Rosh Hashanah 2021: greetings, what is it, dates, what ‘Shana Tova’ means - and Jewish New Year explained

Rosh Hashanah takes place over the first two days of Tishrei, which is the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar

Rosh Hashanah, also known as Jewish New Year, is one of the holiest days in Judaism, and means “head of the year” or “first of the year”.

This is everything you need to know.

What is Rosh Hashanah?

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, and commemorates the date that Jewish people believe the world was created by God.

Rosh Hashanah also marks the beginning of something called the Days of Awe, which is a 10 day period of repentance which culminates in the holy fasting day of Yom Kippur.

It is a two day long festival that marks the anniversary of human creation, and celebrates the special relationship between people and God.

Liberal Judaism states on its website that in this post-agricultural society, Rosh Hashanah is a time to “gather our thoughts and contemplate spiritual renewal and a return to a path that is more in tune with what Jews believe that God requires of us”.

When is it?

The Jewish calendar is a “luni-solar” calendar which is established by the cycles of the moon and the sun.

Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first two days of Tishrei, which is the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar.

In 2021, it starts today, Monday 6 September, and ends on the evening of Wednesday 8 September.

How is Rosh Hashanah celebrated?

There are lots of traditions that Jewish people observe when celebrating Rosh Hashanah - the main one being the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn, on both mornings of Rosh Hashanah.

Chabad explains that there are three types of shofar blowing, “tekiah, a long sob-like blast; shevarim, a series of three short wailes; and teruah, at least nine piercing staccato bursts”.

The blowing of the shofar is representative of the trumpets sounded at a king’s coronation, which is relevant as Rosh Hashanah is a day when Jewish people “proclaim God King of the Universe”, according to Chabad.

The ram’s horn itself is linked to the Binding of Isaac, an event which happened on Rosh Hashanah in which a ram took the place of Isaac as an offering to God.

The traditional way to wish someone a “Happy New Year” in Hebrew is by saying “Shana Tova”.

No work is permitted on Rosh Hashanah, and many attend synagogue during the two days. Women and girls light candles on each evening of Rosh Hashanah, and recite blessings.

Another popular custom during Rosh Hashanah is Tashlikh, which means “casting off”. Tashlikh see’s Jewish people going to areas with flowing water, such as a creek or river, and emptying their pockets into the water. This act symbolises casting off their sins.

Small pieces of bread are commonly placed in pockets in order to be cast off.

Rosh Hashanah also brings with it traditional foods as well, such as eating apples dipped in honey, which acts as a symbol for wishing in a sweet new year. Bread is also dipped in honey as well for the same reason.

What did Joe Biden say?

President of the United States Joe Biden made a statement on Rosh Hashanah on Sunday 5 September.

During the statement, Biden said: “Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe that follow charge those who celebrate to pause, look inward, and reflect on the past year.

“It is a time to undertake an inventory of the soul, a cheshbon hanefesh, and to ask of ourselves and of each other questions that go beyond our own individual faiths: Who do I want to be? What type of nation do we want to forge? What type of world do we want to create?”

He said “may the year 5782 be a year of health, healing, and progress” and “may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life”.

Biden added that he and wife Jill “extend [their] warmest wishes to all those celebrating Rosh Hashanah in the United States, Israel, and around the world”.

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