Anniversaries & holidays

Happy New Year 5776!

fot. Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. In the Jewish calendar, 2015 will mark the beginning of the 5776th year since the beginning of the world. According to the Gregorian calendar, the Jewish New Year begins on September 13 at sunset and lasts until sunset on September 15.

Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world. According to traditional accounts, the first Rosh Hashanah fell on the sixth, and last, day of creation, for which reason it is also called Yom Harat Ha-Olam (the Day of the Birth of the World). The name of the holiday given in the Torah is Yom Teruah (the Day of Blowing), which refers to the most important ritual performed on this day – the sounding of the shofar (ram’s horn). The sound of the shofar is supposed to rouse Jews to heshbon ha-nefesh (an accounting of the soul) and the decision to improve their lives in the coming year. For the shofar announces that on Rosh Hashana a judgment is passed on every man. This is also echoed by the name Yom Ha-Din (Day of Judgment), employed in the holiday liturgy, which reflects the belief that a Divine tribunal judges the actions of men according to whether they were virtuous or not, and decides their fate for the coming year. Everyone, however, has a chance to alter their lot. A Jew, even if guilty of the heaviest of sins, can show repentance and apologize to God as well as those he has wronged during the Ten Days of Awe, a period stretching from Rosh Hashanah until the fast of Yom Kippur, and can thereby hope to be inscribed in the book of life for a good year.

Since the Middle Ages Jews have gone to the riverbank on Rosh Hashanah afternoon to say Tashlikh (Hebr. cast off). This is a short prayer accompanied by a symbolic casting off of sins into the water. On Rosh Hashanah we encounter many simanim (symbolic dishes) in Jewish homes. These usually include apples and honey, representing the wish for a sweet, good year. Also popular are dishes symbolizing the hope of abundance: fish, pomegranate, pumpkin or carrots. The head of a fish or a ram stands for the wish always to be in the front, not in the rear, during the new year.

Rosh Hashanah is largely spent at the synagogue. Complex prayers portray God as King – the Ruler of all creation. The serious character of the liturgy is underscored by numerous prayers of repentance, public confessions of sins and the solemn, reflexive melodies of the prayers. The Torah fragments read on the New Year recall the birth of Isaac and his would-be sacrifice by Abraham.