The Festival of Rosh Hashanah
The name Rosh Hashanah means "Head of the Year" --is observed for two days beginning on Tishrei 1, the first day of the Jewish year. It is 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 G-d's world.
The term Rosh Hashanah
The term does not appear in the Torah, but is used in the Hebrew Bible in Ezekiel 40:1 in general reference to the "beginning of the year." Leviticus 23:24 refers to the festival of the first day of the seventh month as "Zicaron Terua" ("a memorial with the blowing of horns"). Numbers 29:1 calls the festival Yom Terua, ("Day of blowing the horn") and defines the nature of animal sacrifices that were to be performed.
The Hebrew Bible defines Rosh Hashanah as a one-day observance. Since days in the Hebrew calendar begin at sundown, the beginning of Rosh Hashanah is at sundown at the end of 29 Elul. The rules of the Hebrew calendar are designed such that the first day of Rosh Hashanah will never occur on the first, fourth, or sixth days of the Jewish week (Sunday, Wednesday or Friday).
Since the time of the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE and the time of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, normative (sociology) Jewish law appears to be that Rosh Hashanah is to be celebrated for two days, due to the difficulty of determining the date of the new moon. There is some evidence that Rosh Hashanah was celebrated on a single day in Israel as late as the thirteenth century CE.
Orthodox and Conservative Judaism now generally observe Rosh Hashanah for the first two days of Tishrei. In Israel where all other Jewish holidays dated from the new moon (except Rosh Hodesh - the New Month, on which Rosh Hashanah falls) last only one day.
The two days of Rosh Hashanah
The two days of Rosh Hashanah are said to constitute "Yoma Arichtah" (Aramaic: "one long day"). The observance of a second day is a later addition and does not follow from the literal reading of Leviticus. In Reconstructionist Judaism and Reform Judaism, some communities observe only the first day. Others observe two days. Karaite Jews, who do not recognize Jewish oral law and rely solely on Biblical authority, observe only one day on the first of Tishrei, since the second day is not mentioned in the Torah.
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 HaShana" in both the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud. This also contains the most important rules concerning the calendar year.
In Jewish liturgy Rosh Hashanah 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 passing in front of Him for evaluation of his or her deeds.
When Rosh Hashanah occurs
Rosh Hashanah occurs 163 days after the first day of Passover (Pesach). In terms of the Gregorian calendar, the earliest date on which Rosh Hashanah can fall is September 5, as happened in 1899 and will happen again in 2013. The latest Rosh Hashanah can occur relative to the Gregorian dates is on October 5, as happened in 1967 and will happen again in 2043. After 2089, the differences between the Hebrew calendar and the Gregorian calendar will result in Rosh Hashanah falling no earlier than September 6.
The central observance is the sounding of the shofar, the ram's horn, which represents the trumpet blast of a people's coronation of their king. The cry of the shofar is also a call to repentance; for Rosh Hashanah is also the anniversary of man's first sin and his repentance thereof, and serves as the first of the "Ten Days of Repentance" which culminate in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Another significance of the shofar is to recall the Binding of Isaac which also occurred on Rosh Hashanah, in which a ram took Isaac's place as an offering to G-d; we evoke Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son and plead that the merit of his deed should stand by us as we pray for a year of life, health and prosperity, Altogether, the shofar is sounded 100 times in the course of the Rosh Hashanah service.
Additional Rosh Hashanah observances include
a) Eating a piece of apple dipped in honey to symbolize our desire for a sweet year, and other special foods symbolic of the new year's blessings. b) Blessing one another with the words Leshanah tovah tikateiv veteichateim, "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year." c) Tashlich, a special prayer said near a body of water (an ocean, river, pond, etc.) in evocation of the verse, "And You shall cast their sins into the depths of the sea." And as with every major Jewish holiday after candlelighting and prayers we recite Kiddush and make a blessing on the Challah.