The Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashanah and the Holiday Lineup

Celebrating Rosh Hashanah

Dear Friends,

What a full year it has been. You may have forgotten, but my last post was in January! Now it is already September and a new year of sorts with Rosh Hashanah 1 beginning this evening. I like the idea of a fresh start with this “head of the year” beginning tonight.

Why do I need a fresh start? Well, who doesn’t? This year has been full of fresh starts already, but I could use another.

When is this holiday? Even though Rosh Hashanah is considered the new year, it begins the first day of the seventh month, and the first day is designated by the the first sliver of the new moon because it is based on the lunar calendar. This year Rosh Hashanah begins the evening of September 13 and ends at nightfall on September 15. Even though Rosh Hashanah is technically only one day, it is celebrated by some sects for two days because the lunar calendar is imprecise and they want to make sure they celebrate the day at the correct time. I like that thoroughness! Personally, I will celebrate it for one full, Jewish day. Right now as this Sunday evening is falling and throughout tomorrow until evening comes again is when I will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah.

How? Well, I will not truly be celebrating it because I am not taking the day off from work. However, I might eat an apple dipped in honey, seek out challah bread even if just to look at it, and I will try to throw some breadcrumbs into the murky waters flowing through the Arboretum.  The sweet food (apples and honey) symbolize sweetness that the coming year may be sweet. The round challah bread symbolizes the circle of life and again that sweet goodness. And throwing breadcrumbs into water represents throwing our sins away, and it is called Tashlich. Before throwing the breadcrumbs in, I will think about sins of the past year, and then I will throw them away, remembering that God has hurled my sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).

(There are other customs associated with this holiday such as reading of certain scriptures and blowing of horns, and various greetings; however, I will celebrate by starting small and hopefully with symbols that are at the heart of the holiday.)

Which feast corresponds to Rosh Hashanah in the Old Testament? This holiday corresponds to the Feast of Trumpets described in Leviticus 23:23-25 and Numbers 29:1-6. Israel is told to present sacrifices, have a sabbath with no work, and blow trumpets. I see very little explanation given in these passages for what this feast is celebrating; moreover, as Christians we do not have to celebrate these holidays. Colossians 2:16-17 says, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” We are free to celebrate or not celebrate the new moon celebration beginning this evening, but the feasts described in the Old Testament describe and foreshadow the story of the universe.

What are we celebrating? The Old Testament seems to keep it a secret, but traditionally the answer is that this is when Adam and Eve were created! Amazing.

But wait, there’s more.

Another cool tradition I found linked to the idea of creation is that this is the time each year when God renews his will for us. I absolutely adored the following post about the deep will of God: The Waking of Creation, based on the teachings of Lubavitcher Rebbe. The approach of the post is mystical and even superstitious: God does not need renewal. However, we do. And he can renew us and wake our souls.

I love this idea of creation/re-creation. It connects well to what I think this feast foreshadows, which is the return of Christ. The trumpets in both the Old and New Testament announce Christ’s return. Even if the trumpets in Revelation and Zechariah are mere symbols of apocalyptic literature, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 suggests the return of Christ involves a literal trumpet: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel  and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” The return of Christ will bring a new heaven and a new earth. This sounds surreal and almost like make believe. However, I want to avoid being exactly like what Peter described:

Above all you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these water the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 2

Peter is saying that we have difficulty believing Christ will return because we are stuck in the now, but if we remember there was a beginning and that everything that exists came into being through his word, then we can better understand that God can bring this world to an end, too. However, the end is not the end: “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and new earth, where righteousness dwells.” 3

Christ’s return is a new beginning. A new creation. I love it.

Even though Jesus’s return is not celebrated by Judaism, I was delighted to discover that Rosh Hashanah and the holidays closely following it also relate to God’s judgment! Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the 10 Days of Repentance (or 10 Days of Awe), and on Rosh Hashanah, the book of judgment is opened, and the tenth day, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), is the day of final judgment.

Here is the lineup of upcoming holidays called the 10 Days of Repentance (or 10 Days of Awe):

Rosh Hoshanah – Head of the Year, Festival of Trumpets, evening of September 13 through evening of September 15. Celebrate it by giving blessings, eating sweet food such as apples dipped in honey, throw your breadcrumbs and sins into water, and begin a time repentance and prayer.

Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement, evening of September 22 through the evening of September 23. The day before have a feast and then fast for 25 hours in repentance. Also refrain from bathing, sex, and work.

10 Days of Repentance/Awe – every day beginning with Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur. It is ten full days when each person reconciles with people and with God. You can work except for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and you can eat except for Yom Kippur.

I would like to say that these next ten days will be a time of reconciliation, reflection, and prayer. Maybe they will. I hope they will be. I need a new start.

So there you have it. The Mara Notes. May you have a sweet new year.

 

Love to you all,

Mara

 

 

 

The Sound of the Trumpet

If You Prefer Videos:

 

(Amazingly, I wrote my little blog post before watching this video.)

 

 

 

Notes:

  1. I am not an expert on modern Jewish holidays, but “rosh” means “head” and “hashanah” is “the year.” The following information comes from these websites: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosh_Hashanah, http://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/4322/jewish/Study.htm (my favorite), jewishencyclopedia.com, http://www.reformjudaism.org/rosh-hashanah-customs, and www.jewfaq.org.
  2. 2 Peter 3:3-7
  3. 2 Peter 3:12b-13

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  1. 1
    Mara Chambers

    My apologies – perhaps I should have used the Jewish custom of not using God’s name and instead have “G-d”, but I don’t want to do a fake reverence by using format too foreign to me. However, I do respect and appreciate that tradition as perhaps superior to my own.

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