History of Rosh Hashanah: Jewish New Year


Rosh HaShanah designates the beginning of the Jewish new year, starting tonight – which, according to the Jewish calendar, begins at sundown tonight.

“Rosh” is Hebrew for “head,” and Rosh HaShanah, or Rosh HaShana, refers to the head of the year on the 1st day of Tishri, the seventh month of the Jewish ecclesiastical calendar. It marks the beginning of the civil year. Judaism has a solar/lunar calendar system in which the lunar reckoning predominates. The first in the cycle of months is Nissan (which has nothing to do with the automobile manufacturer), the month in which Passover occurs. However, solar years are reckoned to begin at Rosh HaShanah.

The new year is heralded with the blowing of the shofar or ram’s horn by the “baal t’kiah” (meaning master of the shofar-blast) during prayers and 100 blasts throughout the day. You’ve heard the story of Joshua leading the Jewish people to march around Jericho, blowing their trumpets so that the “walls came a-tumbling down” (Joshua 6:4-5)? That’s the shofar.


Rosh HaShanah Foods

Honeyed ApplesFestival meals during Rosh HaShanah include traditional foods mentioned in the Talmud (notes on the Jewish oral tradition, known as the Mishnah), including dates, leeks, spinach, gourd, and black-eyed peas.

Also featured as a later medieval addition are apples dipped in honey to bring forth a sweet new year: Shanah Tovah Umetukah, which is translated from the Hebrew שנה טובה ומתוקה‎ means

“[have a] Good and Sweet Year”


Rosh HaShanah Background

Some scholars have suggested that the Jews marked the beginning of the year after the period of their Babylonian Captivity by following with the Babylonian custom. Tradition recons this day to mark the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve.

It marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days or the Yamim Noraim, the “Days of Awe,” when God is said to begin examining the record of each person’s actions during the preceding year. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 3:4 refers to the shofar blasts as a “wake-up call” where Jews are beckoned:

“Sleepers, wake up from your slumber! Examine your ways and repent and remember your Creator.”

Jews are called upon to take an “accounting of the soul” with the aim of correcting defects in one’s behavior — the ultimate goal is to help “repair the universe.” The audit is considered to end on Yom Kippur, the 10th day of Tishri, which we will examine later.

Shanna Tova! שנה טובה – Have a Good Year!


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.


  1. Aristeo Canlas Fernando on September 22, 2009 at 6:07 am

    The Jews presently have at least two types of calendars using the same lunisolar calendar–a civil calendar which starts in the month of Tishri, and a religious calendar which starts in the month of Nisan.

    Would you believe that the Jews used two types of calendars before ? One is a purely lunar calendar with 12 lunar months numbered 1 to 12. The second is a lunisolar calendar which they adopted from the Babylonians during their exile that starts in the month of Tishri. In this calendar, a lunar month is inserted on the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years in the 19-year Metonic Cycle to maintain the month falling in the correct season. The Jews merged the two calendars in AD 358/359 and came up with a form that is still used today. You may read the details of this in my website.


  2. History of Yom Kippur | Bill Petro on September 27, 2009 at 1:02 am

    […] Jewish High Holy Days begin with Rosh Hashana and continue until Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur, which begins with sundown this evening, also known as […]

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