Rosh Ha-Shanah

views updated Jun 08 2018


ROSH HA-SHANAH (Heb. רֹאשׁ הָשָּׁנָה), the Jewish New Year, the autumn festival celebrated on the first and second days of Tishri.

In the Bible

The name Rosh Ha-Shanah as it is used in the Bible (Ezek. 40:1) simply means the beginning of the year, and does not designate the festival. The months of the year were counted from the spring month (Ex. 12:2), later called by the Babylonian name Nisan. The month known by the Babylonian name Tishri is, therefore, called the "seventh month" in the Pentateuch. When the festival on the first of this month is recorded, it is referred to as the festival of the seventh month and as a day of "memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns," or "a day of blowing the horn" (Lev. 23:23–25; Num. 29:1–6). In the Bible, the festival lasts for one day only; the two-day festival arose out of the difficulty of determining when the *new moon actually appeared.

The Babylonian name Tishri seems to derive from the root seru, which means "to begin." The ancient Semitic peoples thought of the year as beginning in the autumn, at the time of the late harvest; cf. the expressions be-ẓet ha-shanah ("at the end of the year"), and tekufat ha-shanah ("(at) the turn of the year"), by which the Feast of Ingathering, or *Sukkot, which is in a sense the popular equivalent of the more priestly Day of Remembrance, is dated in Exodus 23:16 and 34:22 respectively. The *Gezer Calendar in fact begins with two Months of Ingathering. This was the beginning of the economic year, when crops began to be sold. It is plausible, therefore, that the biblical feast originally marked the beginning of the agricultural year. If this is correct, the rabbinic name Rosh Ha-Shanah only makes explicit that which had been implicit in the observance of the day from earliest times. It was on the first day of the seventh month that Ezra the Scribe read the book of the Law before the people (Neh. 8:1–8). The people, conscious of their shortcomings, were distressed to hear the words of the Law; but Nehemiah, Ezra's companion, said to them: "Go your way, eat rich viands, and drink the sweet beverages, and send portions to him who has none prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord; do not be sad; for joy in the Lord is your refuge" (Neh. 8:10). The psalmist is almost certainly referring to this festival when he proclaims: "Blow the horn at the new moon, at the full moon for our feast day. For it is a statute for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob" (Ps. 81:4–5). In the critical view, the Pentateuchal legislation in which the festival appears belongs to the Priestly Code (p) and, therefore, to the post-Exilic period, when the Babylonian influences had become particularly pronounced. The older critical views consider the whole institution to be post-Exilic, pointing out, for instance, that there is no reference to it in the lists of the feasts in Deuteronomy (16:1–17). More recently, however, S. Mowinckel (The Psalms in Israel's Worship, 1 (1962), 120ff.) has advanced the suggestion that there existed in pre-Exilic Israel an autumnal New Year festival on which God was "enthroned" as King (analogous to the Babylonian enthronement of *Marduk). He claims to have found marked traces in many of the psalms to substantiate his assertion. Although Mowinckel's thesis has won wide acceptance, it is still the subject of debate.

In Rabbinic Literature

The Mishnah (rh 1:1) speaks of four periods of the year, each known as Rosh Ha-Shanah (see *New Year). One of these is the first of Tishri, and it is to this day that the name generally refers. It is a day when all mankind is judged (rh 1:2). R. Eliezer taught that the world was created in Tishri; R. Joshua that it was created in Nisan (rh 10b–11a). In the Rosh Ha-Shanah liturgy, the reference to the day as the day on which the world was created follows the opinion of R. Eliezer (rh 27a). The motif of Rosh Ha-Shanah as a day of judgment is independent of the theme of creation. R. Naḥman b. Isaac interprets "From the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year" (Deut. 11:12) to mean that God determines at the beginning of the year what is to be at the end of the year (rh 8a). Another opinion has it that on Rosh Ha-Shanah heaven assigns to a person how much he will earn during the coming year (Bezaḥ 16a). Confidence in God's mercy is expressed when it is said: "It is the custom of men who appear before a court of justice to wear black clothes, to let their beards grow long because the outcome is uncertain. But Israel does not do so. On the day of judgment (Rosh Ha-Shanah), they wear white garments and have their beards shaven and they eat, drink, and rejoice in the conviction that God will perform miracles for them" (tj, rh 1:3, 57b). The theme of God as King is particularly stressed on Rosh Ha-Shanah because of the day's association with His judgment (Ber. 12b). During the prayers of the day, it is necessary to recite ten biblical texts which have the theme of God as King (*malkhuyyot); ten which have the theme of God as He Who remembers (*zikhronot); and ten which have reference to the *shofar (shofarot; rh 4:5–6). These are explained as God saying, "Recite before Me on Rosh Ha-Shanah malkhuyyot, zikhronot and shofarot: Malkhuyyot so that you may proclaim Me King over you; zikhronot so that your remembrance may rise favorably before Me; and through what? Through the shofar" (rh 16a). The four names of the festival in Jewish tradition, based on the above, are: Rosh Ha-Shanah, Yom Teru'ah ("Day of Blowing the Horn"), Yom ha-Din ("Judgment Day"), and Yom ha-Zikkaron ("Day of Remembrance").

R. Keruspedai said in the name of R. Johanan: "Three books are opened on Rosh Ha-Shanah, one for the completely righteous, one for the completely wicked and one for the average persons. The completely righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life. The completely wicked are immediately inscribed in the book of death. The average persons are kept in suspension from Rosh Ha-Shanah to the Day of Atonement. If they deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of life, if they do not deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of death" (rh 16b). The theme of the books of life and death feature prominently in Rosh Ha-Shanah liturgy. The intellectual difficulties in the whole concept were much discussed in the Middle Ages (see e.g. Naḥmanides, "Toratha-Adam," in: H.D. Chavel (ed.), Kitvei Rabbenu Moshe ben Naḥman, 2 (1964), 264ff.).

The Shofar

The essential ritual of Rosh Ha-Shanah is the sounding of the shofar. The Mishnah (rh 3:2) rules that the horn of any animal (e.g. sheep, goat, antelope), except the cow, may be used as a shofar on Rosh Ha-Shanah. One of the reasons why the horn of a cow is not used is its reference to the golden calf and "a prosecuting counsel cannot act for the defense" (rh 26a). At a later period, the ram's horn was preferred in order to recall the binding of Isaac for whom a ram was substituted (rh 16a; see Gen. 22:13). It is considered meritorious to use a curved shofar, symbolic of man bowing in submission to God's will (rh 26b). The silence of the Scriptures as to why the horn is blown on this day left room for a wide variety of interpretations among later teachers. There are ten frequently-quoted reasons, which scholars have attributed to *Saadiah Gaon (see Abudraham ha-Shalem, ed. S. Krauser (1959), 269–70): (1) Trumpets are sounded at a coronation and God is hailed as King on this day. (2) The shofar heralds the beginning of the penitential season (from Rosh Ha-Shanah to the Day of Atonement). (3) The Torah was given on Sinai accompanied by blasts of the shofar. (4) The prophets compare their message to the sound of the shofar. (5) The conquering armies that destroyed the Temple sounded trumpet blasts. (6) The ram was substituted for Isaac. (7) The prophet asks: "Shall the horn be blown in a city, and the people not tremble?" (Amos 3:6). (8) The prophet Zephaniah speaks of the great "day of the Lord" (Judgment Day) as a "day of the horn and alarm" (Zeph. 1:14, 16). (9) The prophet Isaiah speaks of the great shofar which will herald the messianic age (Isa. 27:13). (10) The shofar will be sounded at the resurrection.

Maimonides (Yad, Teshuvah 3:4) writes: "Although it is a divine decree that we blow the shofar on Rosh Ha-Shanah, a hint of the following idea is contained in the command. It is as if to say: 'Awake from your slumbers, ye who have fallen asleep in life, and reflect on your deeds. Remember your Creator. Be not of those who miss reality in the pursuit of shadows, and waste their years in seeking after vain things which neither profit nor save. Look well to your souls and improve your character. Forsake each of you his evil ways and thoughts.'"

The particular shofar sounds blown on Rosh Ha-Shanah have an extended development. "A day of blowing the horn" (Num. 29:1) is, in Hebrew, called yom teru'ah, and is rendered by the Targum as yom yabbava. The phrase concerning the mother of Sisera who is said to have "looked through the window" (va-teyabbev; Judg. 5:28) is interpreted by the Rabbis as "and she wept." Hence the shofar blast is said to be a weeping sound. According to rabbinic tradition, however, the teru'ah-yabbava sound must always be followed and preceded by an extended, unbroken note, teki'ah. Since there are three references to the teru'ah-yabbava sound (Lev. 23:24; 25:9; Num. 29:1), it follows that three teru'ah-yabbava sounds are required, each preceded and followed by a teki'ah (rh 33b, 34a). There are doubts as to whether the weeping sound means three groaning notes (shevarim) or a series of nine very short wailing notes (teru'ah). Is the biblical teru'ah-yabbava, then, a shevarim note, or a teru'ah note, or both together? In order to eliminate all doubt, the practice arose, and is still followed, of sounding all three notes. The order became:

teki'ah shevarim teru'ah teki'ah (3 times)
teki'ah shevarim teki'ah (3 times)
teki'ah teru'ah teki'ah (3 times).

The final teki'ah is especially long and drawnout, and is known as teki'ah gedolah, "the great teki'ah." This series of 30 notes, first sounded after the reading of the Torah, is again sounded during the repetition of the *Musaf Amidah (in some rites in the silent Amidah), and in many congregations also at the end of the service with an additional ten notes, so as to make a total of 100. The sounding of the shofar in the synagogue is an occasion of great solemnity at which God is entreated to show mercy to His creatures. The Midrash remarks: "R. Josiah said: It is written: 'Happy is the people that know the sound of the trumpet' (Ps. 89:16). Do not the nations of the world know how to sound the trumpet? They have numerous horns, sirens and trumpets, and yet it is said: 'Happy is the people that know the sound of the trumpet.' This means that Israel is the people which knows how to win over their Creator with the blasts of the shofar so that He rises from His throne of judgment to His throne of mercy and is filled with compassion for them and turns His quality of judgment into the quality of compassion" (Lev. R. 29:4).

The Laws and Customs of Rosh Ha-Shanah

On the first night of Rosh Ha-Shanah it is customary to greet one's friends with: "May you be inscribed (in the book of life) for a good year." The Sephardi version of the greeting is: "May you be inscribed for a good year; may you be worthy of abundant years." At the festive meal, it is customary to dip the piece of bread, over which grace has been recited, into honey as a token of the sweet year it is hoped will come. For the same reason, a piece of apple is dipped in honey and before eating it, the prayer is recited: "May it be Thy will O Lord our God and God of our fathers, to renew unto us a good and sweet year." Nuts should not be eaten on Rosh Ha-Shanah because they produce phlegm, and make it more difficult to recite the prayers of the day; also because the numerical value of the Hebrew for "nut" (egoz) is the same as that of "sin" (Ḥet). In some communities, the loaves for the festival meal are baked in the form of ladders to symbolize the fortunes of men in the year ahead: some ascending, others descending life's ladder. The custom of sending greeting cards before Rosh Ha-Shanah finds no support in the Jewish tradition, though it is now a widespread practice.

The prophet Micah speaks of God casting the sins of Israel into the depths of the sea. "And Thou wilt cast (ve-tashlikh) all their sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19). On the basis of this verse, the *Tashlikh ceremony arose in which Jews go to a place where there is running water, the sea, a river, or a well (if neither of the former two are within walking distance) to recite this and other scriptural verses as well as penitential hymns and prayers on the first afternoon of Rosh Ha-Shanah (on the second if the first day falls on a Sabbath). There is no reference to the Tashlikh rite in the Talmud. A pagan origin for the custom has been suggested (J.Z. Lauterbach, Rabbinic Essays (1951), 299–433); a traditional interpretation has it that the fish in the river, whose eyes never close, are a reminder of the ever-watchful eyes of God, open always to look down on His creatures in mercy.

The scriptural readings in the synagogue on Rosh Ha-Shanah are: On the first day, Genesis 21 and the haftarah, i Samuel 1:1–2:10; on the second day, Genesis 22 and the haftarah, Jeremiah 31:2–20. The maftir on both days is Numbers 29:1–6.

Although Rosh Ha-Shanah as a festival is not more important than the other festivals, greater solemnity has come to be attached to it since it is also considered a day of judgment.*Hallel is, therefore, not recited. The day is imbued with an aura of awe as expressed in the prayer: "Now, therefore, O Lord our God, impose Thine awe upon all Thy works, and Thy dread upon all that Thou hast created, that all works may revere Thee and all creatures prostrate themselves before Thee, that they may all form a single band to do Thy will with a perfect heart."


N.H. Snaith, Jewish New Year Festival (1948); S.J. Zevin, Ha-Mo'adim ba-Halakhah (19429), 26–56; L. Jacobs, Guide to Rosh Ha-Shanah (1959); M. Arzt, Justice and Mercy (1963); S.Y. Agnon, Days of Awe (1965); Ta-Shema, in: Tarbiz, 38 (1968/69), 398f.; P. Goodman, Rosh Hashana Anthology (1971).

[Louis Jacobs]

Rosh Ha-Shanah

views updated May 23 2018


ROSH HA-SHANAH (Heb. רֹאשׁ הָשּׁנָה; "New Year"), eighth tractate in the order of Mo'ed; in some earlier Mishnah and Talmud editions it is seventh, and in current Talmud editions it is placed fifth. Although Rosh Ha-Shanah is the rabbinic designation for one of the major festivals of the Jewish calendar, that which falls in "the seventh month, on the first day of the month" (Lev. 23:24), the tractate does not deal exclusively with this New Year. It opens with the statement that there are four days of the calendar, each of which is a New Year for its own specific purpose. Thus the first of Nisan is the New Year for kings and for festivals, and the 15th of Shevat (or the first) the New Year for trees. However, the first day of Tishri, the "New Year for years," i.e., the beginning of the calendar year, became known as the New Year par excellence, and the bulk of the tractate's discussion is elaboration of the laws concerning it, its religious significance, and the details of the sounding of the shofar. In mishnaic times, though the authorities were familiar with astronomical calculations, the New Moon was fixed on the basis of observation, which meant that, as a rule, the bet din formally proclaimed the New Month only after it had heard evidence of witnesses who had actually seen the new moon.

The tractate is divided into four chapters. Chapter 1 speaks of the various New Years and indicates Rosh Ha-Shanah as the day of judgment for all mankind. It then deals with regulations concerning the fixing of the New Moon, and especially with the qualification of the witnesses to it. Chapter 2 continues with the subject of the determination of the New Moon, and concludes with the dramatic account of how Rabban *Gamaliel asserted his patriarchal authority to make R. *Joshua yield to his ruling. Chapter 3 deals mainly with particulars of the shofar. The chapter includes a profound homily explaining that it is not the actual sound of the horn but its devotional effect which is important. Chapter 4 first discusses whether the shofar is blown on the Sabbath when Rosh Ha-Shanah falls on that day. Ordinances enacted by Johanan b. Zakkai concerning various subjects are recorded. It then deals with the order of benedictions for Rosh Ha-Shanah, which are arranged in the Musaf service. The tractate has Tosefta and Gemara in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. In the Babylonian Gemara, there is a discussion as to whether the world was created in Nisan or in Tishri (10b–12a); the latter view seems to have been accepted in later amoraic times, as reflected in the Rosh Ha-Shanah prayers of those days. Of particular interest is the elaboration on the idea of Rosh Ha-Shanah being the day of judgment for every individual as well as for mankind (16a–18a).

Tractate Rosh Ha-Shanah is characterized particularly by two topics. The first is the intercalation of the year and how and when and for what reasons intercalation is effected, and what are the considerations which normally influence the determination of the yearly *calendar. The second is a systematic, philosophical, speculative discussion on everything concerning providence, and reward and punishment in this world and in the next. These topics are much better arranged and edited than others and more systematically than in all other tractates. The talmudic tractate was translated into English by Maurice Simon in the Soncino edition (1938).


Epstein, Tanna'im, 363–72; Ḥ. Albeck, Shishah Sidrei Mishnah, 2 (1958), 305–9.

[Arnost Zvi Ehrman]

Rosh ha-Shanah

views updated May 29 2018

Rosh ha-Shanah (Heb., ‘New Year’). The Jewish New Year. Rosh ha-Shanah is celebrated on 1 Tishri (and 2 in the diaspora). The four names of the festival in the Jewish tradition reflect the various themes of the day: Rosh ha-Shanah, Yom Teruʾah (‘Day of Blowing the Horn’ (shofar)), Yom ha-Din (‘Day of Judgement’), and Yom ha-Zikkaron (‘Day of Remembrance’). On the first afternoon, the Tashlikh ceremony is often performed, although there is no reference to this in the Talmud.

Rosh Hashanah

views updated Jun 27 2018

Rosh Ha·sha·nah / ˌrōsh (h)əˈshōnə; ˌräsh; -ˈshänə / (also Rosh Ha·sha·na) • n. the Jewish New Year festival, held on the first (also sometimes the second) day of Tishri (in September). It is marked by the blowing of the shofar, and begins the ten days of penitence culminating in Yom Kippur.

Rosh Hashanah

views updated Jun 11 2018

Rosh Hashanah Jewish New Year and first day of the month of Tishri (generally in September). It is the day on which a ceremonial ram's horn, the shophar or shofar, is blown to call sinners to repentance – the Day of Judgment or of Remembrance. It begins the Ten Days of Penitence that culminate with the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

Rosh Hashana

views updated May 18 2018

Rosh Hashana the Jewish New Year festival, held on the first (and sometimes the second) day of Tishri (in September). It is marked by the blowing of the shofar, and begins the ten days of penitence culminating in Yom Kippur. The literal meaning in Hebrew is ‘head (i.e. beginning) of the year’.

Rosh ha-Shanah

views updated May 18 2018

Rosh ha-Shanah. A tractate of the Jewish Talmud. The tractate deals with the laws and customs of the various New Years in the Jewish Calendar.