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The Hull Reform Synagogue - Ne've Shalom






Rosh Hashanah historyThe origins of Rosh Hashanah are found in the Bible. The Book of Leviticus (23:24-25) declares:


"In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of rest, a memorial proclaimed with the blowing of the shofar. This day will be a holy convocation."


Although this day eventually became Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, it was not originally known as such.


In ancient times, there were four different New Years on the Jewish calendar. Each had a distinct significance:


  • The first of the Hebrew month of Nisan, the New Year of Kings, was the date used to calculate the number of years a given king had reigned.


  • The first of the Hebrew month of Elul, the Hebrew month preceding Rosh Hashanah during which one engages in self-reflection and evaluation in preparation for the High Holidays. Traditionally, the shofar is blown each day during the month. It was also the new year for tithing of cattle, a time when one of every ten cattle was marked and offered as a sacrifice to God.


  • The first of the Hebrew month of Tishri, the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar; Rosh Hashanah falls on the first day of this month. It was also the agricultural new year, or the New Year of the Years.


  • The 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat, known as Tu B'Shevat was the New Year of the Trees.


Although the Torah refers to Nisan as the first month of the Jewish year, the first day of the month of Tishri emerged as what we now know as Rosh Hashanah. The Babylonians, among whom the Jews lived, marked a "Day of Judgment" each year. They believed that on that day, a convocation of their deities assembled in the temple of the god Marduk. These gods, they held, renewed the world and judged each human being, inscribing the fate of every individual on the tablet of destiny.


The legend was a powerful one, and Jews most likely borrowed elements from it in shaping Rosh Hashanah. The meeting of many deities evolved into a belief that the one God judged every Jew on that day, immediately inscribing the completely righteous in the Book of Life and consigning the completely wicked to a sad fate. Those "in between," however, had 10 days, concluding on Yom Kippur, in which to repent before the Book of Life was sealed for the New Year.


In addition to the biblical "holy convocation" and the transformed Babylonian "Day of Judgment," the first of Tishri was also associated with the anniversary of the creation of the world, Yom Harat Olam. For these three compelling reasons, the first day of the seventh month ultimately became the "official" Jewish New Year.


It was not until about the second century C.E. that the holiday acquired the name Rosh Hashanah, which first appeared in the Mishnah. Before then, however, the day had many other designations. The oldest name, found in the Torah (Numbers 29:1) is Yom T'ruah (Day of Sounding the Shofar).


Two other names, undoubtedly reflecting Babylonian influence, were Yom Ha'Zikaron (Day of Remembrance) and Yom Ha'Din ("Day of Judgment"). While those terms are still preserved in the liturgy and rabbinic literature, Jews all over the world today usually refer to Rosh Hashanah as the Jewish New Year.


The Shanahtini – A Rosh Hashanah cocktail

Shanahtini, a recipe for a cocktail to enjoy with your friends on Rosh HaShanahThis is an opportunity to enjoy the traditional holiday nosh of apples, honey, and pomegranate seeds in a new way. Just blend together:


2 Granny Smith apples

1 ½ oz vodka or gin

¾ oz apple liqueur

½ oz strained lemon juice

12 oz honey

2 cinnamon sticks

1 tsp whole cloves

1 tsp nutmeg

8 oz water


Then serve with pomegranate seeds.


A quick honey cake

Honeycake for the Jewish holiday of Rosh HaShanah

If you want to make a quick honey cake, combine a standard gingerbread cake mix with some of the main ingredients in honey cake - coffee and honey. To make your cake you will need:


¾ cup warm coffee (or ¾ cup water with 1 teaspoon instant espresso)

¼ cup honey

14½ ounce box gingerbread mix

eggs, as needed in mix

oil or margarine as needed in mix.


Yom Kippur Customs and Rituals


Tradition teaches that on Rosh Hashanah, the Book of Life is written, and on Yom Kippur, our decree for the New Year is sealed.

We are taught that by doing T'shuvah, (the concept of repentance and new beginnings, which is a continuous theme throughout the High Holy Days), T'filah, (prayer) and Tzedakah, (refers to charity or charitable giving and can also be translated as "righteous giving), we can temper that decree.


As a result, much of the Yom Kippur liturgy and the rituals for all of the Yamim Nora-im ("Days of Awe") are aimed at achieving this goal. For example, one of the greetings for this day is "G'mar chatimah tovah," "May you be sealed [in the Book of Life] for a good year ahead."

Yom KippurBeginning at sundown prior to Kol Nidre, it is customary to begin some of the ritual practices of Yom Kippur. Therefore, a family meal, known as se'udah mafseket (the concluding meal before the fast) customarily is eaten before sundown, with the candle lighting happening at the end of the meal. This process is a way to mark the entrance of Yom Kippur into the home and, with that blessing, the fast begins.


The Erev Yom Kippur service is called Kol Nidre, meaning "all vows," and refers to the special liturgical formulation chanted solely on Yom Kippur, during the evening service at the beginning of the holiday. It is a legal formula for the annulment of vows, which dates back many centuries. The practice of reciting Kol Nidre probably began in about the 9th century C.E. Recited in a mix of Hebrew and Aramaic, the vernacular language of the time, Kol Nidre cancels and annuls all unintended vows made to God during the previous year.


Customarily, Kol Nidre is repeated three times. In some congregations, these repetitions may include chanting, an instrumental rendition of the haunting melody played on a violin, viola, or cello, or even a spoken reading of the text. The threefold repetition most likely derives from the ancient practice of reciting all official proclamations three times. During Kol Nidre, the congregation stands together in silence, and in some congregations, the Torah scrolls are held by leaders of the community.


Yom Kippur is a day when we focus on our spiritual well-being and setting our physical requirements aside helps us focus on that important work. There are a number of practices that are traditionally prohibited on Yom Kippur. These include eating and drinking, wearing leather, bathing and shaving, anointing ourselves with oils or lotions and having sexual relations. The most familiar custom, however is fasting, i.e. not eating or drinking.


Fasting originally was seen as fulfilling the biblical commandment to "practice self-denial." The Yom Kippur fast enables us, for at least one day each year, to ignore our physical desires, focusing instead on our spiritual needs.

Throughout the day, we concentrate on prayer, repentance, and self-improvement before returning to our usual daily routine after the holiday.


Customarily, all people from age 13 must fast (in some communities, girls begin at age 12 and boys at age 13). The fast encompasses a full 25-hour period, beginning after the Erev Yom Kippur meal and extending to the following evening. During this time, no eating or drinking is permitted.


Judaism has a deep reverence for life, and though the Yom Kippur fast is of great importance, it is never allowed to jeopardize health. Those too ill to fast (or to fast fully) are prohibited from doing so. Those who need to take medication are allowed, as are pregnant women or women who have just given birth. Some Jews wear white on Yom Kippur. Because white is a symbol of purity and Yom Kippur is a day when we undertake a spiritual cleansing, it is an appropriate colour for the occasion. Others interpret white as representative of the white shroud in which Jews are buried, symbolizing our mortality and reminding us of the need for humility and repentance.


By reciting prayers in a synagogue on Yom Kippur, we atone for transgressions against God. For wrongs committed against other people, however, it has become customary to seek out friends and relatives whom we have wronged during the year and to ask their forgiveness before Yom Kippur begins. The holiday is a time when families should be at peace and gives us a yearly opportunity to put aside past hurts and create a new beginning.

In Memory

It also is customary on Yom Kippur to perpetuate the memory of loved ones. To do so, many Jews visit the cemetery the day before Yom Kippur and kindle a 25 hour Yarhzeit candle in memory of loved ones who have died. The Yahrzeit candle is lit prior to the lighting of the holiday candles. During the Middle Ages, this custom was seen as a means of atonement for the dead. Today, however, it is a beautiful expression of tribute and remembrance.


The Days of Awe are about more than confessing our sins. They are an opportunity to envision what our lives and our communities could be like if we each become a little more caring with each passing year.



All contributions are accepted on the understanding that the authors are responsible for the opinions expressed which do not necessarily reflect the views of Ne've Shalom - the Hull Reform Synagogue.



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