Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the year according to the traditional Jewish calendar. In 2020, Rosh Hashanah begins at sunset on Friday, September 18. Learn more about how Rosh Hashanah is celebrated with traditions and sweet symbolic foods—and listen to the sound of the shofar!
What Is Rosh Hashanah?
Rosh Hashanah, literally “Head of the Year” in Hebrew, is the beginning of the Jewish new year. It is the first of the High Holidays or “Days of Awe,” ending 10 days later with Yom Kippur.
This two-day festival marks the anniversary of human’s creation—and the special relationship between humans and God, the creator.
Rosh Hashanah begins with the sounding of the shofar, an instrument made of a ram’s horn, proclaiming God as King of the Universe, just as a trumpet would be sounded at a king’s coronation. In fact, Rosh Hashanah is described in the Torah as Yom Teru’ah, a day of sounding (the Shofar).
The sound of the shofar is also a call to repentance—to wake up and re-examine our commitment to God and to correct our ways. Thus begins the “Ten Days of Repentance” which ends with Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement.”
When Is Rosh Hashanah?
In 2020, Rosh Hashanah starts on Friday, September 18, and will run through September 20.
Note that the Jewish calendar is different than today’s civil calendar (the Gregorian calendar). It is a “Luni-Solar” calendar, established by the cycles of the Moon and the Sun, so the lengths of days vary by the season, controlled by the times of sunset, nightfall, dawn, and sunrise. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, occurs on the first two days of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar.
All Jewish holidays begin at sundown on the date listed.
|Year||Hebrew Year||Rosh Hashanah Begins|
|2020||5781||Sunset September 18, 2020 (to nightfall September 20)|
|2021||5782||Sunset September 6, 2021 (to nightfall September 8)|
|2022||5783||Sunset September 25, 2022 (to nightfall September 27)|
|2023||5784||Sunset September 15, 2022 (to nightfall September 17)|
Rosh Hashanah Traditions
The traditional way to wish someone a Happy New Year in Hebrew is by saying ‘Shana Tova’. In Hebrew this means ‘A Good Year’.
There are many traditions associated with Rosh Hashanah, including the following:
- Attending synagogue and spending time with family and friends.
- Reflecting on the year before and repenting for any wrongdoings and then reflecting on the year ahead to start afresh.
- Wear white and new clothes, symbolizing purity.
- As mentioned above, there is the sounding of the ram’s horn (shofar) on both mornings.
If you’re wondering what a shofar sounds like, take a listen below.
- Every evening, candles are lit. Candles are often a symbol of remembrance.
- On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Tashlich ceremony is performed. This involves visiting a body of fresh water to symbolically cast past sins away.
- Spicy, sharp, or sour foods are avoided in favor of sweet delicacies, representing wishes for a sweet and pleasant year (not a bitter year). Nuts are also avoided.
Rosh Hashanah Foods
Food plays a large role in Rosh Hashanah tradition. Some of the symbolic foods include:
- Apples dipped in honey (eaten on the first night)
- Round challah (egg bread) dipped in honey and sprinkled with raisins. Try our delicious challah recipe.
- A new seasonal fruit (on the second night).
- Pomegranates (as its many seeds symbolize the hope that the year will be rich with many blessings).
- The head of a fish (or ram) asking God that in the coming year we be “a head and not a tail.”
Rosh Hashanah Poem
The New Year, Rosh-Hashanah, 5643
Not while the snow-shroud round dead earth is rolled,
And naked branches point to frozen skies.—
When orchards burn their lamps of fiery gold,
The grape glows like a jewel, and the corn
A sea of beauty and abundance lies,
Then the new year is born.
Look where the mother of the months uplifts
In the green clearness of the unsunned West,
Her ivory horn of plenty, dropping gifts,
Cool, harvest-feeding dews, fine-winnowed light;
Tired labor with fruition, joy and rest
Profusely to requite.
Blow, Israel, the sacred cornet! Call
Back to thy courts whatever faint heart throb
With thine ancestral blood, thy need craves all.
The red, dark year is dead, the year just born
Leads on from anguish wrought by priest and mob,
To what undreamed-of morn?
For never yet, since on the holy height,
The Temple’s marble walls of white and green
Carved like the sea-waves, fell, and the world’s light
Went out in darkness,—never was the year
Greater with portent and with promise seen,
Than this eve now and here.
Even as the Prophet promised, so your tent
Hath been enlarged unto earth’s farthest rim.
To snow-capped Sierras from vast steppes ye went,
Through fire and blood and tempest-tossing wave,
For freedom to proclaim and worship Him,
Mighty to slay and save.
High above flood and fire ye held the scroll,
Out of the depths ye published still the Word.
No bodily pang had power to swerve your soul:
Ye, in a cynic age of crumbling faiths,
Lived to bear witness to the living Lord,
Or died a thousand deaths.
In two divided streams the exiles part,
One rolling homeward to its ancient source,
One rushing sunward with fresh will, new heart.
By each the truth is spread, the law unfurled,
Each separate soul contains the nation’s force,
And both embrace the world.
Kindle the silver candle’s seven rays,
Offer the first fruits of the clustered bowers,
The garnered spoil of bees. With prayer and praise
Rejoice that once more tried, once more we prove
How strength of supreme suffering still is ours
For Truth and Law and Love.
–Emma Lazarus (1849–1887)
If you observe Rosh Hashanah, please share your traditions below!