The High Holy Day Series: Rosh Hashanah

Posted by Dorit Revitch on

This article will be the first one in a series of three articles explaining in simple words the Jewish High Holidays (Sometimes designated as ‘High Holidays’) and their customs and traditions.

Summer is nearly over and the smell of Autumn leaves falling to the ground and getting wet is already here.

With summer over we know it’s this time of the year that Pomegranates are getting redder and juicier, that the Dates are also getting ripe and sweet, and the palm trees are very heavy with all those dates and broad branches of their leaves hanging.

It is also the time of the year for honey cakes, and apples dipped in honey, It’s the end of the past Jewish year and the coming beginning of the new year and with it all those great holidays and family gatherings.

It started in the month of Elul with the prayers of Selichot that you read about in my last week’s post, and it leads into the Holy Days of the Jewish nation worldwide.

Jews all over the world are already now getting ready for Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New year, and then 10 days later Yom Kippur which is the Holiest day for the Jewish people, it’s the day of atonement, and ending this High Holidays period is Sukkot.

What does each holiday symbolize and what are the customs of each one of the holidays, how do we celebrate them?

Let us start from the beginning:

The season of the High Holidays is an epic journey for the soul, and Rosh Hashanah is where it all begins.

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the universe, the day G‑d created Adam and Eve, and it’s celebrated as the head of the Jewish year.

The Eve of Rosh Hashanah this year is September 25th 2022. The same evening we go to the Synagogue to pray and hear the Shofar, which is the most important part of all the rituals as it is believed to open the Sky and reach the G_D almighty. The central observance of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn, on both days of the holiday. 100 shofar blasts are heard over the course of the Rosh Hashanah morning services on both mornings of the two-day Holy Day (some communities sound another round of 30 blasts after services as well).

As we read in the Rosh Hashanah prayers, each year on this day “all inhabitants of the world pass before G_D like a flock of sheep,” and it is decreed in the heavenly court “who shall live, and who shall die ... who shall be impoverished and who shall be enriched, who shall fall and who shall rise.”

It is a day of prayer, a time to ask the Almighty to grant us a year of peace, prosperity, and blessings. But it is also a joyous day when we proclaim G_D King of the Universe. The Kabbalists teach that the continued existence of the universe depends on G_D’s desire for a world, a desire that is renewed when we accept His kingship anew each year on Rosh Hashanah, every year G_D reinvents his Kingship over the whole world, and that is what we celebrate.

It is customary to wish each other “L’shana Tova”, “L'shana Tova Tikatevu” and “Tichatemu” (may you be signed in the book of life for a good year.)

  • What else do we do? Well, the best part of Rosh Hashanah is that family and friends gather for a delicious meal, which we start with some blessings over a few symbolic dishes. 
  • We pray Kiddush to start and bless the traditionally baked round challah loaves, which are often sprinkled with raisins is dipped into honey instead of salt, expressing our wish for a sweet year.
  • Furthering the sweet theme, it is traditional to sip slices of apple in honey also before the meal. Before eating the apple, we make the ha’eitz blessing and then say, “May it be Your will to renew for us a good and sweet year.”
  • Many people eat parts of the head of a fish or a ram, expressing the wish that “we be a head and not a tail.”
  • Pomegranates are eaten as well, giving voice to a wish that “our merits be many like the [seeds of the] pomegranate.”
  • Some traditions add more blessings like we eat tzimmes, a sweet carrot-based dish eaten because of its Yiddish name, Merrenn, which means both “carrot” and “increase,” symbolizing a wish for a year of abundance (More –Merrenn) 

Sephardic Jews also eat the following dishes/foods.

  • Related to the word תם/Tam—to end. As dates in Hebrew are called Tamar.
  • Small beans. Related to the words Rav/רב—many, and Lev /לב—heart. And we eat black eye peas which in Hebrew/ Aramaic is called Lubia related to the word Lev. This is to make sure our merits will grow.
  • Leek In Hebrew called Krisha. Related to the word Karat/ כרת—to cut. We eat this in order to request that all our enemies, ill-wishers, haters will be cut down from our lives.
  • Beets. Related to the word Selek/ סלק—to depart in Hebrew Lesalek, to request that in the new year that our enemies, haters and those who wish evil upon us shall depart.
  • Gourd. Related to the word Kara/קרע—to rip apart, as well as Karah/ קרא —to announce, to request from the G_D Almighty that the evil of our verdicts be ripped, and that our merits be announced before you.

All these symbolic dishes, each, and every one of them is starting and ending with a prayer, we bless the fruit or the dish and after eating it we request the G_D Almighty what wish upon.

On the first day of Rosh Hashana, we perform Tashlich, which literally translates to “casting off,” this is a ceremony performed on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah. During this ceremony, Jews symbolically cast off the sins of the previous year by tossing pebbles or breadcrumbs into flowing water, it must be flowing water that can carry the sins away. (When you cannot reach a river, or a seashore just go to the sink and run the water and cast off your sin down the drains as its running water).

For how to perform Tashlich go here:

After two days of Rosh Hashanah are over, we go into the:

  • Ten days of Repentance which lead us into
  • Yom Kippur – the day of atonement, fasting and prayers – Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year in Judaism. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jews traditionally observe this holy day with a day-long fast, confession, and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services. The High Holy Days comprise both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. which we will talk about in my next post

Three days after Yom Kippur is over, we celebrate

  • Sukkot - This is a Torah-commanded holiday celebrated for seven days from the 15th day of the month of Tishrei. It is one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals on which those Israelites could be commanded to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Today we touched a bit of the one holiday of the three High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot) and we will continue this small series of short articles about these Holy Days.

Stay tuned for more next week

P.S. Here are some links to some recipes for some Jewish Rosh Hashanah dishes, they are all amazing so enjoy.


Round Challah

Honey Glazed Carrots

Simanim Salad




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