Rosh Hashanah (meaning 'head of the year' in Hebrew) is the Jewish New Year. It is celebrated ten days before the holiest day for Jews - Yom Kippur. Days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are known as 'Days of Awe'.
Rosh Hashanah is a religious holiday which occurs on the first and second day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. In Judaism, with this day, the High Holy Days begin.
Blowing the Shofar and eating traditional food are an integral part of the celebrations on this day. It is also known as the 'Feast of Trumpets'.
Rosh Hashanah is also known as the 'Day of Judgment'. It is said to be the day on which God opens the book of fate of all humanity. The doings of people of all kinds are assessed and their final fate is ordered on Yom Kippur.
The righteous are right away allowed to live, the intermediate given time up till Yom kippur to repent, introspect and become better and the wicked are taken out of the book of living.
This day places major emphasis on self-introspection wherein Jews reflect their past and present deeds and commit to betterment through confession, repentance, and asking for forgiveness from God. It is believed that death will be the fate of those who do wrong.
All humanity passes before God on Rosh Hashanah for Him to decided who shall fall and who shall rise. The 'book of life' is opened on this day and names are either inscribed in it or removed form it.
Rosh Hashanah also marks the anniversary of the day on which the world was created and Adam and Eve came to life.
Shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah -
A Shofar is a ram's horn and is sounded on Rosh Hashanah as an important ceremonial practice. It is blown a hundred times on each of the two days of Rosh Hashanah. However, if any one of these days falls on Shabbat, the Shofar is not blown. Blowing the Shofar symbolizes a call for waking up the souls of Jews and to seek repentance through prayers. 'Tokea' (meaning 'blaster') is the person who blows the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah.
The sequence for blowing the Shofar is -
Teki’ah – An unbroken blast lasting about three seconds
Shva’rim – A teki’ah broken into three segments
Teruah – Nine rapid fire blasts
Tekiah Gedolah – A triple teki’ah lasting at least nine seconds.
The Shofar is also related to remembering the test God put Abraham through and how he affirmed his absolute faithfulness towards God by agreeing to sacrifice the life of his son Isaac. This is believed to have happened on the first day of Tishrei. The Shofar is associated with the ram that was sacrificed in place of Isaac. In context of this story, it is said that by blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, God will be reminded of our faith in Him and be willing to forgive us for our sins.
Blowing into the Shofar also symbolizing the creation of the world - the way God blew life into Adam and Eve on this day. Furthermore, the Shofar is blown because in Torah, God had instructed to blow the shofar on the first day of the seventh month.
Customs and Celebrations -
During the month preceding Tishrei, Jews strictly observe their behavior and doings in the past and present, evaluate their faults, indulge in prayers to seek forgiveness and commit to refrain from wrongdoings. They intend to be have clear souls when they come before God on Judgment Day or on Rosh Hashanah and therefore begin to rectify their actions.
On Rosh Hashanah eve, many religious prayers are said, including Hatar'at nedarim (a nullification of vows). On Rosh Hashanah day, a dedicated prayer book, the mahzor, is read in addition to the regular prayers. Other prayers like the Amidah are repeated a number of times specially on this day.
Tradition involves eating apples dipped in honey, conveying the desire to have a sweet year ahead. Other communities have their own specialty food for this day. People greet each other by saying 'Shana Tova' (Hebrew) which means 'A Good Year' or by saying 'Leshanah tovah tikateiv veteichateim' meaning 'May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year'.