by Stan Griffin

"Shanah tovah!" Jews say this to wish their relatives and friends "a good year." 

The Jewish New Year begins with the celebration of Rosh Ha-Shanah (rohsh-hah-SHAH-nah) ("Beginning of the Year"). It is the start of their "Ten Days of Penitence" (sometimes called the "Days of Awe"). This period ends with a second holiday: Yom Kippur (YOHM-kih-POOR). Both of these "holy days" occur in the Jewish month of Tishri.


Those of the Jewish religion believe that this is the beginning of God's yearly judgment of His people. It is said that He has a "Book of Life" which contains the names of all Jews. During Rosh Ha-Shanah, God evaluates them and decides who will continue to live, whether or not to punish individual bad deeds, and who will die in the coming year.

Rosh Ha-Shanah is a celebration of the world's creation, a period of rest and deep thought. It is a solemn religious festival. Jews pray for God's forgiveness, for a good year, and a long life for themselves. They consider this time to be a "fresh start" when they admit wrongdoing, turn away from bad behavior and toward good deeds, and work to build a more charitable attitude. Frequently they make a list of their actions which they hope to change.

Prayer and repentance are extremely important at this time. Services in the synagogue emphasize the themes of judgment, penitence, and forgiveness. Special groups of prayers are recited to remind people that God rules the world and that he remembers peoples' deeds.

The "shofar," an important part of Rosh Ha-Shanah, is made from a ram's horn. It is blown, usually inside the synagogue, as a call to repentance, as a spiritual awakening to the service of God, and to denote the end of Rosh Ha-Shanah. (It is blown exactly 100 times during the services.) Symbolically, this instrument originated with Abraham who sacrificed a ram in place of his son Isaac.

The curved shape of the shofar shows people that they should bend their will before God. It is softened and shaped in hot water to give it the right curve. Learning to blow it takes many hours of practice. The shofar is also sounded during the month before the celebration of Rosh Ha-Shanah (the month of Elul). Its "deep meaning" is expressed as follows: "(the) sounding of the shofar on Rosh Ha-Shanah ... (is) saying ... search your deeds and repent ... mend your ways..."

The color white is seen in many places during Rosh Ha-Shanah. White cloths are displayed in the synagogue. Many people wear white clothes. Families send New Year's cards to relatives and friends.

In homes, special food is served. Just before the evening meal, in a special ceremony, apples are dipped in honey and eaten by each member of the family. The significance of these foods is a hope for a sweet, prosperous, and good New Year. Other special foods are honeycakes and "new fruit."

This "civil" year (1997) is the Jewish Year 5757. Rosh Ha-Shanah will be observed on October 2.


At the end of the "Ten Days of Penitence" comes the most important, most solemn, and the most sacred of the Jewish Holy Days: Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement." It lasts from sunset on the ninth day of Tishri until three stars appear after the tenth day. This year it falls on October 11.

Yom Kippur is celebrated as a day of fasting and worship. No work is done. The Jews also refrain from bathing. All those of the Jewish faith attend services in the synagogue or temple. It is considered to be a sad or "heavy" day.

It is believed that during this time God is making His final judgment, forgiving those who have truly repented. It is a day of reconciliation between God and His people which leaves them with deep feelings of joy and renewal.

Fasting lasts for 25 hours. Those of the Jewish faith spend most of their time thinking about their sins and praying for forgiveness.

Families light candles at their homes, to burn for 25 hours. At the end of the fasting period, the shofar is blown. The time period described is also referred to as the "birthday of the world."

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