Understanding Rosh Hashanah 2012 / 5773

The shofar, a ram’s horn, is blown as part of the Rosh Hashanah ritual. (AP) Six things that will help … Continued

The shofar, a ram’s horn, is blown as part of the Rosh Hashanah ritual. (AP)

Six things that will help you make sense of the Jewish New Year, which begins sundown on Sunday:

1. Rosh Hashanah means the head or start of the year. According to the Jewish calendar that happens on the first of the month of Tishrei, which occurs this year at sundown on Sunday, Sept. 16. It always occurs in early autumn, but the exact date on the “regular” or Gregorian calendar changes because the latter is a solar calendar while the former is a lunar calendar which keeps things seasonal by regular adding an extra month to close the gap between the moon’s cycle and solar months. The Muslim calendar, by the way, doesn’t make those additions, which is why the same Muslim holidays occur at different seasons during different years.

2. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birth of the world and humanity. While the number 5773 corresponds to the age of the world, according to some ancient calculations, it speaks to a much larger issue which remains central to understanding Rosh Hashanah even for those of us who think that that world is far older. By celebrating the birth of the world and of humanity, not the birth of the Jewish nation or of the first Jew, Rosh Hashanah celebrates that whatever particular faith we follow, we share a common origin and destiny.

View Photo Gallery: Jews mark the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year, at sundown Sunday.

3. Rosh Hashanah promises everyone a second chance, even if it’s their hundredth one. The New Year also carries the promise of a new you. We are invited to see both ourselves and each other in light of that promise. In fact, Rosh Hashanah teaches that with a bit of work, there is no past that cannot be overcome, and no person who does not deserve the opportunity to do so.

4. Symbolic foods such as apples and honey are central to the holiday. The adage that we are what we eat is taken quite seriously on Rosh Hashanah, as those celebrating the holiday break out all kinds of foods symbolizing the sweetness, health, success and good deeds which they hope the coming year will bring. Of course, you don’t have to be Jewish to eat your wishes for the year ahead! What foods would you eat to symbolize your aspirations for the new year at work, school, or any other part of your life?

5.Rosh Hshanah is also called “the day of the horn sounding.” The horn referred to is known in Hebrew as the shofar, a curving ram’s horn that is mentioned numerous times in the Hebrew Bible, always associated with life- changing events. Perhaps the best way to think of a shofar is as an ancient alarm clock, and Rosh Hashanah as the day on which set to help wake ourselves up to becoming the person we most want to be.

6. Rosh Hashanah is about relationships. Whether between individuals and the God in whom they believe, communities and the traditions which define them, or simply between individuals, whether any God or tradition is a part of their lives, it’s all about sustaining relationships which sustain us and help us do the same for others. Rosh Hashanah invites us to reconnect, repair, and renew. Call it what you will, observe it any way you choose, but if that isn’t worthy of our attention and celebration, what is?

So Happy Rosh Hashanah to us all!

Brad Hirschfield
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  • Basil Argyros

    Today is also the Indiction — the Church New Year for the Eastern Orthodox — which falls on September 1 according to the Julian Calendar. LIke Rosh Hashanah, the Byzantine reckoning is from the Creation, although the computation differs by a couple of millennia. On this calendar, today is September 1, 7521 E.K. (Etou Kosmou, lit. ‘In the Year of the World’).

    Happy New Year!

  • Rhodalee

    A sweet year to all.

  • I.David Kaplan,DDS

    That was an excellant summary for Rosh Hashanah.

  • nicojake

    You make it all sound so reasonable. Now if only the Israelis would humanize their treatment of Palestinians, what a bright new year it would be.

  • MMDavis1

    Nico, Way to turn a beautiful message into a political one. How unfortunate for you. Have a wonderful new year with all the second chances we humans need!

  • bigisle1

    ….couldn’t agree more, MMDavis1, why does everything need to be mangled?……Here’s an attempt to render a brief, distinct desciption of the meaning……but alsa, modern day politics enters in versus learning/understanding!!!!….”Sheesh!”

  • bigisle1

    “Blessed be to you and all people!”….may there be peace on earth!!!!

  • abramse

    The Rosh Ha’shanah liturgy concentrates on God as King, one of the reasons, I joked with my rabbi, that I, as an American rebel against it.

    My main point is the photo that accompanies the article. I am disturbed that most publications use Hasidic-looking men to portray Jews when the majority of Jews look like regular 21st century people. This stereotype reinforces in people, who are not so knowledgeable about the diversity of Jews and their rituals and philosophies, that Jews and Judaism are stuck in irrelevant values of old.

  • JHH

    As a Christian, Rosh HaShanah is a very significant date to me as well. But Christianity is about Messiah (Yahushua), our Passover Lamb making a way through his own sacrifice for man to be forgiven of their sins. Nothing to do with man being good or earning salvation. The Bible says that no man will ever deserve it, but God freely gives it.

    Rosh HaShanah (Yom Teruah / Jewish New Year / Day of Trumpets) on the 1st of Tishrei
    This day has great significance for Christians because it is the date on which Yahushua (Jesus) will return in some future sabbath year (at the last trumpet and at the end of the Great Tribulation).
    Contrary to popular belief, the bible is true and trustworthy.

    1 Thessalonians 4:16,17 (KJV)
    16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
    17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

    1 Corinthians 15:52 (KJV)
    52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

    Matthew 24:29-31 (KJV)
    29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
    30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
    31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

  • allinthistogether

    Thank you Mr. Hirschfield. I need this reminder of our common destiny, the possibility of metaphorical rebirth, re-making self, forgiving/giving a second chance, and sustaining relationships for ourselves and others. In fact, I believe we all need to hear and listen to this message. Not one of us is perfect or behaves perfectly.

  • SimonTemplar

    Happy Rosh Hashanah!


    “Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birth of the world and humanity. While the number 5773 corresponds to the age of the world…”

    Yes, even though there is a plethora of proof that human civilization predates this silly number assigned from the number of “begats” in the old testament, jews and christian continue to ignore reality and persist in their self-serving superstitious chauvinism.

    Humans were painting beautiful, accurate paintings of European wildlife as long as 32,000 years ago.

  • Secular1

    Most jews are more likely to be of western european ethnic descent than the sephardic nomads of middle east. This is betrayed by the fact that most jews of 21sts century could not trace to anywhere but europe.

  • Secular1

    Early origins of judaism were nothing but political. It was a political propaganda to unify certain tribes of middle east some 30 to 35 centuries ago. So they came up with the notion that there is a sky daddy for them in the sky. They are his chosen people and he would never let them down. The others are not his people, and they have their own gods. His people are told not to believe or propitiate the others’ gods, at threat of death, etc, etc.

    To say that there is anything universal about OT is ridiculous.