Ever have an itch to exclaim "Happy New Year" in September? Well, if you're Jewish, you can.
Rosh Hashana, which means the beginning of the year in Hebrew, is a two-day holiday. The Jewish calendar is lunisolar—one that follows the moon but has leap years to keep it in line with the solar year—so Rosh Hashana can fall in September or October.
This year, Rosh Hashana marks the Jewish year 5773 and begins at sunset on Sunday, Sept. 16 and ends at nightfall Tuesday, Sept. 18.
Much like the Jewish Sabbath, on Rosh Hashana Jews avoid work and share meals with family and friends. In synagogue, there’s prayer, reflection, sermons and a public reading of the Torah. On Rosh Hashana the shofar—a ram’s horn—is blown in the synagogue services. The blowing of the shofar is quite literally a wake-up call to self-improvement.
That shofar blast connects to the particular theme of the holiday: God’s judgment. The month leading up to Rosh Hashana is a time of introspection, when questions are pondered: What have we done well? What have we done wrong? To whom do we owe apologies or redress? This introspection continues until Yom Kippur, 10 days after Rosh Hashana.
The Rosh Hashana liturgy repeats a metaphor of God writing names in the "Book of Life," inscribing who will survive and thrive and who will perish. On Yom Kippur (the time between the two holidays is known as the 10 days of repentance), the Book of Life is closed and people's fates are sealed for the coming year.
Although this time of introspection throughout this period known as the High Holy Days lends a solemn air, the Jewish new year, just like the secular new year on Jan. 1, is also a time of celebration. There are many traditions during this period that help the Jewish people focus on aspirations for a better tomorrow, including eating apples dipped in honey to invite sweetness for the new year.
Wishing all who celebrate, a Shana Tovah U'metukah—a happy and sweet new year.
David Mattis is a student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles.
Note: This article originally ran in 2011, and has been adapted accordingly to reflet the change in dates for 2012.