The Hebrew New Year is the first day of the month of Tishrei. This is the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. The New Year is the beginning of the year for people, animals and contracts. There are, in fact, four New Years celebrated throughout the year for different purposes; this celebration is one of the high points of the year.
Known as Rosh Hashanah this festival lasts for 48 hours. The New Year begins at sunset on the eve before the New Year and end at sunset on the day after the New Year. Unlike the traditional calendar, the Hebrew New Year was celebrated in the fall, 163 days after the Passover. Since the Passover is celebrated on a different day each year, the date of the Hebrew New Year also changes each year. For 2012, the date will be September 16. For the year 2013, the date will be September 5, the earliest date possible under the Georgian calendar.
The religious significance of this day has to do with the judgment of God. On this day it is believed that God inscribes the names of the people into three books. The wicked are blotted out of the book of life, the good are inscribed in the book of life and those in the middle have 10 days to atone for their transgressions. This holiday is also about the kingship of God, and to celebrate the kingship a special horn is blown during this festival. The shofar is a horn that is made from one piece of bone or animal horn. There is a specific sequence of blows on the horn.
As part of this festival, prayers are added to the normal temple rituals. There is a ritual cleansing associated with this time called tashlikh. Prayers are recited near flowing water, and one’s sins are cast into the water. Often bread crumbs or pebbles are thrown into the water during this ceremony. This is considered a personal ceremony, but more often the ceremony is done in groups.
There are traditional foods associated with the New Year. A ceremonial meal or seder may be eaten as part of this festival. Foods served include a platter served with honey and compotes that includes apples, dates, pomegranates, black-eyed peas, beets, leek fritters and pumpkin filled pastries. Stuffed vegetables and Gefilte fish are usually served. Round challah bread is usually served to symbolize the cycle of life. A whole fish or the head of a fish is served to signify the head of the New Year. On the second afternoon of the festival, new fruits are served to signify the New Year.