High Holy Days
Rosh Hashana, 2016 – October 2 – October 4
The Jewish Holiday of Rosh Hashanah is widely known and celebrated as the New Years Day of the Jewish calendar, but actually Rosh Hashanah has a fourfold meaning – It is the Jewish New Year, the Day of Judgment, the Day of Remembrance, and the Day of Shofar Blowing. Rosh Hashana is the beginning of the High Holy Days.
It is the Day of Judgment – As Jews worldwide examine their past deeds and asks for forgiveness for their sins.
It is the Day of Shofar Blowing – As the Shofar (the ram’s horn) is blown in temple to herald the beginning of the 10 day period known as the High Holy Days.
It is the Day of Remembrance – As Jews review the history of their people and pray for Israel.
And of course it is New Year’s Day – Celebrated with it’s holiday greeting cards, special prayers, and festive and sweet foods (to ensure sweetness in the New Year.
Rosh Hashanah is observed the first and second day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, Tishri. Coming in the Fall season of the western calendar, usually in September.
In Israel Rosh Hashanah is the only holiday kept for 2 days as it is considered too important to be observed for only 24 hours. Both days are considered one long day of 48 hours.
The traditions of Rosh Hashanah are simple as the only commandment specified for the holiday is the blowing of the shofar. In temple the shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah to herald the beginning of the period known as the High Holy Days. It is believed that on Rosh Hashanah the destiny of all mankind is recorded by God in the Book of Life. After Rosh Hashanah services, as the congregants leave the synagogue they say to each other… “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life”
On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, after the afternoon services, Jews visit a body of water or pond, containing live fish, to symbolically “cast away” their sins into the river. The fish’s dependence on water symbolizes the Jews dependence on God, as a fish’s eyes never close, God’s watchful eyes never cease.
On Rosh Hashanah it is customary for families to gather together for the holiday meal. Traditional foods sweetened with honey, apples and carrots are served, symbolizing sweetness, blessings, abundance and the hope for a sweet year ahead.
The first night’s meal begins with apple dipped in honey. Challah, the bread usually eaten on the Sabbath (not braided as at regular meals but instead baked in a circle – a wish that the coming year will roll around smoothly without unhappiness or sorrow) is also dipped in honey before eating.
Yom Kippur, 2016 – October 11 – October 12
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the most sacred of the Jewish holidays, the “Sabbath of Sabbaths and the end of the High Holy Days.
By Yom Kippur the 40 days of repentance, that begin with the first of Elul, have passed. On Rosh Hashanah God has judged most of mankind and has recorded his judgment in the Book of Life. But he has given a 10 day reprieve. On Yom Kippur the Book of Life is closed and sealed. Those that have repented for their sins are granted a good and happy New Year.
Since Yom Kippur is the day to ask forgiveness for promises broken to God, the day before is reserved for asking forgiveness for broken promises between people, as God cannot forgive broken promises between people.
Yom Kippur is a day of “NOT” doing. The is no blowing of the Shofar and Jews may not eat or drink, as fasting is the rule. It is believed that to fast on Yom Kippur is to emulate the angels in heaven, who do not eat, drink or wash.
The Five Prohibitions of Yom Kippur:
- Eating and drinking
- Anointing with perfumes or lotions
- Marital relations
- Wearing leather shoes
While Yom Kippur is devoted to fasting, the day before is devoted to eating. According to the Talmud the person “who eats on the ninth of Tishri (and fasts on the tenth), it is as if he had fasted both the ninth and tenth.” Prayer is also down played so that Jews can concentrate on eating and preparing for the fast.
On the eve of Yom Kippur the community joins at the synagogue. Men put on prayer shawls (not usually worn in the evenings). Then as the night falls the cantor begins the “Kol Nidre”, it is repeated 3 times, each time in a louder voice. The Kol Nidre emphasizes the importance in keeping vows, as violating an oath is one of the worst sins.
An important part of the Yom Kippur service is the “Vidui” (Viduy) or confession. The confessions serve to help reflect on ones misdeeds and to confess them verbally is part of the formal repentance in asking God’s forgiveness. Because community and unity are an important part of Jewish Life, the confessions are said in the plural (We are guilty).
As Yom Kippur ends, at the last hour a service called “Ne’ila” (Neilah) offers a final opportunity for repentance. It is the only service of the year during which the doors to the Ark (where the Torah scrolls are stored) remain open from the beginning to end of the service, signifying that the gates of Heaven are open at this time.
The service closes with the verse, said 7 times, “The Lord is our God.” The Shofar is sounded once and the congregation proclaim – “Next year in Jerusalem.”
Yom Kippur is over and the High Holy Days end.
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