I am a W.A.S.P. — a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, heavy in English/German/Norwegian genealogy W.A.S.P. And since our family doesn’t practice any religion or adhere to any faith, I’ve always been completely fascinated by other cultures, other traditions, and other religions. But one, in particular, that has always intrigued me is Judaism.
I have so many close friends who were raised Jewish and family members who are Jewish, so the importance of their centuries-old practices and traditions is not lost on me. And while I find I know my fair share about Hanukkah and have gone to many a Bar and Bat Mitzvah, I don’t know that much about Rosh Hashanah, which is considered to be the most important of Jewish holidays. So what is Rosh Hashanah? Here are five things to know, a guide for us gentiles:
What is Rosh Hashanah? 1 of 6
The Blowing of the Shofar 2 of 6
The shofar is an integral part of the Rosh Hashanah celebration. It is a musical instrument made from a horn of a ram. It is used to "rouse the Divine in the listener," and is blown after the reading of the Binding of Isaac. The Jewish Virtual Library says that the shofar "must be an instrument in its natural form and naturally hollow, through whom sound is produced by human breath, which God breathes into human beings. This pure, and natural sound, symbolizes the lives it calls Jews to lead. What is more, the most desirable shofar is the bent horn of a ram. The ram reminds one of Abraham's willing sacrifice of that which was most precious to him. The curve in the horn mirrors the contrition of the one who repents."
New Moon 3 of 6
Rosh Hashanah coincides with the new moon, the only holiday to do so. And the shofar was traditionally blown with the coming of the new moon. Back in the day, before the use of calendars, the moon was used to track important days such as Rosh Hashanah.
Two Days 4 of 6
Mahzor 5 of 6
The mahzor is a holy text that is read throughout Rosh Hashanah that includes prayers and poems. Traditionally, Jews gather in synagogues for reading from the mahzor, which is accented with blows from the shofar.
Food 6 of 6
One of the things traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah is a piece of apple dipped in honey, which is to symbolize the desire for a sweet year. Also traditionally consumed is a glass of wine or grape juice, and challah that has been "washed" and is eaten after a prayer. A head of a fish, ram, or other kosher animal is also served, which symbolizes the "desire to be at the 'head of the class' this year." Also, a pomegranate is eaten for a wish to "have a year full of mitzvot and good deeds."
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