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Jewish New Year

When is the Jewish New Year?

The Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, almost always takes place in September or October. The actual date is determined by the Hebrew calendar so it is different each year. For some it is a two-day event, for others it lasts just one day.

What is the Jewish New Year?

Rosh Hashanah is a celebration of the creation of the world. It is the beginning of the most holy time in the Jewish year and is followed by a ten-day period of reflection and repentance known as the Days of Awe, and finally by Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement.

Horn for Yom Kippur

On the morning of Rosh Hashanah, the sound of the shofar, a ram’s horn trumpet, calls worshippers to the synagogue, where religious Jews spend most of the day, attending traditional prayer services and confessing their sins. Some attend the Tashlich ceremony which takes place beside a stream or river: after a prayer, participants throw pieces of bread to be washed away in the flow of water – symbolically casting away their sins.

At Rosh Hashanah, God judges the world, looking at each person’s actions over the past year, weighing up the good and bad, and recording his judgement in the Book of Life.

In the evening, families gather for a festive meal with traditional foods representing positive wishes for the New Year. A fish head or sheep’s head may be on the menu, suggesting the wish to be like a head rather than a tail, making progress in the coming year rather than lingering behind. Challah bread is made in a circle to represent the circle of life and the year, while apples dipped in honey and ‘tzimmes’ (sweet carrot stew) symbolise a sweet new year ahead. Eating new or unusual fruit symbolises trying new experiences: a favourite is the pomegranate whose 613 seeds are a reminder of the 613 commandments in the Hebrew Bible.

Pomegranate for Yom Kippur

The culmination of this holy time is Yom Kippur, which falls some nine days after Rosh Hashanah. On this day many people fast for 25 hours and go to the synagogue five times to pray for forgiveness and a good year to come. God makes the final judgement for the year ahead for every man, woman and child. At sundown one single long blast of sound played on the shofar marks the end of this intensely religious period in the Jewish year.

Why is the Jewish New Year in September or October?

In the Hebrew calendar the Jewish New Year begins on the first day of the lunar month of Tishri: the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar’s religious year and the first month in its civil year.

The Hebrew calendar is one of the most precise calendars ever produced because it is a lunisolar calendar, in harmony with both the solar and lunar cycles. When the date is translated into the Gregorian calendar (used by most of the world) it almost always occurs in September or October but the actual date varies each year.

When was the Jewish New Year first celebrated?

People have celebrated the Jewish New Year for thousands of years. The earliest mention of Rosh Hashanah is in 200AD in the Mishna, a Jewish code of law. However, even before that time, a similar festival (but with a different name) is described in Jewish scripture.

Interesting facts about the Jewish New Year

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