Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah [hebr.], The Feast of Trumpets – the beginning of New Year celebrated on the 1st and 2nd day of the Month Tishri. The holiday commemorated the creation of the world and of the first man – Adam as well as the Day of Judgment. God makes judgments of people and this judgement ends on Hoshana Raba (the seventh day of the Sukkot Holiday when the lot of each man is being sealed for the next year). The Rosh Hashanah begins the Ten Days of Penitence which last until Yom Kippur. For a pious Jew, these are the days of the examination of conscience, prayers and requests to God to be listed in the book of life (“Let you be listed for a good year”). The characteristic element of the celebrations (hence, the name the Feast of Trumpets was popular in Poland) is blowing a ram’s horn (shofar) announcing that God is the king of the universe and calling for penitence. Three basic sounds of the shofar: tekija (continuous), shevarim (three short sounds) and terua (nine short sounds) are the reflection of a triple meaning of this holiday – as an anniversary of the world’s creation, judgement upon people and reviving ties between God and Israel. At that time, also the graves of the deceased are visited to ask them for an intercession at God.  .                                       

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, one has to take a bath in a mikveh to obtain the state of a spiritual cleansing, and one has to have a haircut and put on one’s best clothes in bright colours. White is a symbol of purity, lack of sins and naivety and therefore the Torah Ark is covered by a white parachet, the pulpits in the bimah are white and so is the meil (a dress, i.e., the velvet or silk case for the scrolls of the Torah).).

The prayers recited on this day reflect a serious character of the holiday – they contain requests for life and health for oneself and the close ones, they are full of subordination and sorrow for committed sins. One of the prayers contains the request “Remember us for life, King our Lord, and write us into the Book of Life (the righteous ones) or the Book of Death (the sinners) while the sentences concerning other people are taken on Yomim Noraim, on the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. While exchanging greetings, the words “Leszanatowatikkatewu” are uttered “Let you be listed for a good year!”

In the afternoon of the first day of the New Year, a ceremony of the casting off sins, the so-called tashlikh takes place on the river banks. The fragment of the Micah’s prophecy is recited then “He will take us back in life. He will cover up our iniquities and will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea”. After returning home, a feast is served containing dishes symbolising the beginning of the year like, for instance, fish’s head according to the proverb “Begin with head and not legs”. There is also a belief that the coming year will be determined by dishes appearing on the holiday table. Therefore, it is forbidden to eat bitter, sour and salty dishes since it would mean a year full of bitterness, quarrels and tears. Therefore, it is the only holiday in a year when while saying the blessing over the bread the chala is not salted but immersed in honey. There have to be apples with honey, dried grapes and dates on the table. Also grapes and grenades appear on the table which through their structure (diversity in unity) symbolise the spiritual alliance of the Jewish nation with God.

© The text is a compilation of the following content: Encyklopedii PWN; Leksykonu Żydzi w Polsce. Dzieje i kultura, J. Tomaszewski, A. Żbikowski, Warszawa 2001; Historia i kultura Żydów polskich. Słownik, A. Cała, H. Węgrzynek, G. Zalewska, WSiP.

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