October 15, 2019

How to Jew: Rosh Hashanah

Wednesday, September 20 (evening) to Friday, September 22


Rosh Hashanah, which means “head of the year,” is the Jewish New Year. According to tradition, it is the day God created Adam and Eve, and it occurs at the beginning of the Jewish month of Tishrei. The holiday represents the beginning of the Days of Awe, or the 10 Days of Repentance, which end with Yom Kippur. It is taught that Rosh Hashanah has an influence over our whole year, as it is when God decides our fates for the coming year.


A central practice of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the shofar, or ram’s horn, which we are required to hear during prayer services. Its blast acts as a call for repentance.

A custom called tashlich, which comes from the word “to cast,” typically is performed on Rosh Hashanah at a body of water. It often involves tossing crumbs into the water, representing our sins from the past year. Prayers and appropriate verses are recited.

Special greetings for the holiday include, “L’shanah tovah tikatevu v’tichatemu” (May you be inscribed and sealed [in the Book of Life] for a good year) and “G’mar chatimah tovah” (A good final sealing [in the Book of Life]).


A number of symbolic foods are consumed during the festive holiday meals. The most well known probably are apples and honey, which represent wishes for a sweet new year. Pomegranates are eaten because, according to rabbinic tradition, they have 613 seeds, corresponding to the number of commandments in the Torah. Round challahs symbolize the cyclical nature of the years. Some Ashkenazi Jews place a fish head on the holiday table — replaced by a cow tongue by some Sephardic Jews — in the hope that God will make us “the head, not the tail” in the coming year.

Sources: Chabad.org, My Jewish Learning, The Spruce