How to Ring in the New Year on Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew for “Head of the Year”) is the Jewish New Year, which, as you would expect, takes place on the first day of the… seventh month… of the year (don’t ask). Rosh Hashanah (referred to in the Bible as Yom Teruah, or “Day of Blasting”) is traditionally the date of the creation of Adam and Eve, and is a day of celebration but also of reflecting on the sins and shortcomings of the last year as we usher in the new year of blessings and prosperity.

How To Do It

There are a number of traditions on Rosh Hashanah. Feel free to review them and then practice a few or all of them. Our family typically throws a Rosh Hashanah party with dozens of families, but you might feel more comfortable starting off with your family and a few close friends.

Holiday Greeting

On Rosh Hashanah, we greet teach other by saying, “Shanah tovah!” which means, “Have a good year!” Make sure to greet your family and friends with this greeting on Rosh Hashanah.

Reflection and Repentance

An important aspect of Rosh Hashanah is reflecting on the past year. For all of us, there are things that didn’t go how we had hoped, or maybe we made mistakes or didn’t live the way we had hoped. Micah says,

“Who is like You, O God, who pardons our sins and forgives our transgressions… You will again have compassion on us and will trample out sins under your feet and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18, 19)

As such, take time to look back and repent of any sins or shortcomings from the last year. Then take a piece of bread—representing our sins—and cast them into a body of water. A lake, river, or ocean is a great place if available; if you don’t live close to a water source, we’ve been known to fill up a kid pool in the backyard and use that.

Be sure to explain to your kids/guests why you’re throwing a piece of bread into a lake. Give them a minute or two to consider the previous year and make a commitment to overcome in the coming year.

The Meal

Begin the meal by having the women and girls light the candles while reciting the traditional blessing,

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by His Word, and commanded us to light the holiday candles.”

As your family is ushering a sweet new year, you should prepare a sweet meal. Apples dipped in honey, round challah bread, sweet potatoes, beats, dates, raisins, and pomegranates should be served as sides/appetizers. Since this is the “head of the year,” it is customary to serve a fish head, reminding guests that this next year they will be the head and not the tail (Deuteronomy 28:13). Of course, you don’t have to consume the head. For a main dish, you can prepare something fish-based or a chicken. Dessert can follow in the fruit theme with a berry pie. 

Blow the Shofar in Memorial of Kingships

One of the biblical mandates for Rosh Hashanah reads,

“In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation.” (Leviticus 23:24)

As such, it is customary to blow the shofar during Rosh Hashanah. When asked why we blow the shofar, one answer the Talmud gives is that we do it “in remembrance of kingships.” Part of celebrating the new year is every one of us acknowledging that God is our King and the King of the Universe, and just as we cast off the sins of last year, we also make a commitment to live for God our King this coming year.

But notice that “kings” is plural. We aren’t simply celebrating that God is God. We are celebrating that God has created each and every one of us to rule and reign as kings on earth (Genesis 1:28, Exodus 19:6, Romans 5:17, 1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6). So as we blow the shofar, we make a commitment to serve Jesus Christ our King and rejoice that we get to reign in life with Him.

Once you explain why we sound the trumpet, pull out your shofar are give it one long blast, three medium blasts, nine short blasts, and finally one really, really long blast.

Readings

On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, read Genesis 21:1-34—the birth of Isaac—with your family. The next night, it is customary to read Genesis 22:1-24—the binding of Isaac. You can also read Genesis 1 with your family, as Rosh Hashanah is traditionally when God created Adam and Eve—the original royal priesthood of the earth.

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