Hows and Whys


Rosh Hashana, which literally means the Head of the Year, is the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashana is Yom Harat Olam, The Birthday of the World.

According to the Biblical narrative, it took six days to create the world, and on the sixth day G-d created Adam. During the first six days, animate and inanimate objects were formed, but the world was inactive until after the creation of the first human, who could appreciate and use G-d’s creations. Rosh Hashana is actually the day that Adam was created, but, even though there was prior creativity, it is nevertheless considered the birthday of the world because on this day the world came to life. With the creation of Adam, time was sectioned into hours, days, years, etc., and, therefore, we begin counting the years from this day.

Rosh Hashana is celebrated on the first and second days of Tishrei.

In the Torah, Rosh Hashana is given several names, each of which characterizes the day:

What Happens on Rosh Hashana:

Rosh Hashana is a Yom Tov, a festival day, which is observed like Shabbat.

Shabbat and all Jewish holidays always begin at sunset on the evening before. On the Sabbath and Yom Tov (festival), candles are lit 18 minutes before sunset to welcome the holiday. On the second night of Yom Tov, candles are lit no earlier than one hour after sunset.

When Rosh Hashana begins on Friday night, the Shabbat candle-lighting procedure is as follows :

Two candles (minimum) are lit, then both hands are waved towards the face, symbolically drawing in the light of the candles and the sanctity of the Sabbath/Yom Tov. The eyes are covered and the blessing is recited. On the second night, Saturday night, the blessing is said first, without the Shabbat addition, and only then are the candles lit (from a pre-existing flame).

On Friday night, insert the bracketed words:

Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu melech Ha-olam, asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzeevanu l’hadlik ner shel [Shabbat v’]Yom Tov.

An additional blessing is said on both nights of Rosh Hashana to acknowledge the good fortune of being able to experience the holiday:

Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu melech Ha-olam, she’he’che’yanu v’kee’manu, v’hee’gee’anu la’zman ha’zeh

Blessed are you L-rd, our G-d ruler of the world, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season

Evening services are held in the synagogue.

The Festive Meal:

Click Here for a list and description of the Symbolic Foods

  • A festive meal is eaten, followed by the Grace After Meals with the addition of Y’aleh V’Yavo, “May there rise and come…” for the holiday.
  • On Friday night, the special Shabbat addition, r’tzai, is added before Y’aleh V’Yavo.

The Service

During Rosh Hashana, a special Rosh Hashana prayer book, called a machzor, is used.

The Torah reading for the first day of Rosh Hashana is the story of the birth of Isaac (Genesis 18). The Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashana is the story of the Binding of Isaac. According to tradition, both events occurred on Rosh Hashana (Genesis 22).

The Shofar Service

Click Here for a description of the Shofar Service

The Festival Day Kiddush (blessing over wine), found in the holiday machzor (prayer book), is recited.

Motzee – After a ritual washing of the hands, the blessing is made over two whole challot, the pieces of which are dipped in honey.

A festive meal is eaten, followed by the Grace After Meals with the addition of Y’aleh V’Yavo, “He will go up and he will come…”, for the holidays.

– On Saturday afternoon, the special Shabbat addition, r’tzai, is added before Y’aleh V’Yavo.

The Festive Lunch

  • Mincha, the afternoon service is recited. (including the weekly Torah reading since it is also Shabbat).

Tashlich – The casting away of sins

  • It is customary after the afternoon service on the first day of Rosh Hashana, to go to a body of water in which there are live fish (or to a place where one can see the water) and to symbolically cast away one’s sins. While standing by the water, several verses from the books of Micha and Psalms are recited expressing the desire for the sins to be carried away.

When the first day of Rosh Hashana is Shabbat, as it is this year, tashlich is postponed until the second day.

If one does not perform tashlich during Rosh Hashana, for instance if one is unable to get to a body of water, it may be performed until Hoshana Raba (the seventh day of Sukkot).

The Second Day

  • The second day of Rosh Hashana begins one hour after sunset
The rituals and the prayers of the second day are the same as the first day, except for a change in the Torah reading and the Haftorah.

One should try to have a new fruit at the second night meal or wear a new outfit so that the repeated Shehecheyanu blessing will apply to those items and not be in vain.

Sleeping on Rosh Hashana

  • Some people will not sleep so that they will not be asleep during this crucial judgement period or to insure that they will not have “a sleepy year.”