Some Rosh Hashanah Factoids

With the High Holy Days upon us, I thought I would go over some of the Jewish traditions regarding Rosh Hashanah.

Remember, even though Yeshua chided the Pharisees about man-made traditions, he wasn’t against all traditions- only those specific ones that were given precedence over what God said we should do. Not every tradition is bad, only those that men have created which are given more importance than the instructions God gave us.

There won’t be any video today, and I hope that you find this lesson interesting.

(I am getting most of todays information from a great 2-volume set that I recommend for anyone who wants to really get to know what being Jewish is all about, called “The Jewish Book of Why”, written by Alfred J. Kolatch.)

You may notice that I always specify “Holy Day” from “holiday”. This is because I differentiate between celebrations that God commanded from celebrations that are man-made.

The first thing I want to say, which is not from the book I referenced but from the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 23:23-25, is that the Holy Day we now call Rosh Hashanah is actually called Yom Teruah (Day of Trumpets) and is commanded to be observed by God in this manner (from the CJB):

Adonai said to Moshe,  “Tell the people of Isra’el, ‘In the seventh month, the first of the month is to be for you a day of complete rest for remembering, a holy convocation announced with blasts on the shofar.  Do not do any kind of ordinary work, and bring an offering made by fire to Adonai.’”

This 10-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called the Ten Days of Awe, in which we look, introspectively, at ourselves to confess how short we have fallen from the way God wants us to live. It is a time to remember the past year, and prepare ourselves, emotionally ands spiritually, for Yom Kippur.

One of the things we do is to go to everyone who we think we may have transgressed against over the past year, and ask them for forgiveness. This may sound familiar, as Yeshua told us if a brother has anything against us, we should leave our offering at the altar and first go make things right with that person (Matthew 5:23-4).

Another tradition is a ceremony called Tashlich (casting off). This is performed when standing by fresh, running water; we throw a rock, or sometimes people throw bread crumbs, into the water praying that just as the rock sinks or the crumbs are carried away, so should our sins be taken away from us for this new year.

Even though this is considered the new year (Rosh Hashannah means “head of the year”), there are actually other new year days.

The “civil” new year is the first of Nissan, which back then was called Aviv. This is the day that God commanded should be the first day of the calendar (Exodus 12:2). Rosh Hashanah, the first day of Tishri, is considered the “religious” new year. Each of these two celebrations coincide with a harvest.

The Talmud refers to other new years, one for royalty (the first of Nissan); one for agriculture (the first of Tishri); one for the tithing of cattle (the first of Elul); and the fourth as a new year for trees (the first of Shevat).

The Bible calls for just one day of celebrating this Holy Day, but we now celebrate it or two days. The reason is because this is the only Holy Day that falls on a New Moon. The announcement of the new moon was based on three witnesses in Jerusalem seeing the moon, then messengers were sent to light signal fires to let the outer cities in Israel know the new moon has arrived. Sometimes these messengers were late, so it was decided that we would celebrate this day over a 2-day period, but consider it as one, long day.

The Rabbis did this a lot in the Talmud- they kinda made up their own rules.

The shofar is blown some 100 times on Rosh Hashannah. The Talmud gives a rather mystical reason, that by doing so we scare off Satan, so he won’t be able to bring any charges against the Jewish people before God on the Day of Atonement.

The traditional reading on this day is called the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac. This is Genesis, Chapter 22, and is considered to be one of the many messianic passages in the Torah.

Here is something I’m sure you will find interesting: Rosh Hashanah never falls on a Wednesday, Friday, or Sunday. The reason for this is that when the Jewish calendar was issued by Hillel II in 359 C.E., it was arranged so that the Holy Days would not interfere with the Shabbat observance, or vice-versa.

The reason we use a rams horn instead of a cow horn is to honor the ram that Abraham sacrificed on Mount Moriah after the angel stopped him from killing Isaac.

The shofar blasts are composed of three different notes called Tekia, Terua, and Shevarim. The Tekia is a single blast, the Terua is 9 staccato blasts, and the Shevarim (introduced in the Talmud in Rosh Hashanah 33b) is three undulating blasts. There is an additional blast, the Tekia Gedolah, which is a long, suspended note. There is a traditional sequence for sounding them, the entre sequence is done three times after a prayer is recited, and the prayer is recited three times during the service (which can last from a few hours to 7 hours, depending on the sect of Judaism).

The notes are sounded in this order:

tekia-shevarim-terua-tekia;

tekia-shevarim-tekia; and

tekia-terua-tekia.

With the final sequence, in some synagogues, they also sound the tekia gedolah.

The total number of shofar blasts is to be 100.

A white garment called a kittle is worn to represent humility and purity. We also wear this on Yom Kippur.

Some food is also specific to this day. The Challah bread, usually braided, is round to represent eternity, which has no beginning and no end. I t also represents the cyclic nature of life.

We serve carrot tzimmes, a sweet carrot and honey dish to represent the hopes for a sweet new year.

Another food to represent hopes for a sweet new year are apples dipped in honey and the serving of honey cake ( I LOVE honey cake!).

Finally, let’s do one more tradition: many Jews avoid eating nuts on this day. Why? Because of Jewish superstition (yes, there are many superstitions in Judaism). Hebrew letters also have a numerical value, so a Hebrew word can be given a number value, which is similar to Numerology. The Hebrew word for nut is “egoz“, which has the same numerical value as the Hebrew word chet, which is sin. Therefore, we do not want the new year to have any association with sin.

Nutty, isn’t it?

So there you have it! There are even more traditions regarding this Holy Day, but this is enough for now. You can get the book I told you about above and learn all about Jewish thought, superstition, traditions, and beliefs.

The Shabbat begins tonight, so Shabbat Shalom, and come Sunday night I wish you all:

Leshanah tovah tikatevu!

(May you be inscribed for a good year)

Comments welcomed (just be nice)