Guide To The Jewish High Holidays: Rosh Hashanah

By Thursday, September 21, 2017

The following is an excerpt from an article originally published on the Passages blog. Reprinted with permission. 

Rosh Hashanah is the first feast of the Jewish Fall high. On the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah always begins on the first day of the month of Tishrei. Biblically, this holiday is known as “Yom Teruah” or the “Feast of Trumpets”.

Biblical Significance

In Leviticus 23:24-25 (NIV), we see the origin of the Feast of Trumpets:

24 “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of sabbath rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. 25 Do no regular work, but present a food offering to the Lord.’”

We see another reference to the feast in Numbers 29:1-6 (NIV):

29 “‘On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. It is a day for you to sound the trumpets. 2 As an aroma pleasing to the Lord, offer a burnt offering of one young bull, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect. 3 With the bull offer a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with olive oil; with the ram, two-tenths; 4 and with each of the seven lambs, one-tenth. 5 Include one male goat as a sin offering to make atonement for you. 6 These are in addition to the monthly and daily burnt offerings with their grain offerings and drink offerings as specified. They are food offerings presented to the Lord, a pleasing aroma.

As we can see here from both of these passages, scripture does not go into detail as to the purpose of this feast, but rather only specifies how to commemorate with the blasts of the trumpet, or shofar (ram’s horn), how to make the appropriate sacrifices, and to do no work for the duration.

Jewish tradition has suggested that the purpose of the Feast of Trumpets, as well as the practice of the blowing of the shofar, is intended to begin the process of calling people to repentance as they approach the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) which we will discuss in depth later in this article.

Modern Observance

At this point, some may be asking where the name of the holiday changed from the Feast of Trumpets to Rosh Hashanah, Hebrew for “head of the year” or “new year”. For those familiar with the Hebrew calendar and the implications of the Torah’s prescription therein, one may recall that Passover, usually taking place in March or April of the Gregorian calendar, is actually commanded to be the start of the Biblical new year. Many believe that this change occurred in Jewish practice for two reasons. The first reason being that the agricultural process ends and begins in the Fall around the same time as the Jewish high holidays begin, specifically Rosh Hashanah. The second reason being that, spiritually, the Fall feasts indicate a “re-start” of the repentance and atonement process where one’s slate is cleared for the past year’s sins and their path for life begins anew for the upcoming year.

One particular modern Jewish practice which serves to exemplify this narrative is what is known as “tashliach”. This is a custom where one will cast small pieces of bread into a moving source of water such as a river, creek, or stream. The symbolism implies a “casting away” of the past year’s sins in preparation for the Day of Atonement to come.

Another more common modern Jewish practice is to eat apples and honey which serve to symbolize the hope of a “sweet” new year.

A great way to greet your Jewish friends this Rosh Hashanah is to eat apples and honey with them (if you’re close by) or to wish them L’shanah tovah (happy new year)!

Scott Phillips

Scott Phillips is Executive Director of Passages, a program which seeks to connect Christian college students with leadership potential to the biblical roots of their Christian faith as well as to the modern state of Israel by both taking them to Israel on a 10 day immersive trip as well as helping them to tell their story upon their return. Prior to joining Passages, Scott was the Midwest Outreach Director for AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), a pro-Israel lobby focusing on working with Congress to strengthen the US-Israel relationship. During his tenure with AIPAC, Scott organized both grassroots and grasstops coalitions within key Midwest congressional districts, speaking regularly on US foreign policy in the Middle East, Israel’s security concerns, and the US-Israel relationship. Scott lived for 3 years in Israel with his wife Ashley, serving as the Christian travel brand manager for Daat Educational Expeditions while also volunteering at a Jerusalem based Christian ministry.