Rosh Hashanah

Shalom Declaration

The Shalom Initiative - Rosh Hashanah

A Biblical feast

Leviticus 23, 23-25  (see also Numbers 29, 1-6)

"And the Lord spoke to Moses saying: "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest to you, a memorial of the blast of shofars, a holy gathering. You shall do no manner of servile work; and you shall bring an offering made by fire to the Lord.'"

Nehemiah 8, 1 - 8 and 10

"And Ezra the priest brought the Law before the congregation, both men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it before the broad place before the water gate from early morning to mid-day, in the presence of the men and the women, and of those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law...

"Go your way, eat the fat and drink the sweet and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to the Lord, neither be you grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."

The names of the festival - a key to the essence of the day.

Yom Teruah - day of sounding the Shofar

Rosh Hashanah - head of the year

Yom Ha-Din - day of Judgement

Yom Ha-Zikaron - day of Remembrance (not to be confused with the day for Israel's fallen soldiers which shares the same name and is in the spring)


Shana Tovah U'metukah - a good and sweet year!

Ktivah V'chatima Tova - may you be inscribed/ sealed [in the book of life] for a good year.

Tizku l'shanim rabot: May you merit many years.

The Shofar

A kosher animal - usually a ram's horn, never a cow's!

How to blow the shofar - watch the video and give it a go!

The synagogue services

The festival is over two days.

The services are long: From early morning to (after) mid day

Torah reading from the Book of Genesis (the birth and binding of Isaac) and from Prophets (Hannah's prayer)

My favourite prayer!    Avinu Malkeynu - our Father our King - rendered by Barbara Streisand

Themes of Kingship, Remembrance and Shofar

Judgement for the world, for nations and for the individual - Ten days of Penitence to Yom Kippur

Customs from around the world

Dipping the Apple in the Honey

Dipping Challah in the sugar or honey

The seeds of the Pomegranate

Tashlich - going to the river or sea to cast sins into the deep -  Micah: "He will turn again; He will have compassion on us; He will subdue our iniquities. And You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea."

The Jews of Iraq and India

At home - a special "Seder" of fruits and vegetables.

Many Sephardic and Oriental Jews have a special Rosh Hashanah mini-seder, featuring foods that symbolize good wishes for the new year. The seder includes apple preserves spiced with whole cloves, dates stuffed with walnuts, pomegranate ("May we be as full of mitzvot as this pomegranate as full of seeds"), spinach, pumpkin, scallions and string beans.

The blessings over the vegetables derive from puns on their Hebrew names that turn into wishes that our enemies should be destroyed. In Calcutta, we also used a sheep's head to concretize the biblical hope that we should be "heads and not tails." Understandably, we did away with this particular dish in America! 

Nothing acid or sour is eaten on Rosh Hashanah, such as the sweet-and-sour Arabic dish called "khatta." Instead, the meal consists of tempting dishes like "mahmoora," chicken cooked with tomatoes, spices, almonds and raisins, served on a bed of pilau (rice) and topped with more raisins and almonds sautéed quickly until crisp and golden. We even dip the hallah into sugar, not salt, after reciting the motzi.

In the synagogue...

Rosh Hashanah in the Magen David Synagogue in Calcutta. At 6 a.m. on Rosh Hashanah morning, the synagogue, draped in white, began to fill with people, men dressed in white sharkskin suits (a shiny, heavy, polyester-like material). Women also wore as much white as possible. The entire service was chanted aloud, and did not end until 1 p.m. The centerpiece of the service is a poem by Judah Samuel Abbas that describes the binding of Isaac. The shofar blasts also differ from the traditional Ashkenzic blasts: "teruah" is one long blast instead of nine short blasts.

The Jews of Ethiopia

Rosh Hashanah in Ethiopia is observed for one day, in comparison to the two-day chag (holiday) observed in the rest of the Jewish diaspora. In Ethiopia, there are three prayer services, including one before dawn, giving Rosh Hashanah its Amharic (Ethiopia’s official language)  which translates to “the rising of dawn.”

Rosh Hashanah is also known as “Zikir,” which is similar to the Hebrew word “zachor,” remember.

In Ethiopia, like elsewhere, it is traditional to wear white clothing and have large feasts, often with lamb.

The elders (kessim) in Ethiopian villages blow the shofar and are the only ones capable of reading Jewish texts in the ancient Ge’ez dialect. They instruct the entire village on how to prepare for the holiday, share Biblical stories from ancient scripts, and “emphasize our long-held aspiration to celebrate Rosh Hashanah ‘next year in Jerusalem.'”

Shalom Initiative - Steven Jaffe  September 2020.

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