Belief in brief: Rosh Hashana

Friday, September 18, 2009 | 1:15 p.m. CDT; updated 3:41 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 18, 2009

COLUMBIA – Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of the new year for Jews and begins at sundown Friday and ends at sundown Sunday.

The holiday also starts the 10 High Holy Days of Judaism and ends with the observance of Yom Kippur.

A Time of Remembrance

Known as the Day of Remembrance and also the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashana is celebrated for two consecutive days.

During biblical times, the Jewish new year started around the time of Passover, which is in the spring.  However, as time has progressed, the new year moved to the first day of the seventh month of the biblical calendar.

The holy day was not called Rosh Hashana in biblical times.  The name is a “post-biblical name that the rabbis gave to these two days,” said Rabbi Yossi Feintuch of Congregation Beth Shalom.

The holiday was originally observed for one day but was later extended to two to ensure that all Jewish communities celebrate it on the day of the new moon.

The High Holy Days are a time of repentance that starts on Rosh Hashana. According to the Jewish faith, people should repent for their sins on the day before they die.

“Since we do not know when that day comes, it means that every day should be a day of repentance,” Feintuch said.

Since it is unrealistic for many people to repent everyday, rabbis of the past set aside 10 days specifically for this task.

Work that normally would be done on the holiday should be put off until the next day,  Feintuch said. The only exception is the building of fire for cooking and cooking itself.  This is different than the Sabbath for Jews, when no work is allowed at all.

Rosh Hashana is a “synagogue centered” holiday, Feintuch said. “One needs to be at the synagogue in order to observe it religiously.”

One of the main rituals is to hear the sound of the shofar. “You are more likely to hear it at the synagogue than at home,” Feintuch said.

The Shofar

The shofar, an instrument made from a ram’s horn, is sounded during Rosh Hashana.  There are four different calls performed on the shofar: tekiah, one long blast; shevarim, three short notes; teruah, nine short notes played in a staccato fashion; tekiah gedolah, the longest note sounded. On each day of Rosh Hashanna, a total of 100 notes are sounded on the shofar. However, the shofar is not blown if the holiday falls on the Sabbath.

The blowing of the shofar is intended to wake up members of the congregation to the challenge of repentance.

“Even if you fall asleep in the service, you are bound to wake up,” Feintuch said jokingly.

The sound of the horn “wakes up” those who are present “to reflect about what you have done wrong and start to correct it.”

The congregation or the rabbi nominates someone who is widely respected to play the shofar, Feintuch said. The “Baal tekiah,” the person who blows the shofar, must be able to play the instrument properly in order to enable those in attendance to fulfill their religious obligation of hearing the sound of the shofar during the holiday.


Tashlikh, or “casting off,” is a common practice during Rosh Hashana. Small pieces of bread are thrown into moving water symbolizing the casting off of sins. Usually this practice is observed on the first afternoon of Rosh Hashana, but this year it falls on the Sabbath, which is the weekly day of rest. Carrying any sort of load on the Sabbath, including bread, can be seen as work and is not allowed. Congregation Beth Shalom will be holding its Tashlikh at 4 p.m. Sunday at Twin Lakes Recreation Center.


Slices of apples dipped in honey are eaten during Rosh Hashana. The eating of sweet foods symbolizes the wish for a sweet new year.

Pomegranates are traditionally eaten as well during the holiday. It is said they have 613 seeds, which is the same number of commandments given to the Jews in the Torah.

Fish is also traditionally included in the holiday meal. It is a symbol of fertility and prosperity. The open eyes of a fish also symbolize knowledge and God’s constant gaze, according to

Traditional foods can differ from one congregation to another depending on the customs of the synagogue.

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