• Chloe Strongin

What are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest Jewish holidays, signifies the start of a new year in the Hebrew calendar. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year.” “Rosh” means “head” and “Hashanah” means “the year.” This year, Rosh Hashanah started at sundown on Sunday, September 25th, 2022, and ended at sundown on Tuesday, September 27th, 2022.


This pivotal holiday usually falls towards the beginning of autumn. The Jewish calendar, which is based on lunar months, begins with the month of Nisan. Yet Rosh Hashanah occurs at the beginning of Tishrei (the Hebrew calendar’s seventh month) when it is said that God created human-beings, on the sixth day after forming the world and the heavens.


We can view Rosh Hashanah as the birthday of the world because it was created for the sake of humans. On that day, G-d also judges people concerning how they have used all the bounty that surrounds them, for good or for bad. The holiday surely marks more than a literal new year.


In the Torah, the most sacred text for the Jewish people, Rosh Hashanah is not unequivocally referenced. On the contrary, it is said that a holy event started towards the beginning of Tishrei, and most associate this “holy event” with Rosh Hashanah. Though Rosh Hashanah is not explicitly mentioned until it appears for the first time in the Mishna, a Jewish code of laws, ordered in 200 A.D.


Rosh Hashanah also marks the beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance, or in Hebrew, “Aseret Yemei Teshuvah.” These ten days are in between Rosh Hashanah and the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. This year, Yom Kippur started at sundown on October 4th, 2022, and ended at sundown on October 5th, 2022. Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, is the holiest holiday for the Jewish people. Rosh Hashanah is the second. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the “High Holy Days” of Judaism.


On Yom Kippur, it is a custom to fast for at least 25 hours. By Orthodox practice, the period also entails not brushing your teeth, rinsing out your mouth, showering, wearing perfume, wearing deodorant, and other restrictions. The simple reason for this is to help reflect and cleanse yourself from the past year.


Traditionally, it is believed that during the Ten Days of Repentance, God determines the fate of all human-beings. Jewish law states that God will inscribe the names of the people who will live in the “Book of Life,” or in Hebrew, “Sefer HaChaim.¨


It is said that anyone straddles a judgment for life or for death has until Yom Kippur to perform repentance, or in Hebrew, “teshuvah.” Because of this, observant Jews believe that Rosh Hashanah and the days surrounding it are a time for intense praying, performing acts of kindness, considering oneś behavior over the past year, and asking for forgiveness from others.


Many traditions are associated with Rosh Hashanah, such as dipping an apple in honey, often after saying a prayer. There are many beliefs as to why apples are dipped in honey. One belief is that the sweetness of the honey symbolizes the hope for a sweet new year. On Rosh Hashanah, challah, a type of bread, is dipped in honey as well. While challah is usually braided and baked in a long shape, on Rosh Hashanah, it is round, symbolizing the circle of life. Some add raisins to the dough to make the challah sweeter. Customarily, Jewish people will send messages to family and friends wishing them a sweet new year, or in Hebrew, “L’shana Tova U’metuka.” (שנה טובה ומתוקה)


Overall, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a time for introspection and anticipation of the coming year. It is a time to think about having a fresh start — a clean slate.