Happy New Year!
What?! Is someone mixed up here? No, just check your calendar. It will soon be New Year’s Day—the Jewish New Year, that is.
The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah (literally, “the head of the year”), is the first of three major biblical holidays that are rapidly approaching. This year Rosh Hashanah falls on September 11; Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on September 20; and Sukkot, the week-long Feast of Tabernacles, is from the 25th of September to the 1st of October.
The Jewish celebration of New Year’s Day is unlike ours—no parties or staying up until midnight to blow toy horns, drink champagne or kiss. Church bells don’t ring out proclaiming the joy of the new year. But there are plenty of interesting traditions connected with the Jewish celebration. According to rabbinic traditions based on Leviticus 23:23-25 and Numbers 29:1-6, this day is set aside to declare that God is King. At dusk on the eve of the holiday, the ram’s horn, or shofar, is blown in every synagogue just before the reading of the Torah. The next day, during the day-long synagogue service, the shofar is blown twice more: at midday and at evening, declaring the end of the festival. The Encyclopaedia Judaica lists ten reasons why the shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah, two of which are: the shofar will herald the Messianic age, and, the shofar will be sounded at the resurrection.
According to rabbinic tradition, Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of a ten-day period of repentance. The sound of the ram’s horn is a signal that God has begun his judgment. On Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the first month of the Jewish year, God opens the Book of Life. On the tenth day of that month, Yom Kippur, God inscribes in the Book of Life those who will live and those who will die in the coming year. Afterwards, the book is closed. One’s judgment is sealed. Therefore, during these ten days, a person is supposed to examine his life, ask the forgiveness of those he has wronged, and in general do as many good deeds as possible. In this way, he may be able to tip the balance scales of God’s judgment in his favor.
About a week before Rosh Hashanah, you will begin to hear people greet each other with “Shanah tovah” (“good year”). Later, in the period preceding Yom Kippur, you will hear people wishing each other “Hatimah tovah” (“good inscription”), that is, “May your name be inscribed in the Book of Life.” This greeting is heard constantly—from the bus driver, the checkout clerk at the supermarket, and from anyone who says good-bye.
During this year’s holiday season, Jerusalem will be overcrowded, as in Bible times. Highways will be clogged and sidewalks jammed with Jewish pilgrims from all over Israel and from many foreign countries.
The coming of our Lord is getting closer and at the sound of the Last Shofar, we will all rejoice that our names are inscribed in the Book of Life.