Rosh Hashanah, literally translating to ‘head of the year’, is the Jewish New Year, starting on the first day of Tishrei — the Jewish calendar’s first month. On the Gregorian calendar, the Jewish New Year will be celebrated this year from sundown on September 6 through sundown on September 8. As of 2021, the two-day celebration marks the start of the year 5781 on the Jewish calendar.
When is Rosh Hashanah 2021?
Rosh Hashanah falls on the evening of September 18, 2020 — and lasts until sundown on September 20.
History of Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah is not mentioned in the religious text of Judaism, the Torah, but appears under various names in the Bible. Given the evidence and existing text, the holiday was well established by the sixth century B.C. ‘Rosh Hashanah’ appeared for the first time in 200 A.D. in the Jewish code of law — Mishnah.
A new year in the Jewish calendar starts with Rosh Hashanah on the first day of the month of Tishrei, however, for religious purposes, the year begins on the first of the month of Nisan. This difference is due to the fact that God is said to have created the world on the former date. So, in a way, Rosh Hashanah is not just the start of a New Year but is also the birthday of creation.
In addition to Rosh Hashanah, there are three other ‘New Years’ on the Jewish calendar, according to the Mishnah: Nisan 1, Elul 1, and Shevat 15, respectively. Each date has its own significance and reason for celebration.
Tradition tells us that God passes judgment on all creatures during the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, known as ‘10 Days of Awe.’ Whether or not someone will continue to live or die in the coming year is determined during this time. According to Jewish law, the names of the righteous are inscribed by God in the “Book of Life” and the wicked are condemned to death on Rosh Hashanah. People have time until Yom Kippur to repent by performing ‘teshuvah,’ to tip the scales in their favor. For this reason, observant Jews consider Rosh Hashanah and the days surrounding it as a time for vigilant prayer, good deeds, reflecting on past mistakes, and making amends with others.
Rosh Hashanah timeline
Following the Second Temple of Jerusalem's destruction, Rosh Hashanah changes from a one-day event to a two-day event due to the fact that it becomes too difficult to determine the date of the new moon.
Although this holiday is considered to have been established sometime during the sixth century B.C., the phrase 'Rosh Hashanah' does not surface until the Mishnah — the book of Jewish oral laws.
Originally referred to as 'berches,' the term 'challah,' coined in Austria, appears.
'Tashlikh' is the tradition of throwing items into a body of water to symbolize ridding oneself of sin.
The Western Union Telegraph Company reports that Jewish people send telegrams of congratulations and well-wishing much more frequently than members of any other group.
Traditions of the Day
During Rosh Hashanah, Jews may take one or two days off from work, attending High Holy Day Services, gathering with family and friends, and preparing special meals. Symbolic foods include apples, honey, challah (egg bread), fish, couscous, and dates.
The High Holy Days conclude 10 days later with the Jewish calendar’s most sacred day, Yom Kippur.
Rosh Hashanah FAQs
What is Rosh Hashanah and how is it celebrated?
Jews celebrate the creation of the world on Rosh Hashanah and ask God for forgiveness for past sins.
What do you eat on Rosh Hashanah?
Symbolic foods on Rosh Hashanah include fruit — especially apples — honey, challah, honey cakes, fish, vegetables like spinach and leeks, and dates.
Is it okay to say Happy Rosh Hashanah?
To wish someone a happy Rosh Hashanah, ‘Shanah tovah’ is an appropriate greeting. The phrase means ‘Good year’ in Hebrew.
How to Observe Rosh Hashanah
Attend synagogue services
Because of its religious significance, Rosh Hashanah can be celebrated by attending synagogue, participating in prayers, and performing the Tashlikh — a ceremony in which bread is tossed into a body of water to symbolize the casting away of sins.
Eat (the traditional way)
Jews eat challah bread because it represents the continuity of life. They dip apples into honey to embody the hope for good health and sweetness throughout the New Year.
Greet others in Hebrew
Just as you wish a person a "Happy Birthday," or offer the sentiment of a "Happy Holidays," you can pay respect to those celebrating Rosh Hashanah by wishing them the following: “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year" in Hebrew. Specifically, to a man you would say: “Leshanah tovah tikatev vetichatem;" and to a woman, you would say: “Leshanah tovah tikatevee vetichatemee."
5 Facts About Rosh Hashanah
Enjoying exotic fruits
It’s traditional to eat a fruit you haven’t eaten for a long time on the second night of Rosh Hashanah.
Rosh Hashanah liturgy has inspired at least two songs
The 20-minute song ‘My Father, My King’ by the band Mogwai and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Who By Fire’ were inspired by religious liturgy.
There is an annual pilgrimage
Thousands of Hasidic Jews undertake a pilgrimage to Ukraine for ‘Kibbutz’ — the annual Rosh Hashanah gathering.
It’s not the only new year
Rosh Hashanah is one of four Jewish New Years.
The traditional shofar horn smells bad
It is commonly known that the ram’s horn blown on the holiday is very smelly.
Why Rosh Hashanah is Important
A new beginning
As the first of the Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah is viewed as an opportunity to reset and establish the tone for the next year. During this time, people are reminded to think about their past years' experiences, practice penitence, settle any debts they may have accrued, and ask for forgiveness.
A father's sacrifice
On Rosh Hashanah, it is a custom for a shofar (ram's horn) to be blown like a trumpet. This gesture takes place in synagogue— where most of Rosh Hashanah is spent — and reminds people of the blessed event in which God allowed Abraham to sacrifice a ram instead of his son Isaac.
Rosh Hashanah's a time to begin self-reflection, repent for their past wrongdoings, practice righteousness, and set new goals.
Rosh Hashanah dates