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Rosh Hashana

Rosh Hashana (literally, "head of the year") falls on the first and second days of the seventh month of Tishri (Leviticus 23:23-35; Numbers 29:1-6). For a full month before Rosh Hashana, during the month of Elul, the shofar (ram's horn) heralds the coming High Holy Days, and the forgiveness (slichot) prayers call the people to repentance. Another name for this day is Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgement.

The sages believe that in the last days, God will judge the nations during the month of Tishri. According to the Talmud, God opens up three books on Rosh Hashana:

  1. Tzaddikim – the righteous, who are immediately written in the Book of Life,

  2. Benonim – the average, who are given a final chance to repent within 10 days until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement,

  3. Reshaim – the wicked, who are excluded from the Book of Life.

The first letters from the names of these three groups form the root Tz-B-R, the root of tzabar (a sabra or native born Israeli).

The sages teach that during the 10 days front Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur, the gates of repentance remain open, bringing to mind Isaiah's words: "Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near" (Isaiah 55:6).

Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Jews greet each other with, "Leshana tova tikatevu!" (May you be inscribed in the Book for a good year) or simply "Shana tova!" (Happy New Year).

On the eve (erev) of Rosh Hashana (all Jewish holidays begin at sunset), observant Jews go to synagogue to pray for forgiveness. A holiday meal adorns the table. The father blesses the bread, but this night he dips it in honey (symbolizing a sweet New Year) instead of the traditional salt (in memory of the destruction of the Temples). Apple slices are also dipped in honey.

Another Rosh Hashana tradition is to gather at a body of water and pray the tashlich prayer. Symbolically emptying their pockets of crumbs, they say, "And Thou will cast [v'tashlich] all their sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19).

On this day Jews proclaim that there is only one God and it is their deepest desire to serve Him with all their hearts. According to Jewish tradition, Adam was created on Rosh Hashana. It is believed that on this day God reviews the actions of each person and enters the future judgements into the Book of Life.