Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins this Sunday evening and will end on Tuesday evening. There will be no kisses under the mistletoe and no streamers or firecrackers on the main avenues Although this holiday is certainly joyful, it is also one of the most solemn in the Jewish tradition.
What does “Rosh Hashanah” mean?
The words “Rosh Hashanah” mean “head of the year.” This holiday, which falls between September and October and lasts two days, celebrates the Jewish New Year. In the early days of the Christian era, the rabbis who created the Talmud established this holiday as a commemoration of the divine creation of man, the date of which they calculated using the counting of generations in the Pentateuch. This Sunday evening, September 25, will thus begin the year 5783 of the Hebrew calendar.
The celebrations last two days because of the difficulty of determining a precise day: As the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, determining the first day of the month depends on observations of the moon, which can lead to different interpretations according to the points of observation. The discrepancies were so common for Rosh Hashanah that the festivities became attached to two days during the Talmudic era.
What is the spiritual significance of Rosh Hashanah?
Rosh Hashanah’s alternate name, “Yom HaDin,” or “Day of Judgment,” clearly indicates its main theme: self-examination. The New Year is, in fact, the beginning of a period of festivities all throughout the Hebrew month of Tishrei dedicated to the return to oneself and to God. The ceremony of Yom Kippur, a day of forgiveness, fasting and penitence, takes place 10 days after the New Year.
On Rosh Hashanah, God evaluates each person and, on Yom Kippur, inscribes their names in the Book of Life or the Book of Death. The 10 days of reflection between the two holidays, known as the “Days of Repentance,” can change the divine verdict.
A little later, Sukkot (the Festival of Booths) celebrates hospitality, agricultural harvests and the fragile nature of existence, reminding us of the years wandering in the desert after having left Egypt. Finally, the festival of the Torah at the end of the month of Tishrei brings the annual cycle of Torah readings to a joyful close.
What is the origin of Rosh Hashanah?
There are actually four “new years” in Judaism: The first, in the spring, was used to count the years of the reign of the rulers of ancient Israel and to establish the calendar. Another, at the end of the summer, corresponded to the collection of the tithe on the livestock. A third, called the New Year of the Trees, is still celebrated today in the middle of winter (Tu Bishvat). The fourth, Rosh Hashanah, was initially used to calculate Sabbatical years and the Jubilee, but over time became the true beginning of the year.
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