Beginning on the first day of the seventh month of the ecclesiastical year, Rosh Hashanah (in Hebrew: רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה) is a two-day celebration of the new year. Apt, as a literal translation to English means “head of the year.” But beyond some literal translation what exactly is Rosh Hashanah?
Further Reading: What Is Yom Kippur? A Description and Overview
When Does it Fall?
Rosh Hashanah falls under the High Holy Days (Yamim Noraim | ימים נוראים), which includes Yom Kippur, the Ten Days of Repentance, and Hoshana Rabbah. It begins at the start of Tishrei, which as we mentioned is the seventh month of the ecclesiastical year. The day marks the beginning of the civil year rather than the religious year. It’s also traditionally the anniversary of Adam and Eve’s creation in the Hebrew Bible.
Before 70 CE, Rosh Hashanah appears to have been a single day. It was set to begin at the end of the last day of Elul, the sixth month of the ecclesiastical calendar (remembering that the Hebrew calendar holds days begin at sundown). However, following the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, Rosh Hashanah became a two-day celebration given difficulties in determining the time of the new moon.
Nowadays whether or not Rosh Hashanah is observed for two days is a little dependent. Under both Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, Rosh Hashanah lasts for two days–even in Israel it is said to be Yoma Arichtah, also known as one long day. Reform Judaism is dependent, North American congregations might observe Rosh Hashanah for one day, but it’s not uncommon to follow in the traditional two-day footsteps either.
What Does Rosh Hashanah Mark?
Traceable back to the sixth century BCE, Rosh Hashanah was first mentioned in oral laws around 200 CE. The Mishnah refers to Rosh Hashanah as the “day of judgment”. People are striated between the wicked, intermediate, and righteous. The righteous are recorded in the Book of Life, while the wicked are blocked from the Book forever. Those who find themselves in the intermediate class are given the 10 days until Yom Kippur to become righteous.
Along with judgment, Rosh Hashanah is most well known for the blowing of the shofar–a horn that is also made from an animal’s horn. It’s not uncommon for the shofar to be sounded 100 times on each day of Rosh Hashanah. Symbolically, the shofar often serves as a loud reminder to stir people into repentance. It’s pretty important, considering if you fall under the intermediate class, you have like 10 days to get yourself recorded into the Book of Life. The shofar is also commonly sounded in the month preceding Tishrei (Elul).
Speaking of new years, see whose new year is whose here.