literature describes this day as a day of judgement. God is sometimes referred to as the "Ancient of Days." Some descriptions depict God as sitting upon a throne, while books containing the deeds of all humanity are opened before Him.
This holiday is part of the Yamim Noraim (Hebrew, "Days of Awe"); the Yamim Noraim are a ten day period which begins with Rosh Hashanah, followed by the days of repentance, and end with the holiday of Yom Kippur.
Rosh Hashanah extends over the first two days of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, even in Israel where most holidays last only one day. (Since days in the Hebrew calendar end at sunset, the beginning of Rosh Hashanah is when sunset occurs at the end of the 29th of Elul.)
The second day is a later addition and not in keeping with the biblical commandment, which states that the holiday should be celebrated for just one day. There is some evidence that Rosh Hashanah was only celebrated for one day in Jerusalem as late as the thirteenth century.
In Reconstructionist Judaism and Reform Judaism, some communities observe only the first day of Rosh HaShanah, while others observe two days. Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism observe both the first and second days. The Karaites Jews observe only one day on the first day of Tishrei, since the second day is not written in the Torah.
Rosh Hashanah occurs 162 days after the first day of Pesach (Passover). In the Gregorian calendar at present, Rosh Hashanah cannot occur before September 5, as happened in 1899 and will happen again in 2013. After the year 2089, the differences between the Hebrew Calendar and the Gregorian Calendar will force Rosh Hashanah to be not earlier than September 6. Rosh Hashanah cannot occur later than October 5, as happened in 1967 and will happen again in 2043. The Hebrew calendar is so constituted that the first day of Rosh Hashanah can never occur on Wednesday, Friday, or Sunday.
Among the Samaritans, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated in spring, on the first day of Nisan, in accordance with their version of the Torah.
The following table lists the two days of Jewish Rosh Hashanah for some years. Rosh Hashanah begins at sunset on the evening before the first day listed in the table.
Traditions and customs
During the Yamim Noraim ("Hebrew, "Days of Awe") many penential prayers (called selihot) and religious poems (called piyuttim) are added to the regular prayer services. Special prayer books for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur developed, called the mahzor (sing.), or mahzorim (plural). The traditional greeting on Rosh Hashanah is "Shana Tova" IPA /ʃaˈna toˈva/, Hebrew for "Happy New Year".
Foods eaten during the time of Rosh Hashanah are always kosher and include latkes (potato cakes), matzah, and other unleavened breads.
This holiday is characterized by the blowing of the shofar, a trumpet made from a ram's horn. During the afternoon of the first day occurs the practice of tashlikh, the symbolic casting away of sins by throwing either stones or bread crumbs into the waters. Rosh Hashanah meals often include apples and honey, to symbolize a "sweet new year".
In the Hebrew Bible
In the earliest times the Hebrew year began in autumn with the opening of the economic year. There followed in regular succession the seasons of seed-sowing, growth and ripening of the corn under the influence of the former and the latter rains, harvest and ingathering of the fruits. In harmony with this was the order of the great agricultural festivals, according to the oldest legislation, namely, the feast of unleavened bread at the beginning of the barley harvest, in the month of Abib; the feast of harvest, seven weeks later; and the feast of ingathering at the going out or turn of the year (See Exodus xxiii. 14-17; Deuteronomy. xvi. 1-16).
It is likely that the new year was celebrated from ancient times in some special way. The earliest reference to such a custom is, probably, in the account of the vision of Ezekiel (Ezek. xl. 1). This took place at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month (Tishri). On the same day the beginning of the year of jubilee was to be proclaimed by the blowing of trumpets (Lev. xxv. 9). According to the Septuagint rendering of Ezek. xlv. 20, special sacrifices were to be offered on the first day of the seventh month as well as on the first day of the first month. This first day of the seventh month was appointed by the Law to be "a day of blowing of trumpets". There was to be a holy convocation; no servile work was to be done; and special sacrifices were to be offered (Lev. xxiii. 23-25; Num. xxix. 1-6). This day was not expressly called New-Year's Day, but it was evidently so regarded by the Jews at a very early period.
In rabbinic literature
Philo, in his treatise on the festivals, calls New-Year's Day the festival of the sacred moon and feast of the trumpets, and explains the blowing of the trumpets as being a memorial of the giving of the Law and a reminder of God's benefits to mankind in general ("De Septennario," § 22).
The Mishnah, the core text of Judaism's oral law, contains the first known reference to the "Day of Judgment". It says: "Four times in the year the world is judged: On Passover a decree is passed on the produce of the soil; on the Pentecost, on the fruits of the trees; on New-Year's Day all men pass before Him ("God"); and on the Feast of Tabernacles a decree is passed on the rain of the year.
According to rabbinic tradition, the creation of the world was finished on Tishri 1.
The observance of the 1st of Tishri as Rosh ha-Shanah is based principally on the mention of "Zikkaron" (= "memorial day"; Lev. xxiii. 24) and the reference of Ezra to the day as one "holy to the Lord" (Neh. viii. 9) seem to point. The passage in Psalms (lxxxi. 5) referring to the solemn feast which is held on New Moon Day, when the shofar is sounded, as a day of "mishpat" (judgment) of "the God of Jacob" is taken to indicate the character of Rosh ha-Shanah.
In Jewish thought, Rosh ha-Shanah is the most important judgment-day, on which all the inhabitants of the world pass for judgment before the Creator, as sheep pass for examination before the shepherd. It is written in the Talmud, in the tractate on Rosh Hashanah that three books of account are opened on Rosh ha-Shanah, wherein the fate of the wicked, the righteous, and those of an intermediate class are recorded. The names of the righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life, and they are sealed "to live." The middle class are allowed a respite of ten days till Yom Kippur, to repent and become righteous ; the wicked are "blotted out of the book of the living" (Ps. lxix. 28).
The zodiac sign of the balance for Tishri is claimed to indicate the scales of judgment, balancing the meritorious against the wicked acts of the person judged. The taking of an annual inventory of accounts on Rosh ha-Shanah is adduced by Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac from the passage in Deut. xi. 12, which says that the care of God is directed from "the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year". The 1st of Tishri was considered as the beginning of Creation.
It is said in the Talmud that on Rosh ha-Shanah the means of sustenance of every person are apportioned for the ensuing year; so also are his destined losses.
Originally, only the 1st day of Tishri was celebrated as New-Year's Day in the Land of Israel prior to the time of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai. However, ever since Jewish law has Rosh ha-Shanah celebrated for two days.
The Zohar, a medieval work of Kabbalah, lays stress on the universal observance of two days, and claims that the two passages in Job (i. 6 and ii. 1), "when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord," refer to the first and second days of Rosh ha-Shanah, observed by the Heavenly Court before the Almighty (Zohar, Pinehas, p. 231a).
See also: Jewish holidays; Hebrew calendar; Judaism; Public holiday