Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year explained by Ari Lipinski
04 Monday Jan 2016
ב”ה Rosh Hashana – ראש השנה The Jewish New Year is celebrated with Apple, honey, dates and grapes (wine).
The Jewish New Year is called in Hebrew ‘Rosh Hashana’. Rosh means, the head, the sense, and the spirit, as well as the beginning of the calendar year, HaShana.
The beginning would be in Hebrew Reshit ראשית, and not Rosh. Think of the beginning of the Bible; the first sentence begins with; “In the Beginning”. In Hebrew, the first word in the Bible is ‘Bereshit’ בראשית.
The New Year’s day is also called Yom Kesse יום כסה, because on this day the moon is fully covered. In Hebrew ‘lechasot’ means to cover. See Psalm 81, verse 4. With the New Year’s Day the Jewish month of Tishrei תשריbegins. Tishrei in Babylonian means the Beginning, i.e. the month with which the year begins. This month was during the Thora era actually the seventh month, because the month of Nissan ניסן is thye month which begins the spring.
With Rosh Hashana begins not only the count of the new year, but this date serves also to calculate the Shemita year שנת שמיטה (the seventh year during which the people of Israel may not cultivate the land of Israel). Furthermore, Rosh Hashana serves also to calculate the Yovel year שנת היובל (the Jubilee sabattical year). The Jubilee takes place after seven Shemita years were counted. It is the fiftieth year, in which the slaves were freed and land was returned to its original owners in case it was taken due to debts. Rosh Hashana is also the beginning of the calculation of the vegetable cultivation for the purpose of collecting of the teethe (tax).
(Please see below the date of Tu BiShvat טו בשבט for the New Year of the Trees ראש השנה לאילנות, which is in winter, since the fruit of the trees must be calculated according to a different time table than the harvest of the field and of vegetables.)
Rosh Hashana is celebrated for two days. During the temple time the citizens of Jerusalem celebrated Rosh Hashana only for one day. Outside Jerusalem (and outside the land of Israel) Rosh Hashana was celebrated for two days, because the people there had to wait for a messenger from Jerusalem to verify the exact confirmed date of the beginning of the year.
The Jewish year is based on the cycle of the moon month. It is a lunar calendar. The present Jewish calendar doesn’t vary any longer since Rabbi Hillel, the President of the Sanhedrin, set the exact calendar calculation in the year 359 AD, so no waiting for messengers was necessary anymore.
The origin of Rosh Hashana is derived from the following two sentences in the Thora, even though the actual words “New Year” do not appear in the text itself. The Day is called the Day of the Shofar יום השופר. A Shofar is hollowed ram’s horn. The sound of the Ram’s Horn should remind God of his loyal servant Abraham and his binding of Isaac. So during the Rosh HaShana prayer the sound of the Shofar should remind God of his promisses to his beloved Abraham in order that God hopefully be more forgiving for us who may have done some wrong doings, not for our sake, but for Abraham’s.
Further see in the Book Vayikra ויקרא (Leviticus) , chapter 23, verses 23-25; “23 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 24 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation. 25 Ye shall do no servile work therein: but ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord.” (KJV)
The definition of the day in Hebrew is called Shabaton Zichron Truah שבתון זכרון תרועה. The second reference to the Jewish New Year is in the Thora book Bamidbar (Numbers) chapter 29, verses 1-6. “And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have an holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work: it is a day of blowing the trumpets unto you. 2 And ye shall offer a burnt offering for a sweet savour unto the Lord; one young bullock, one ram, and seven lambs of the first year without blemish: 3 And their meat offering shall be of flour mingled with oil, three tenth deals for a bullock, and two tenth deals for a ram, 4 And one tenth deal for one lamb, throughout the seven lambs: 5 And one kid of the goats for a sin offering, to make an atonement for you: 6 Beside the burnt offering of the month, and his meat offering, and the daily burnt offering, and his meat offering, and their drink offerings, according unto their manner, for a sweet savour, a sacrifice made by fire unto the Lord.” In these sentences the name of the Ram Ayil איל is mentioned explicitly as one of the animals for the sacrifice for the purpose of atonement.
The Hebrew word ‘Shofar’ for the cheering blare Truah תרועה, stems from the Hebrew root of the verb “לשפר” (leshaper), which means to improve. The sound of the Shofar is the call for the people to ethically improve themselves in the spirit of Abraham.
A character of the Jewish New Year is manifested in the blare sound of the Shofar. Celebrating the New Year with the sound of the Shofar is a proclamation that the people recognize God as the King of the World. His crowning is celebrated.
Rosh Hashana according to one of the traditions mentioned in the Talmud תלמוד is also a reminder of the creation of Adam by God.
The Jewish tradition considers the first ten days of the year as the decision making period, during which the Lord decides the fates of all people. The 10 days are called HaYamim HaNoraim, the fearful days, in which a person fears God for his judgement. The traditional opinion of the Rabbis after the Temple era considers that on Rosh Hashana God makes the initial judgment. The final verdict is officially sealed, so the Jewish tradition, at the end of the tenth day, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The verdict is final on the Simchat Thora Day שמחת תורה at the end of the Sukkot Holiday חג הסוכות, the Feast of Tabernacle. This Rabbinical interpretation is base on Psalm chapter 33, verses 13-15: “13 The Lord looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men. 14 From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth. 15 He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works.”
The ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are also called Asseret Yemei Tshuvah עשרת ימי תשובה (the Ten Days of Atonement). During these days Jews make special efforts of expressing remorse for mistakes and transgressions. One asks for forgiveness from God for mistakes relating to His commandments, but for insults or transgressions against persons one has to ask them personally for forgiveness.
Therefore Jews wish each other during this time a happy New Year with the words “Leshana Tova Tekateve ve Techatemu”, which means may you be inscribed for a good year and may this judgment be positively sealed by the Lord.
The most well known prayer of the New Year among Ashkenazi Jewish communities (originating from Germany, Italy, Central Europe) is called “Unetane Tokef” ונתנה תוקף. The name means “one recognizes the authority of God”. This prayer dates back to the twelfth century and is attributed to Rabbi Amnon of Magenza (Mainz in Germany). This prayer belongs to the end (Musaf) of the morning prayer of Rosh HaShana and is traditionally sung on the two New Year days and on Yom Kippur יום כיפור the Day of Atonement. The believer recognizes the authority and the jurisdiction of God. In the prayer the nullness of man in relation to the Lord and man’s respectful fear of God is expressed in a poetic way which is rich in rhymes so it well suits singing it. The text describes the procedure of the judgement starting on Rosh HaShana until the verdict on Yom Kippur. The Prayer Unetane Tokef ends with mentioning the Seraphim שרפים, the angels being close to God, who ask God for His grace.
Here you may click the link to a Youtube version of the Unetane Tokef prayer sung by one of the worldwide wellknown israeli opera singers, who is also a Chazan חזן (a cantor), Dudu Fisher: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmsWmvILKHM .
An important traditional custom of Rosh HaShana is the Tashlich תשליך. Tashlich means to shake off or ditch. In the efternoon
of the first day of Rosh HaShana, after the midday prayer of Mincha one goes raditionally to the sea shore, pond shore or the riverside (of moving waters) in order to empty his pockets and shake them off well as symbolically getting rid of one’s sins and wrongdoings of the past year. Thus one may face the Lord with a better, cleaner conscience before He may decide the verdict. This tradion of the Tashlich is rooted in the text of the prophet Micah in chapter 7, verse 19: “ He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all oursins into the depths of the sea.”
Further famous customs of the Rosh HaShana-Feast are for example that people give each other and eat apples with honey. This is to express the good wishes for a sweet and fruitful year. Many families serve a honey cake for desert. Pomegranate in the meal symbolizes the wish for a year rich in many good deeds meaning that one may fulfill many Thora commandments, many as the numerous grains of the fruit. Dates stand for the wish for a sweet year like the honey as well as for ending of bad external decisions of the government. The reminder of honey relates to the dates and the impression of flowing honey they made upon the 12 scouts touring the Land of Israel. So they spoke of the Land of milk and honey, both in fluid form.
Jewish communities in various countries in the diaspora have developed further traditions since the Talmud times. Among these traditions we find the custom to celebrate the beginning of the New Year with a meal with a Pumpkin, a Zucchini, or Rubia. Some communities integrate Beetroot, Spinach and Chard in the festive meal. In Ashkenazi communities (Germany and Central Europe) families used in the last centuries to have small round slices of cooked carrots with cinnamon in the main dish or as a desert. The round carrot slices should remind of coins, hence expressing the good wishes for a prosperous New Year. Since in German the name for Cinnamon is Zimt, Jews uses to call the dish in Yiddish “Zimmes”.
For centuries Jewish communities used to have the head of a fish as a part of the New Year‘s meal. It should express the hope to be rather a head than a tail in society. It expressed the good wish to be a thinking person, and not merely an obedient member of the community. In the Hebrew calendar the month of Nissan in spring was considered according to the Torah also as a New Year. This New Year in Nissan served to count the reign of kings. This New Year was also relevant to calculate the sacrifices one should bring.
The New Year Rosh Ha Shana, at the beginning of the Hebrew month Tishrei in autumn is until today the beginning of the Jewish calendar year.
The 15th of the month of Shvat (Tu Bishvat) in winter is called the New Year of the Tree. It was decided by the Rabbis of the Mishna time as the relevant date to count the buds on the fruit trees in the land of Israel. This counting was the basis to calculate the tithe (10 % tax) on the first fruits of the fruit trees. The date was chosen after intensive discussions among the Rabbis, some of whom (the House Shamai) preferred the first of the month of Shvat. The date of Tu BiShvat is according to House Hillel.
Footnote 1] Shofar is the horn of a Ram. On Rosh ha Shana the blowing of the Shofar is a symbolic reminder of Abraham. With the binding of Isaac (Genesis, chapter 22), Abraham demonstrated his unconditional faith in God. He trusted that God would surly keep his promise that out of Isaac a numerous nation would spring out. One proof of his confidence one can see in the sentence in which Abraham told his servant to wait until they (Abraham and Isaac) would come back. As we know Abraham suddenly saw a Ram caught by its horns in the bush, which he took as a sacrifice after God instructed him not to harm the boy (Isaac). Verse 12: “Do not lay a hand on the boy”. (By the way: Isaac was already 38 years of age…) Since in Rosh ha Shana and Yom Kippur the Jewish people is praying for a positive judgement by God, the blowing of the Shofar should serve as a call for forgiving from God. Since the ordinary person may have sinned in the past year the community is asking for forgiving and mercy on behalf of the special love and respect Abraham earned from God.
The sacrifice of the Ram instead of Isaac was a strong demonstration against the paganic custom of sacrificing children. It illustrated that even if a person was so religiously zeolites in his faith one should not harm a child. It was an important message by God to Abraham and to mankind that God was to be worshiped as a merciful and not as a bloodthirsty God.
The binding of Isaac is considered to be the last of 10 tests which Abraham successfully withstood proving his deep faith in the LORD and in his covenant and promises both for the future of the family and the nation which will come out of Abraham as well as the promise to inherit the promised land (Canaan).
Footnote 2] The rabbinic interpretation concerning Rosh ha Shana is based on the Mishna, treatise Rosh ha Shana (New Year) chapter 1, paragraph 2 as well as in the Talmud, in the book Tosefta, also in the Treatise Rosh ha Shana. There we can read that on Rosh ha Shana God decides the verdict, which he seals on Yom Kippur. The verdict becomes valid after Shmini Azeret at the end of the Sukkot Holiday.
See More in German at: www.arilipinski.com/rosch-haschana/
(The above text and the above fotos relate to copyright © of Ari Lipinski. They are excertps from the Thora-Commentary book which Ari is working on.)
(Der obige Text und die Fotos stehen unter Copyright © von Ari Lipinski. Sie sind Ausschnitte aus dem Bibel-Kommentar-buch von Ari, das in Vorbereitung ist.)