A beginner’s guide to Rosh Hashanah traditions

24 August 2018

By James de Souza, Norwood copywriter

I might have joined Norwood at the perfect time. It certainly seems like great timing to join a leading Jewish charity just before Jewish New Year. As a non-Jewish person and knowing little about Judaism, it’s been an excellent opportunity to learn about Rosh Hashanah and its traditions.

Prior to joining, I hadn’t really thought about New Year traditions. In January, we don’t seem to have many rituals, aside from fireworks and champagne-fuelled renditions of Auld Lang Syne. So the things I’ve learnt about Rosh Hashanah, held on 10-11 September this year, have given a deeper meaning to the whole experience of ushering in a New Year.

Here’s what I’ve learnt about five popular Rosh Hashanah traditions.* Hopefully it’ll shed some light on them for you as well.

Apples in honey

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about Jewish festivals, it’s that they’re famous for their food. The most widely eaten food on Rosh Hashanah is apples in honey. The sweetness of this combination represents the sweet New Year that Jewish people ask G-d to grant them.

The apple also symbolises the story of the Garden of Eden. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, so the apple reminds Jewish people of the birth of humanity in G-d’s world.

Round challah

You don’t have to be Jewish to recognise challah, braided egg bread, as a staple of Jewish cuisine. On Rosh Hashanah, rather than the traditional long loaf, a round loaf is baked and eaten. The roundness represents the cyclical nature of the year and also symbolises a crown, reaffirming Jewish peoples commitment to G-d as king.

The challah is usually dipped in salt but on Rosh Hashanah, it is dipped in honey, again to represent a prayer for a sweet new year.

Shofar

The Shofar, a horn from a kosher animal, usually a ram, is the oldest Jewish symbol; it has been blown since the beginning of Judaism, over 3,500 years ago. The Torah refers to Rosh Hashanah as the “day of the [Shofar] blast”.

Jewish people will hear the Shofar being blown, traditionally during morning services, on both days of Rosh Hashanah. The trumpeting sound is meant to celebrate G-d’s coronation, wake Jewish people up from the previous year’s sins, and create a sense of awe.

Tashlich

On the first afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, many Jewish people will go to a body of water such as a lake or river and perform the Tashlich. This is where they ceremonially cast their sins into the water, confessing the mistakes of the previous year, and starting the new year afresh.

The Tashlich is based on the last verses from the prophet Micah, which are read during the ceremony: “He will take us back in love; He will cover up our iniquities. You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”

Ten days of repentance

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the 10 days of repentance, which end with Yom Kippur. This gives Jewish people the chance to amend for any wrongdoings, whether they were against another person or G-d.

During these 10 days, Jewish people focus on repentance, prayer and charity. That way, they can earn G-d’s blessing and prepare for a sweet and good new year.

As these traditions show, Rosh Hashanah is a time for both celebration and reflection. Thanks to Norwood, I look forward to approaching the Jewish New Year with greater understanding, and I wish you all Shanah Tovah! Have a good year everyone!

Find out about our Rosh Hashanah appeal and how you can change the lives of vulnerable people in your community.

*A special thank you to Dov Richman, Norwood’s Jewish Cultural Advisor, as well as Chabad.org and The Huffington Post.