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Jewish New Year Explained

By September 3, 2021 September 6th, 2021 Blog-Leeds, Blog-Manchester
Rosh Hashanah

The 6th September 2021 is Jewish New Year, also known as Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is one of the most important holidays for Jewish people around the world.  It marks the beginning of the new year for Jewish people and is not only a celebration but a time to atone and reflect.

Here we explain the meaning of Rosh Hashanah for the wider community who may not be familiar with the festival.

When does it begin?

Rosh Hashanah is on Monday 6th September, beginning at sundown. The new day begins at the moment when the sun sinks below the horizon, unlike our secular day, in which the daylight hours are framed by night. The Jewish day begins with night and ends with day. This is the reason why all Jewish holidays begin in the evening before the first day of the observance.

How long does it last?

Rosh Hashanah lasts for two days, ending on Wednesday 8th September at sundown.

It’s followed by 10 days of penitence, where we repent for our sins, culminating in a fast day from nightfall to nightfall 24-25 hours, a full day in the synagogue and a very holy day (Yom Kippur) Day of Atonement.

Is it at the same time every year?

No its based on the moon and changes between September and October, so the exact dates change from year to year.

What does Rosh Hashanah mean?

Rosh means head and Hashanah is of the year, so the full meaning is Head of the Year, referring to the Jewish day of new year.

What is a traditional greeting for new year?

You could say “Good Yom Tov”, “Shanah Tovah” or simply “Happy New Year!”

How do you celebrate new year?

It’s very family based so no work, phones or TV etc. We attend the synagogue in the morning and have a family banquet in the afternoon or evening. A Shofar (rams horn) is blown and some people go to a stream to throw away their sins! Of course the above is dependent on levels of orthodoxy. Most Jewish people do not go to work though.

Is it appropriate to give a gift or card for New Year? What gift would you suggest?

Yes, it is entirely appropriate. A card and flowers, fruit hampers and dates or sweet new year wine are traditional gifts. However, an appropriate greeting is also appreciated so do not feel pressured to give gifts. There are also some good e-card websites that specialise in Jewish greetings.

Is it ok to contact somebody during the new year period, or is it strictly family time/ religious observance only?

Not really, but as above most people are not that observant these days and will answer the phone as on the Sabbath! If in doubt, check with your Jewish friends or colleagues before the event on whether it is ok to contact them or not.

What is a shofar and what is its significance?

A shofar is a biblical ram’s horn blown by an upstanding clergy member. It’s like a calling signal for the new year, an ancient sound that kind of transports you back to the whole expanse of Jewish history. It’s a Mitzvah (good deed) to hear it and awakens us to the possibility of transformation.

Do you eat any special foods during new year?

We eat apple dipped in Honey before the meal as this signifies hope that the new year will be sweet. Some people also eat challah, a braided bread, in a round loaf to represent the cycle of the year. Pomegranate seeds are also eaten to represent the 613 mitzvot, or commandments, in the Torah, the Jewish holy book.

The idea is to eat symbolic foods that are symbolic of what we’re hoping for in the coming year. Some Jews may also recite prayers near a body of water in addition to tossing pieces of bread or other food into the water to symbolise casting off sins.