Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah, literally “Head of the Year” in Hebrew, is the beginning of the Jewish new year. It is the first of the High Holidays  ending 10 days later with Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement.  This celebration is a religious and festive time when family and friends gather together for meals and worship and grow closer to God. It’s a time for looking forward to a new year with anticipation and reflecting on the past year to improve ourselves for the next. 

This year Rosh Hashanah begins on Friday, September 15, 2023, and ends on the evening of Sunday, September 17, 2023.

Rosh Hashanah is a contemplative holiday. Because Jewish texts differ on the festival’s length, Rosh Hashanah is observed for two days for more observant families and for a single day for those that are less religious.  People usually celebrate Rosh Hashanah by attending synagogue and refraining from work – including schoolwork – and sometimes the use of electronics. Religious Jews spend much of the holiday attending synagogue. 

After religious services are over, many Jews return home for a meal.  The meal typically begins with the ceremonial lighting of two candles and features foods that represent positive wishes for the new year. Candle-lighting is an important part of Rosh Hashanah, and it’s a common tradition that takes place on numerous Jewish holidays. In some families, women and girls light candles on each evening of Rosh Hashanah, and recite prayers while doing so. Some families choose to wear new or special clothing and to adorn their tables with fine linens and place settings in recognition of Rosh Hashanah’s significance. 

A few of the traditional foods eaten  during this holiday are:

  • Apples and honey: One of the most popular Rosh Hashanah customs involves eating apple slices dipped in honey, sometimes after saying a special prayer. Ancient Jews believed apples had healing properties, and honey signifies the hope that the new year will be sweet. 

  • Round challah: On Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) and other holidays, Jews eat loaves of the traditional braided bread known as challah. On the Jewish new year, the challah is often baked in a round shape to symbolize either the cyclical nature of life or the crown of God. Raisins are sometimes added to the dough for a sweet new year.

Important Traditions

  • One of the most important ways that Rosh Hashanah is observed is with the sounding of the shofar, an instrument made out of a ram’s horn. The blowing of the shofar is not just a tradition, but actually a commandment that must be done every morning of Rosh Hashanah, unless the first day of the holiday falls on Shabbat (the Sabbath)- which is the case this year.

  • Some Jews practice a custom known as tashlich (“casting off”), in which they throw pieces of bread into a flowing body of water while reciting prayers. As the bread, which symbolizes the sins of the past year, is swept away, those who embrace this tradition are spiritually cleansed and renewed.

  • Jews greet each other on Rosh Hashanah with the Hebrew phrase “L’shana tovah,” which translates to “for a good year.” This is a shortened version of the Rosh Hashanah salutation “L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem” (“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year”).

Rosh Hashanah-History Channel
Rosh Hashanah Book Recommendations, curated by PJ Library

23 Children’s Books about Rosh Hashanah