Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew: ראש השנה, literally “head of the year”), is the Jewish New Year. It is the first of the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora’im (“Days of Awe”) which usually occur in the early autumn of the Northern Hemisphere. Rosh Hashanah is a two day celebration which begins on the first day of Tishrei, the first month of the Jewish calendar. The day is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, and their first actions toward the realization of mankind’s role in God’s world. Rosh Hashanah customs include sounding the shofar and eating symbolic foods such as apples dipped in honey. The common greeting on Rosh Hashanah is “Shanah Tovah”, which, in Hebrew, means “(Have) a good year”.
The Mishnah contains the second known reference to Rosh Hashanah as the “day of judgment”. In the Talmud tractate on Rosh Hashanah, it states that three books of account are opened on Rosh Hashanah, 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 intermediate class are allowed a respite of ten days, until Yom Kippur, to reflect, repent and become righteous; the wicked are “blotted out of the book of the living forever.”
In Jewish liturgy, Rosh Hashanah leads to Yom Kippur, which is described as “the day of judgment” (Yom ha-Din) and “the day of remembrance” (Yom ha-Zikkaron). Some midrashic descriptions depict God as sitting upon a throne, while books containing the deeds of all humanity are opened for review, and each person passes in front of Him for evaluation of his or her deeds. The Talmud provides three central ideas behind the day:
“The Holy One said, ‘on Rosh Hashanah recite before Me [verses of] Sovereignty, Remembrance, and Shofar blasts (malchuyot, zichronot, shofrot): Sovereignty so that you should make Me your King; Remembrance so that your remembrance should rise up before Me. And through what? Through the Shofar.’ (Rosh Hashanah 16a, 34b)”. This is reflected in the prayers composed by the classical rabbinic sages for Rosh Hashanah found in all machzorim where the theme of the prayers is the strongest theme is the “coronation” of God as King of the universe in preparation for the acceptance of judgments that will follow on that day, symbolized as “written” into a Divine book of judgments, that then hang in the balance for ten days waiting for all to repent, then they will be “sealed” on Yom Kippur. The assumption is that everyone was sealed for life and therefore the next festival is Sukkot (Tabernacles) that is referred to as “the time of our joy” (z’man simchateinu).
Laws on the form and use of the shofar and laws related to the religious services during the festival of Rosh Hashanah are described in Rabbinic literature such as the Mishnah that formed the basis of the tractate “Rosh HaShanah” in both the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud. This also contains the most important rules concerning the calendar year.
The shofar is blown in long, short and staccato blasts that follow a set sequence:
- Teki’ah (long sound) Numbers 10:3;
- Shevarim (3 broken sounds) Numbers 10:5;
- Teru’ah (9 short sounds) Numbers 10:9;
- Teki’ah Gedolah (very long sound) Exodus 19:16,19;
- Shevarim Teru’ah (3 broken sounds followed by 9 short sounds).
The total number of blasts on Rosh Hashanah is 100.