Okay, so you might not be Jewish. Well, that's okay. 5766 is the number of the new year. I guess it's the 60s all over again, eh? And this is New Year's Day or rather Days in Judaism.
Huh, you say? Well, you see, we celebrate New Year's for two days. Why? Well, it has to do with when it's the new year in Israel versus the rest of the world, but the gist of it is we have a fine old time of it over the course of two days rather than one like in the secular calendar.
Traditional foods are apples and honey, the idea is for you to have a sweet year. Honey cake is also served. We need a little protein to go with all of that, so brisket or chicken is also served. Wine-drinking is nice. A candle or candles can be lit. Or not, unless it's also the Sabbath (this year, neither day is).
Rosh Hashanah means "Head of the Year". Rosh means head
and shanah is year
. The Ha part of Hashanah means the
A traditional Hebrew greeting is L'Shana Tova (Tov or Tova means good
). It essentially means, you should have a good year
It is a time for family, and for some prayer. A lot of synagogues are really crowded. Rosh Hashanah (and Yom Kippur, which is a week later) are considered the High Holy Days. Synagogue attendance is strongly encouraged if you are Reform (I am, so is RP), and more like mandatory if you are Conservative or Orthodox. I'm not sure about where it falls if you are a Reconstructionist.
The concept is also that you will be inscribed in the book of life for another year. That is another traditional greeting, May you be inscribed for another year
. And on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement. Yom means day
), your name is sealed in the book of life. Hence there's a small gap there of a week. One thing that is encouraged, before, during and after Yom Kippur, is to not only ask God for forgiveness but also your fellow human beings. The in-between week is one time where you can do this.
Every year, the Torah is read, and a passage is read at Synagogue every week. Every synagogue around the world follows the same schedule, so you can be in Buenos Aires one week, then in Tokyo, then in Jerusalem and then in Boston and, if you understand Hebrew, you should be able to easily follow along. We all pray in Hebrew (although the Reform movement means more vernacular is spoken during services, so a lot of prayers are translated. An American Reform service has a lot of English). The whole process starts over on Rosh Hashanah. Therefore, on Rosh Hashanah, the Torah passage is about the beginning of the universe, the creation myth.
The shofar is also blown. What's a shofar? It's a hollowed-out ram's horm. A lot of shofars are very old, and inlaid with ornate silver or have interesting inscriptions. Others are plain. Three different tones are played: T'kiyah, T'ruah and Sh'varim. I can't recall what each of them represents (someone will be along to help out, I'm sure), but the idea is to herald in the new year. Just as Abraham sacrificed a ram rather than his son, Isaac, just like Joshua and his army blew ram's horns in to make the walls of Jericho come tumbling down after Moses led us out of Egypt, so is a ram's horn significant.
This is a happy holiday. Come, have some sweets and a little wine, and enjoy the party.
L'chaim to all, regardless of religion and even if you don't have one and don't want one!