Rosh Hashanah: All You Need to Know

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and literally means “the head of the year”. It begins every year on the first day of the Jewish month of Tishrei and lasts for two days. During these two days Israelis usually celebrate with their families. Here are some answers to the questions you might be asking yourself about Rosh Hashanah and the customs connected to it:

Do You Say “Happy Rosh Hashanah”?

Yes, if you meet a Jewish person on Rosh Hashanah you can tell them “happy Rosh Hashanah”. You can also say “have a good and sweet year”. There are some who also bless “chatimah tovah”, which means “a good sealing”. Rosh Hashanah is referred to as “Judgement Day”. On this day, it is believed that God goes over our past year and based on what he sees, decided our fate for the upcoming year. God can choose to put our name in one of three books: the book of life, which is meant for the righteous, the book of death, which is meant for the evil, and a third book, which is meant for those who have no sin, but were not righteous. But we can change what God decided on Rosh Hashanah. God seals his decision only on Yom Kippur, a week after Rosh Hashanah. That is why you can also bless a person on Rosh Hashanah by telling him “gmar chatimah tovah”, which means “a good final sealing”.

Happy Rosh Hashanah

Why Do You Blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah?

According to the Torah, Rosh Hashanah is the “day of the [shofar] blast”. A shofar is a trumpet made from a horn of a kosher animal, preferably a ram. One of the most important commandments of Rosh Hashanah is to hear the blowing of the shofar, which is usually done in synagogue during the prayers. It is a commandment to hear the blowing on each day of the holiday.

The Torah does not say why the Jewish people need to hear the blowing of the Shofar, but there are some suggestions. Many believe that the piercing sound of the Shofar blasts can penetrate your heart and open up your soul, which will help you connect to God during this important day of the year.

Shofar blasts

What Do You Eat on Rosh Hashanah?

If you’re familiar with other Jewish holidays, you might have noticed that each holiday has its own special kinds of food. On Rosh Hashanah, there are several foods that are referred to as “the symbols of the holiday”. Usually they are placed on the table before the festive meal, but they vary from family to family. The most popular “symbols” are the pomegranate and the apple with honey.

The pomegranate symbolizes prosperity and when people eat it on Rosh Hashanah, they are actually wishing themselves a year full of good things as the number of seeds of the pomegranate. The apple dipped in honey is meant to symbolize the sweetness of the upcoming year.  

What is the Tashlich?

Another custom of Rosh Hashanah, usually done only by the religious Jewish people, is to go to a body of water and ceremonially throw out your sins into the water. This ceremony is called “tashlich”, which literally means “throw away”.

What are the High Holy Days?

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the “High Holy Days”, which are known in Hebrew as the “Yamin Noraim” (“the days of awe”). These are ten days, which are known as the Ten Days of Repentance. Those ten days end on Yom Kippur, which is, as we said, the day on which God seals the peoples’ fate for the upcoming year. From Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur you have ten days to change your ways in order to change God’s judgement in your favor.  

Want to learn more? Check out this video by “bim bam”:


If you’re planning to visit Jerusalem soon, you are welcome to join our Into the Jewish Quarter Tour to learn more about the Jewish customs and history in Jerusalem.

Lior Connelly
Lior Connelly

Israeli tour guide and writer of Backpack Israel.

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