You are to hold a sacred assembly on the first day of the seventh month of each year. No servile work is to be done. It’s a day of blowing trumpets for you.
— Numbers 29:1 (ISV)
This year the Jewish feast of Rosh Hashanah (ראֹשׁ הַשָׁנָה) (Feast of Trumpets) began the evening of Sunday, Sept. 13 and ends tomorrow, Tuesday, Sept. 15. It marks the beginning of the Jewish year 5776.
Rosh Hashanah (literally, “head of the year”) the Hebrew new year, ushered in the Feast of Trumpets with the blowing of the ram’s horn. It was the first of the high holy feast days and looked forward to the solemn Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) which occurred ten days later.
Rosh Hashanah is one of the most eventful days in history. Traditionally, it was the day on which Adam and Eve were created, so it can be thought of as a birthday party for all of mankind.
The Rabbis taught that the world was created on the first day of Tishrei. This is supported by the fact that the letters in the Hebrew word “b’reishit” (when God began to create [the heaven and earth]) can be rearranged to spell alef b’Tishrei (the First of Tishrei). The theme of praying that God will inscribe a person in the Book of Life is featured prominently throughout the Rosh Hashanah liturgy.
Not until late biblical and rabbinic times did Rosh Hashanah take on the character it has today—as the Day of Judgment (Yom ha-Din), when the deeds of each person over the past year are weighed, and his or her fate is decided for the coming year.
Rosh Hashanah was also the day when it was decreed that three different barren women would be allowed to bear children—Sarah, Rachel and Hannah. It was also the traditional day on which Joseph was released from an Egyptian prison. Rosh Hashanah was also the day on which the Israelites were released from slavery and allowed to leave Egypt for the Promised Land. According to the Jewish traditions, Rosh Hashanah will also mark their final redemption as a people.
The term “Rosh Hashanah” occurs only once in the Bible (Ezek. 40:1), where it simply means the start of the year and does not refer to this specific festival. In fact, the Torah counted the months from Nisan, the month of Passover, so that what is now called Rosh Hashanah is called the festival of the seventh month (Num. 29:1), a sacred occasion commemorated with the blast of the shofar. (It is interesting to note that the fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets is going to be the Rapture of the Church.)
Although originally a one-day holiday, in the Diaspora a second day was added to Rosh Hashanah because of the difficulty in determining when the new moon actually appeared. After the calendar was set, Jews in Israel continued to observe only one day until the Middle Ages, when the practice of observing two days became universal.
The blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn, occupied a significant place on several occasions, such as the monthly new moon and the Year of Jubilee, but especially so at the beginning of the new year, hence its name—Feast of Trumpets.
When the shofar was blown on Rosh Hashanah, there were three different sounds made. The first was one long continuous blast. The second consisted of a series of three shorter blasts. The third was a set of nine short staccato notes. These two latter sounds were supposed to be the sounds of sorrow—sighs and short piercing cries. In contrast, the long continuous note was a sound of joy and triumph. The trumpets were blown throughout the month before Rosh Hashanah, but not on the last day. The silence was to prevent Satan from noticing the arrival of this day, which was “The Hidden Day” and therefore to be concealed.
Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the High Holidays, Awesome Days or Days of Awe, Yamim Noraim. These 10 days begin with Rosh Hashanah and ends with Yom Kippur and are the most important Jewish holy days of the year.
Even many laxly observant Jews attend synagogue for the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, crowding synagogues to bursting. (The same way many Christians darken church doors only on Christmas and Easter.) People wish one another “a good and sweet year,” and at Rosh Hashanah meals it is customary to dip bread in honey (rather than salt) and to invoke the hope for a good and sweet year. It is believed that “On Rosh Hashanah all the inhabitants of the world pass before God [in judgment] like a flock of sheep.”
All are judged on Rosh Hashanah, and the verdict is sealed on Yom Kippur. The worthy are written into the Book of Life, the unworthy blotted out or entered into a Book of Death (sometimes a third book for undecided cases is mentioned).
Now, if you will, forgive their sin—but if not, blot me out of your book which you have written.” The LORD told Moses, “Whoever sins against me, I’ll blot him out of my book.
— Exodus 32:32–33 (ISV)
During these days worshipers face God in eternity, for He rules past, present and future. Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the seventh month, was the first Sabbath day of creation, the rabbis taught. The blowing of the shofar recalls the horn-blasts at Sinai when the Torah was revealed.
The service is dense with historical references. As a Day of Judgment, Yom Hadin, and Day of Blowing the Shofar, Yom Hateruyah, Rosh Hashanah also prefigures the end of days, the Last Judgment, when all souls shall appear before God. The Amidah liturgies on Rosh Hashanah have added to them prayers given entirely over to the praise of God. These prayers center on Malchuyot, celebrating God as creator and king of the universe, Zichronot, recalling God’s mighty judgments in history, and Shofarot (Shofar verses), which celebrate God as future messianic redeemer. The blasts of the ram’s horn are expressed in the Musaf Amidah service.
The shofar is blown at regular intervals throughout these prayers, as if awakening the soul to and symbolizing in its sounds all the implications of Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot. In the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, or on the second day if the first day falls on a Sabbath, it is a custom, called Tashlikh, “Casting,” from the Middle Ages to go to the banks of a river, lake or ocean, and recite appropriate verses while emptying pockets and symbolically “casting all their sins into the depths of the sea”:
He will again show us compassion; he will subdue our iniquities. You will hurl all their sins into the deepest sea.
— Micah 7:19, (ISV)
The experience of nature at this time adds greater depth to the services and relates them to the cosmos.
In Israel, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated for two days, with the second day spent mostly in the synagogue in a repetition of the first day. Work is then permitted during the days that follow up to Yom Kippur. But on these days, regular synagogue services are longer than usual, with penitential prayers recited every morning before regular morning prayers.
It was once customary to fast on each of the 10 days until the evening, but the day after Rosh Hashanah is the Fast of Gedaliah, mourning the death of the Governor of Judah whose assassination by a fanatical Jew set in motion the final destruction of the First Commonwealth (the reign of King David):
Nevertheless, seven months later Nethaniah’s son Ishmael, the grandson of Elishama from the royal family, came with ten men and attacked Gedaliah. As a result, he died along with the Jews and Chaldeans who were with him at Mizpah.
2 Kings 25:25 (ISV)
This fast therefore presages the coming winter fasts and feasts. However, during the hours just before the evening start of Yom Kippur, the Talmud states, one should eat well, in preparation for the twenty-four-hour fast and the strenuous praying.
The Sabbath that falls during the intermediate days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Repentance, and the Haftorah begins with the exhortation, Shuvah Yisrael, “Return, O Israel.”
Return, Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have fallen due to your own iniquity.
Bring a prepared speech with you as you return to the LORD. Say to him: Take away all our iniquity, and accept what is good. Then we will present the fruit of our lips.
Assyria won’t save us; we won’t be riding on horses, Nor will we be saying anymore to the work of our hands, “You are our God. Indeed, in you the orphan finds mercy.
I will correct their apostasy, loving them freely, since my anger will have turned away from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel; Israel will blossom like a lily, growing roots like the cedars of Lebanon.
Israel’s branches will spread out, and its beauty will be like an olive tree, with its scent like that of Lebanon.
Those who live under its protection will surely return. Their grain will flourish; they will blossom like a vine, and Israel’s scent will be like wine from Lebanon.
Ephraim, what have I in common with idols? I have listened and will pay attention to him. I am like a flourishing cypress; in me will your fruit be found.
Whoever is wise, let him understand these things. Whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right: the righteous follow his example, but the rebellious stumble in them.
— Hosea 14:1–9 (ISV)
While Rosh Hashanah is supposed to be a time for celebration before Yom Kippur, violence is marring this year’s celebration in the Holy Land.
Israeli police stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem Sunday morning to clear Muslim stone throwers who had taken refuge in the compound amid allegations they planned to disrupt Jewish worshipers on the eve of the holiday.
According to the Israeli news site Ynet News, Police had to use tear gas and stun grenades to clear the Palestinian protesters from the mosque. The rioters threw fireworks and stones at the police as they entered the site. Border Police forces then blocked entry to the Temple Mount., the Israeli news site Ynet News reported.
Police entered the mosque compound at about 7 a.m. after receiving reports that protesters were prepared to disrupt visits to the area by Jewish worshipers, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, according to The Associated Press.
The mosque compound overlooks the open pavilion at the Western Wall where Jews gather for prayers.
Radwan Amr, an official at the Al-Aqsa mosque, said 32 of the shrine’s windows were damaged or destroyed, a door was shattered and the carpet burned in 12 places.
Israeli police Maj. Gen. Moshe Edri said the demonstrators intended to disrupt Rosh Hashanah festivities, and his officers’ goal is “to allow the freedom of worship for all religions in Jerusalem.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas term the confrontation an “Israeli attack,” and condemned Israeli police as committing a terrorist act themselves.
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