September and October hold a special meaning for the Jewish community worldwide. This is when we celebrate the High Holidays, and welcome in the start of the Jewish new year. It is a time of celebration and joy for the coming year, but also an opportunity to repent for past sins. During these festivities, we reinforce our commitment to G-d.
As you gather to welcome the new year with family and friends, here are four things you should know about celebrating Rosh Hashanah:
1) Rosh Hashanah is later than normal this year.
While planning your schedule for 2016, you may have noticed that the Jewish High Holidays are much later than usual this fall. This is because 2016 is a leap year in both the secular and Jewish calendar. According to My Jewish Learning, whereas the Gregorian calendar adds an extra day every four years to adjust for the earth’s rotation, the Jewish lunar calendar uses a system based on 19-year cycles, with each cycle containing seven leap years. But rather than adding one day every four years, the Jewish calendar adds an extra month to every leap year. This ensures that the Jewish holidays are celebrated during the same season every year.
2) The celebration is full of sweet delights.
Rosh Hashanah, along with other new year celebrations, features many symbolic foods. In particular, sweets take center stage. It’s customary to eat apples dipped in honey as a symbol of well wishes for a sweet year ahead. Another interesting food-based custom is the consumption of a “new fruit”- a fruit that the celebrants haven’t eaten since it came into season. Many Jews choose to eat a pomegranate, while others take this as an opportunity to explore the exotic fruit aisle at their local supermarkets.
Thinking of indulging your sweet tooth this new year? Check out this selection of the best dessert recipes for Rosh Hashanah from Serious Eats.
3) The shofar is the soundtrack of the holiday’s rites.
As expected, prayers and readings (at home or at the synagogue) are the norm during Rosh Hashanah. During services, the shofar, an instrument made from a ram’s horn, plays a major role. When the shofar is blown, it serves as a wake-up call to Jews to repent for their previous sins and connect with G-d.
4) Abstinence keeps Jews focused on their faith.
A variety of Jewish laws apply to Rosh Hashanah. While generally considered to be a serious holiday of reflection and repentance, Rosh Hashanah is also a joyful holiday, giving Jews an opportunity to celebrate G-d’s mercy, and a chance to commit to improvements for the coming year.
An interesting restriction during Rosh Hashanah is the custom of not eating nuts. This tradition is based on the practical reason that nuts tend to increase saliva in one’s mouth, which can hinder prayer. Nuts are also avoided because of linguistic and spiritual factors: the word egoz (nut in Hebrew) has a numerical equivalent of seventeen, and seventeen is also the numerical equivalent of the pronunciation of chet (sin in Hebrew). Since the Jewish High Holidays are all about starting the new year with a clean slate, celebrants are highly encouraged to refrain from eating foods with negative connotations to avoid starting the year off on the wrong foot.
Every new year is a wonderful opportunity for Jews to strengthen and improve their commitment to G-d. We hope these four facts about Rosh Hashanah will enrich your celebration and keep your spirits energized for the upcoming holidays.
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