Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year with a two day celebration. The holiday is celebrated by sounding a shofar, eating traditional foods such as apples and honey, challah, and tzimmes, and attending Rosh Hashanah services. In 2017 Rosh Hashanah begins on September 20.
The name Rosh Hashanah comes from the Hebrew words for “head,” “the,” and “year.” Therefore, Rosh Hashanah literally means “head of the year.” The name Rosh Hashanah does not appear in the Torah. Instead, the day is referred to as "Zikhron Teru'ah,” meaning “memorial with the blowing of horns.” In Jewish prayer-books, the holiday is also referred to as "Yom Hazikaron,” meaning “a day of remembrance.”
The sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn, is the central and most important Rosh Hashanah tradition. Following a reading from the Torah during morning services on the first day, the shofar is sounded 30 times. After the services are over, it is sounded as many as 70 more times. There are three different types of shofar blasts: tekiah, shevarim, and teruah. The shofar soundings are an important part of Rosh Hashanah in that the sound is meant to be a call to repentance. The shofar also has symbolic significance, meant to remind listeners of the Binding of Isaac, a biblical event in which a ram took the place of Isaac as a sacrifice.
Another custom central to Rosh Hashanah is the lighting of candles. Each night of the holiday, women light candles and recite blessings. There are two blessings, meant for the first and second nights of the holiday. When reciting the second blessing, the speaker is encouraged to think about a new fruit that they will be eating at the next meal.
There are also specific prayers and Torah readings that take place during Rosh Hashanah. The machzor, or Holiday Prayer book, includes all the required readings and prayers for both days of the holiday. On day one of Rosh Hashanah, the stories of Isaac’s birth and the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael are read. This is followed by a reading on the second morning regarding the story of Abraham and Isaac.
Each meal eaten during Rosh Hashanah is festive in some way. Bread, which begins most holiday meals, is served in the form of round challah loaves, and is dipped into honey before being eaten. Apple is also eaten during the first night’s meal after it has been dipped in honey. This emphasis on sweet foods is symbolic of the wish to start the new year well, as seen in the prayer said before eating the apple: “May it be Your will to renew for us a good and sweet year.” Additional traditional foods that appear at Rosh Hashanah meals are fish heads, pomegranates, and tzimmes, a carrot based dish. At the last meal of Rosh Hashanah a fruit that has recently been out of season is eaten along with the meal.