Sunday, September 28, 2008



September 30-October 1, 5768 (2008-2009)

Shana Tovah—Happy New Year!
Gemar Chatima Tovah! May you have a good signing in the Book of Life!
Roshashana and Yom Kippur are called the High Holy Days, or High Holidays. Roshashana is two days long; the period including Roshashana and Yom Kippur and the days in between totals ten days. Usually falling on days in September, Roshashana is celebrated on the first day of Tishrai, the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. It seems odd to celebrate the New Year on the seventh month! The intricacies of the Jewish calendar I haven’t yet fathomed, but I have learned that one explanation for calling this day New Year’s is that Adam was created on this day.

The High Holy Days is a time of reflection, repentance, and forgiveness; it’s much more serious than the Dec. 31 New Year’s Eve and the New Year’s Day which follows it. In fact it’s so serious that the days of Roshashana and Yom Kippur are referred to as "Days of Awe." On Roshashana God opens the Book of Life and the Book of Death, and on Yom Kippur he seals your name in the Book of Life or the Book of Death, determining whether you will have a good or a bad year.

Just as Christians who seldom go to church all clamor to attend Christmas and Easter services, so Jews who don’t often go to services find it important to be in synagogue for Roshashana and Yom Kippur. At the services the shofar, the ram’s horn, is blown many times. I like the way Judaism for Dummies (a very useful book!) calls the sound "a wake up call for the soul." Traditionally it is blown at services during the two days of Roshashana for about 100 times.

During the morning service on the first day (remember that days begin the evening before) some congregants wear a white garment called a kitl, a burial shroud, as a sign of repentance. During Roshashana Jews do teshuvah, which means repenting from sins (literally it means "returning," as in returning to God). The Akeda, the story of when Abraham demonstrated his trust in God by preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac, is retold each year at Roshashana.

If you are invited to attend services, here are a few things you should know:
Synagogue services, especially during holidays, are much longer than you are probably used to. I remember in my Methodist congregation people would get grumbly --and their stomachs rumbly-- if the sermon went on much longer than twenty minutes, and the whole church service took about an hour or so. If you are a married woman you should cover your head with a scarf or one of those doily-like things you used to use in Catholic churches. In general you just follow along with the prayer book (which begins on the last page) and do what other people do.

At the family Roshashana meals it is a lovely custom to dip apples—and sometimes pieces of challah, the delicious egg bread—in honey to wish for a sweet new year. The challah, which is usually braided, is round in shape on this holiday to symbolize the cycle of life and of the year. A traditional dish is tzimmes, a tasty casserole containing carrots, sweet potatoes, prunes, cinnamon, and honey. I love it! Because this dish takes a while to prepare and cook, there’s a cute Yiddish expression: "Don’t make a tzimmes," which means "Don’t make a big deal out of it." I like to add brisket to my tzimmes, which makes it a meat tzimmes.
Shana Tova—Happy New Year—and thanks for visiting. You’re a real mensch!


Bookgrl said...

Really cute site. Thanks for the useful information.

MAL_I said...

Thanks for the education Marilyn. I always love to keep up with all my Jewish friends holidays but I rarely know what they are about so thanks.

Is there a name for a guy that thinks Jewish woman are simply the hottest thing created?

Melanie Banks said...

Thank you for this. I have recently started learnign more about the teachings of the torah and have become drawn to it. I am a christian and not born a jew but feel I have really connected to the teachings of the Torah and feel a real connection to God through it.

Anonymous said...

I have a dear friend that is Jewish and I wasn't sure what this Holiday stood for, thanks to you now I do and know what to say to my dear friend. Thank you for information like this that helps us non Jewish people understand the importance of such Holiday!!Regards,

Mac and Cheese said...

Great site! I found you while verifying the correct spelling for Roshashana (I am Jewish but pretty bad at it). I'll be back!