Thursday, September 13, 2007

Rosh ha-Shanah

Today is the the Jewish New Year, "Rosh ha-Shanah", meaning literally, "head of the year" or "first of the year." But it is also the Day of Judgment (Yom ha-Din), the Day of Remembrance (Yom ha-Zikkaron) and the Day of Shofar Blowing (Yom Teruah). The holiday is actually celebrated over 48 hours.

Jews examine their past deeds, ask for forgiveness for their sins, review the history of their people and pray for Israel. The Shofar (a trumpet made from a ram's horn) is blown in temple to herald the beginning of the High Holy Days, a 10-day period.

Similar to the Islamic holiday recently celebrated (Nisfu Sha'ban), Jews believe that on Rosh Hashanah God judges all of the inhabitants of the world and apportions the provisions for each person for the coming year. Judgment is carried out by recording names in three books of account. The names of the righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life, and they are sealed "to live." The wicked are "blotted out of the book of the living". Those that fall in between get another chance to repent and become righteous over the next 10 days leading to Yom Kippur (the day of atonement).

No work is permitted on this holiday. After afternoon services on the first day, a body of water containing live fish is visited in order to symbolically "cast away" sins into the river (Tashlikh, meaning "casting off") by emptying one's pockets or throwing bread or pebbles into the water.

It is customary to have a family holiday meal with traditional foods, including apples and honey to symbolize sweetness, blessings, abundance and hope for the year ahead. Depending on local custom, other symbolic foods mentioned in the Talmud may be served such as tongue (meat from the head, to symbolize the "head" of the year); dates; black-eyed beans [my family always ate black eyed peas at New Year and I think Husband and I were wondering why recently].; leek; spinach; and gourd. Challah bread, which is usually braided, is served round to symbolize the cycle of the year.

The common greeting at this time is L'shanah tovah ("for a good year"). This is a shortening of a phrase meaning "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year."

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1 comment:

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