The Rosh Hashanah Anthology

By Philip Goodman | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Rosh Hashanah, literally "head of the year," which falls on the first and second days of the autumn month of Tishrei, is now celebrated as the primary Jewish New Year. The Bible originally designated Nisan, the month during which Passover falls, as the "first of the months" ( Exod. 12:2) and listed Rosh Hashanah as a festival of the seventh month, "a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts" ( Lev. 23:24). The Jewish calendar also designates a "New Year of the Trees," the late winter holiday of Tu B'Shevat.

It was common among Semitic peoples to begin the economic year at the fall harvest, when crops were brought to market. Rosh Hashanah probably began as such a harvest festival, marking the beginning of the agricultural cycle. In time, that function became associated primarily with the festival of Sukkot, which falls two weeks after Rosh Hashanah. This season was also the time of the annual coronation of the king. The theme of God's kingship is central to the Rosh Hashanah liturgy.

From late biblical times to our own, Rosh Hashanah has symbolized the season of penitence and renewal, of teshuvah -- literally, returning to the right path. It marks the beginning of the yearly liturgical cycle. The Jews who returned from Babylonian exile stood listening as Ezra the Scribe read the Torah before them on Rosh Hashanah, reminding them of the ancient traditions, and Nehemiah instructed them to celebrate the holy day with feasting and joy ( Neh. 8:1-12).

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