Skip to main content

Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year)

Share This article

Rosh Hashanah, or Jewish New Year, is at once solemn and joyful. It is solemn because of the Awe of judgment. It is joyful because it represents the hope of the future redemption of Israel. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the High Holy Days. It falls on the first day of the seventh month, according to the Hebrew calendar (see ). It could occur anywhere from the first to the last week of September on the Western calendar. (Sept. 11, in 1999) It ushers in the ten days of repentance leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

The name "Rosh Hashanah" literally means "Beginning of the Year." You may wonder how this can be, since it is called the first day of the seventh month! The reason is that the Jewish calendar is built on two cycles — the religious calendar beginning in the Spring, and the civil calendar beginning in the Fall. In the Torah, the months are never named but only numbered, beginning with the month of Nisan in the early Spring, which is the first month according to the religious calendar.

Click here to watch the latest CBN Rosh Hashanah Celebration and learn more about this special holiday.

Rosh Hashanah Customs

Among the many traditions of Rosh Hashanah are:

Dipping of bread into honey after kiddush and ha-Motzi, as a symbol of the hope that the new year will be sweet.

Dipping pieces of apple into honey, for the same reason.

Also, the apple is said to symbolize the Divine Presence.

Use of a round loaf of bread instead of the usual braided challah. Some say the round shape symbolizes a crown.

Avoidance of nuts. This is because the numerical value of the Hebrew word for "nut" is the same as the word for "sin."

Tashlikh ceremony, in which "sins" are ceremoniously tossed into a river and washed away, as penitential prayers are said.

The Shofar

The most obvious distinguishing feature of Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shofar, or ram's horn. The Biblical name for this holiday is, in fact, Zichron Teruah (Remembrance of the shofar blast) or Yom Teruah (Day of the shofar blast). In some English Bibles, it is called The Feast of Trumpets.

Over a thousand years ago, the great Jewish sage Saadia Gaon came up with ten reasons for sounding the Shofar:

1. The shofar is associated with the coronation of a King.

2. The shofar heralds the beginning of the penitential period.

3. The Torah was given amid blasts of a shofar.

4. The prophets compare their message to blasts of a shofar.

5. It is a reminder of the Conquering armies that destroyed the temple.

6. It is a reminder of the Substitutionary Sacrifice of the ram for Isaac.

7. It fills one with Awe — .

8. It is associated with Judgment Day — .

9. It heralds the Messianic Age — .

10. It heralds the Resurrection.


Unlike Passover, the Bible does not clearly identify Rosh Hashanah with a historical event, so we must look to tradition to discover its significance.

According to Talmudic tradition, the Ten Days of Awe which begin at Rosh Hashanah are the time in which God determines the fate of each human being. On Rosh Hashanah, the wholly righteous are supposedly inscribed in the Sefer ha-Hayyim, or Book of Life, while the wholly wicked are inscribed in the Book of Death. The fate of all others hangs in the balance until Yom Kippur. Consequently, it is a time for introspection, for taking stock of one's behavior over the past year and making amends for any wrongdoing.

The Book of Life in the Bible

In chapter 32 of the book of Exodus, we find the first hint of the book of life. Moses has been on the mountain receiving the Torah while the people of Israel waited below. Seeing that Moses was taking a long time in returning, the people gave up waiting and made themselves a golden calf to worship, thus incurring the wrath of God. Moses asks to be "blotted out of the book" if God will not forgive the sins of the people. (See also ).

There are a number of other references in the Tanakh which mention God blotting out or not blotting out someone from the Book. In , David asks to have his sins blotted out. uses the exact phrase "Book of Life" See also , .

Rosh Hashanah in the Bible

The Torah does not use the term "Rosh Hashanah," but calls this holiday Yom Teruah, The Day of the Sounding of the Shofar. According to -25, it was to be celebrated by blowing a shofar, or ram's horn, by resting from all work, and by calling a holy assembly, and presenting an offering. The offering is described in . In we find Ezra reading the Torah to the assembled people of Israel on this date. Psalms 93-100 are also believed to have been composed for Rosh Hashanah.

Modern Observance and Jewish Tradition

In modern Jewish observance of Rosh Hashanah, the principal themes are:

1. Repentance (Teshuvah in Hebrew-literally "turning back" to God).

2. Redemption-restoration of a severed relationship with God.

3. The coming of Messiah.

4. Judgment.

5. Creation.

The Coming Messiah

The following quotes underscore the theme of the coming Messiah in Rosh Hashanah tradition: "The sounding of the shofar is related to the Messianic theme, and in one tradition, Rosh Hashanah is said to be the time of the ultimate redemption." - Philip Sigal

"The prayers . . . in many ways allude to God's enthronement, for the kingship of Heaven materializes with the advent of Messiah, who presides over the last judgment." - Philip Sigal

The Brit Ha-Hadashah (New Testament) also associates the sound of the shofar with the coming of Messiah. Paul's letter to the Thessalonians, a book of the Brit Ha-Hadashah, tells us:

"For the Lord himself (i.e., Yeshua ha-Mashiach) will come down from heaven, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call (Tekiat Shofar) of God, and the dead in the Messiah (i.e., those who believed in Yeshua and have died) will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever ... " - . (Believers refer to this coming event as the "Rapture," from the Latin word for "caught up.")

The description of Things to Come given in the Brit ha-Hadashah fits well with all the modern themes of Rosh Hashanah. In order to participate in the Rapture, one must 1) Repent: Turn away from sin and toward God. Then you will be personally 2) Redeemed. The soul will be redeemed immediately, and your body on that day when 3) The Messiah comes again and "we shall all be changed/ we shall be like him as he is!" ( ) and therefore ready for the (4) Judgment ( ) before the world is 5) created anew (Revelation 21).

The Book of Life in the Brit ha-Hadashah

The Concept of the Book of Life is found in the New Covenant Scriptures as well. In , Paul mentions his faithful colaborers as being written in the book of Life. The book of Revelation, dedicated to the themes of judgment and the coming Messiah, contains several references to the "Book of Life."

- "he who overcomes" will not be blotted out.

-- All who are not written in the Book of Life belonging to the Lamb will worship the beast.

-- All who are not written in the Book of Life belonging to the Lamb will be astonished at the beast.

-- Judgment by the Book.

-- All who are not found in the book are thrown into the lake of fire.

-- Those who are in the Book will enter the New Jerusalem.


One very interesting ceremony of Rosh Hashanah is the custom of Tashlikh. In a Tashlikh service, worshippers go to a body of water such as a stream or an ocean, and toss the contents of their pockets into it while reciting passages such as , ("You will hurl (Tashlikh) all their sins into the depths of the sea.") as a symbol of sin being swallowed up in forgiveness.

A New Covenant

This is not the only place in the Tanakh where God speaks of such total forgiveness for his people. says: "For I will forgive their iniquities and remember their sins no more." Only one verse before, God declares that one day he will make a New Covenant (Brit Hadashah) with Israel, and put his Torah in their minds and write it on their hearts: "See, a time is coming-declares the LORD-when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers, when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, a covenant which they broke, so that I rejected them-declares the LORD."

What is this "New Covenant"? What is to be the basis of Atonement under it? The Torah teaches that atonement requires the shedding of blood, i.e. a sacrifice. ( ). Yet, there is no more temple in which to make the sacrifice, so how can there be atonement? It is impossible to keep the Torah completely as long as there is no temple. The rabbis declared that prayers would take the place of the sacrifices, but is that really enough? If prayer is as good as sacrifice, why did God ever demand sacrifice in the first place? Would HaShem allow the temple-so central to his service-to be taken away for so long without putting an alternative plan in place? Hass ve'halilah! If God has allowed the temple to lie in ruins for so long, could it be that it is because he has provided another way?

Suppose someone you know to be reliable gives you directions to someplace and you suddenly find yourself at a dead end. You know the directions are good, so you back up to see if you missed a turn somewhere. Those directions are the Torah and the prophets. The dead end is the Hurban. The missed turn is the New Covenant-one that doesn't need a physical temple, because the ultimate sacrifice has already been made, making all other sacrifice obsolete. The Hebrew prophets predicted that a "Righteous Servant" would some day make such a sacrifice. ( )

"And the LORD visited upon him the guilt of us all." - (JPS).

"My righteous servant makes the many righteous, It is their punishment that he bears" - Isaiah 53:11 (JPS).

"For he was cut off from the land of the living Through the sin of my people, who deserved the punishment " - Isaiah 53:8 (JPS).

"He bore the guilt of the many And made intercession for sinners." - Isaiah 53:12 (JPS).

We believe that Yeshua is that Righteous Servant (what other candidates are there?) and that his Atonement is the basis of the New Covenant spoken of by Jeremiah. If the New Testament ("Testament" is simply another word for Covenant or Brit) is true, it proves that God has not abandoned Am Yisroel. We believe that God has come in person to rescue his people from their sins as a prerequisite to the final restoration of Israel to the Land, when HaShem Himself will rule over them as King. Marana Tha!*

*(Aramaic for "Our Lord, Come!")

Copyright © Jews for Jesus. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Share This article

About The Author


David Brown is a contributing writer for