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Foundation: What is Rosh Hashanah?

Rosh Hashanah not only marks the start of the Jewish year but also begins the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe, a 10-day period that concludes with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. We also refer to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as the High Holy Days.

Intense introspection, inspiring melodies, and the ritual blowing of the shofar—a musical instrument commonly made from the horn of a ram or kudu—create profound worship experiences on the High Holy Days. During this season, we focus on teshuvah (literally “returning”), a process of repentance where we ask God and others for forgiveness, and return to the essence of who we are and who we are meant to be.

By Any Other Name

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, literally means “Head of the Year.” In the Torah, this holiday is never called Rosh Hashanah. Instead, it is referred to as “Yom Teruah,” the “Day of the Great Shofar Blast.” It is on Rosh Hashanah that we celebrate the anniversary of the creation of the world, so we sometimes call this holiday “Yom Harat Olam,” or “The Day the Universe Was Conceived.” We might also refer to Rosh Hashanah as “Yom Hadin,” “The Day of Judgement,” or “Yom Hazikaron,” “The Day of Remembering,” evoking the image of God as judge reviewing the records of our good and bad deeds and deciding our fate for the coming year.

“Happy New Years???”

Even though we think of Rosh Hashanah as the beginning of the year, the Torah tells us to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in the seventh month, and not the first month of the year. While Rosh Hashanah is the most significant Jewish new year, there are actually a total of four different Jewish new years. There is a new year for trees on Tu Bishvat, another for kings on Rosh Hodesh Nisan, and one for the tithing of livestock on Rosh Hodesh Elul.

Numbers 29:1

וּבַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ מִֽקְרָא־קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם כָּל־מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹ֣א תַעֲשׂוּ יוֹם תְּרוּעָה יִהְיֶה לָכֶם׃

In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not do any work. It shall be Yom Teruah, a Day of the Great Shofar Blast.Numbers 29:1