Rosh Hashanah FAQ

Holidays and Festivals

1. When is Rosh Hashanah?

Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on the first day of the Jewish month of Tishrei. The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, and the month of Tishrei always begins in either September or October, depending on the year. In 2012, Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on the evening of Wednesday, September 4th. In modern observance, Rosh Hashanah lasts for two days. Each Jewish day begins at sundown and continues until sundown of the next day. This tradition developed out of the creation account in the Torah, where it says, "the evening and the morning were the first day" (Gen. 1:5).

2. What does Rosh Hashanah celebrate?

The Bible does not refer to the holiday as Rosh Hashanah, but rather as "a memorial of blowing of trumpets," zikron teruah (Lev. 23:24) and later as the "day of blowing of trumpets," yom teruah (Num. 29:1). The Scripture does not explicitly explain the reason for the holiday, but states it is a day of "rest," set aside for various sacrifices (Lev. 23:23-25; Num. 29:1-6). The blowing of trumpets functions as a means of calling the nation to repentance. Later Jewish tradition added various other names to the holiday: Yom HaZikaron (Day of Remembrance); Yom HaDin (Day of Judgment); Yom HaKeseh (Day of Concealment for sins) and Rosh Hashanah (Head of the Year).

Today, Rosh Hashanah, as the Jewish New Year, marks the beginning of the civil calendar. It also begins a ten-day period of repentance and self-examination, known as the "days of awe," yamim nora'im in Hebrew. According to Jewish tradition, God keeps the Book of Life open during the "Days of Awe" and finalizes His judgment on the final day, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

Blowing the shofar (ram's horn) remains one of the main features of Rosh Hashanah. The blowing of the shofar calls the nation to repentance. In Psalm 81:1-4, blowing the shofar symbolizes overwhelming joy during worship. It also represents hope for the arrival of the Messiah (Zech. 9:14).

3. Why do we still celebrate Old Testament holidays like Rosh Hashanah?

Believers in Messiah Jesus have freedom to celebrate these holidays or not to do so. Celebration of these festivals is a great way to draw attention to Messiah, as each of the appointed festivals in Leviticus 23 points to Jesus, and remembering His first coming and looking forward to His return (see question #6).

4. How is Rosh Hashanah the New Year?

Exodus 12 states that the Jewish year begins with the month of Passover, which is known in the Jewish calendar as Nisan (Ex. 12:2) and falls in the spring. Tishrei, the month of Rosh Hashanah, is actually the seventh month in the Jewish calendar. If Rosh Hashanah is the first day of the seventh month, then why is Rosh Hashanah considered the Jewish New Year?

In Jewish tradition, there are several new years. The month of Nisan represents the beginning of the religious year and the start for calculating the reign of kings, but Tishrei, according to Jewish tradition, signifies the beginning of the creation of the world. The Jewish civil calendar thus moves ahead on every Rosh Hashanah. One the evening of September 16, 2012, the Jewish calendar will turn from 5772 to 5773.

5. What are the traditions of Rosh Hashanah?

Rosh Hashanah has many fascinating traditions. Although it is a joyous holiday, celebrating the dawn of a new year, it also commences a season of reflection and repentance. Since the holiday is predominantly a religious celebration, many of the significant observances take place within a traditional synagogue service. The special Rosh Hashanah prayers focus upon judgment, repentance, God's kingship, and remembrance. Probably the most stirring moment of synagogue service is the sounding of the shofar, ram's horn. The sounding of the shofar reminds the community of God's kingship over Israel. It also calls the nation to repentance and a period of introspection during the ten Days of Awe leading up to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

Special passages of Scripture are read during Rosh Hashanah, most notably the story of the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22. Some Jewish traditions say that the binding of Isaac took place on Rosh Hashanah, and God's provision of a ram as a replacement for Isaac connects the story to Rosh Hashanah, on which the nation hears the sound of the ram's horn. The sounding of the shofar also helps remind the nation of God's provision of a substitute for His people.

Sometime in the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah or during the ten Days of Awe, many Jewish people participate in a poignant ceremony called Tashlich, which means "casting off." It involves gathering along bodies of running water to say prayers and cast small bits of bread into the water, symbolizing the casting of sins into the depths of the sea, as the prophet Micah states, "He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19).

Rosh Hashanah also has many holiday foods associated with the celebration. Throughout the year, the Jewish community eats special braided bread, known as challah, on Friday night to celebrate Shabbat. During Rosh Hashanah, we eat a round challah, whose shape represents the never-ending cycle of years – as one year ends, another year begins. The challah also represents a crown, because on Rosh Hashanah we recognize God as King.

Other symbolic foods include apples dipped in honey, symbolizing a sweet new year, and pomegranates, which symbolize the numerous good deeds we hope to do in the coming year, just as the pomegranate has numerous seeds.

6. Does Rosh Hashanah have any prophetic significance?

The Rosh Hashanah service focuses upon the blowing of the shofar, which is sounded 100 times in modern services. It is possible that Paul alludes to this Jewish tradition when he speaks of the last trumpet at the rapture:

"Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed - in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1 Cor. 15:51-52).

In his letter to the Thessalonians, he also writes,

"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Messiah will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:15-17).

Since Rosh Hashanah is the "Day of the Sounding of the Shofar" it looks forward to the moment when we hear the great sound of the shofar during the last days. At this time, God will transform the bodies of believers who have died, giving them new, immortal bodies. The sounding of the shofar thus encourages us to remember that our present bodies are only temporary, but we look forward to our eternal bodies, in which we will see the Lord face to face and be with Him forever.

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