Rosh Hashanah – Holiday 101
Did you know these facts about the Jewish New Year?
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts at sundown on Sept. 9. It’s known for apples dipped in honey, record synagogue attendance and as the kickoff to the Days of Awe, which culminate on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. We’re guessing that even the most experienced holiday observer, however, won’t know all these facts about the holiday:
- It’s traditional to eat a fruit you haven’t eaten for a long time on the second night of Rosh Hashanah.
This tasty custom is often observed by eating a pomegranate, a fruit rich in symbolism (and nutrients). It developed as a technical solution to a legal difficulty surrounding the recitation of the Shehechiyanu blessing on the second day of the holiday. Use it as an excuse to scout out the “exotic fruit” section of your grocery store’s produce department.
- Apples and honey (and pomegranates) aren’t the only symbolic foods traditionally enjoyed on Rosh Hashanah.
Other foods traditionally eaten to symbolize wishes for prosperity and health in the new year include dates, string beans, beets, pumpkins, leeks — and even fish heads.
- Rosh Hashanah liturgy has inspired at least two rock songs.
Avinu Malkeinu, the prayer that means “Our Father, Our King,” inspired Mogwai, a Scottish post-rock-trio, to write a 20-minute epic song “My Father, My King.” The song, which borrows the prayer’s traditional melody, is alternately soft and beautiful and loud and raging. More famously, Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire” draws on the Unetanah Tokef, which many consider the most important prayer in the High Holiday liturgy.
- Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews make a pilgrimage to Ukraine for an annual Rosh Hashanah gathering known as a “kibbutz.”
This lively gathering, which dates back to the early 19th century (and has nothing to do with the Israeli kibbutz movement), takes place in Uman, the town where Nachman of Breslov, founder of the Breslover Hasidic sect and great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, was buried. Nachman believed Rosh Hashanah was the most important holiday, hence the timing of the pilgrimage.
- It is traditional to fast on the day after Rosh Hashanah.
The Fast of Gedaliah is not a cleanse for those who overindulged at holiday meals, but a day set aside to commemorate the assassination of Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed official charged with administering the Jewish population remaining in Judea following the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C.E. Unlike Yom Kippur, which comes just a few days later, this fast lasts only from sunrise to sundown.
- The shofar, the traditional ram’s horn blown on Rosh Hashanah, is stinky.
You have to get close to one to notice, but a common complaint is that these horns smell bad. According to online vendor the Shofar Man, all kosher shofars have a bit of a scent because they come from a dead animal. To mitigate the odor, he suggests applying a sealant to the inside of the shofar. Believe it or not, several competing products are marketed exclusively for the purpose of removing or neutralizing shofar smells. We can’t vouch for any of them, but perhaps if they don’t work for your shofar, you could use them for your bathroom or car.