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>JN Oct. 1, 1997, Vol. 5, No. 180
Jews Around the World Celebrate Rosh HaShanah
By IINS News Service
Several of Judaism's most important holidays will take place,
this year, between Oct. 1-23. Several of these days are also full
legal holidays in Israel. The Government Press Office provides this
Preparations for the Jewish New Year
The period before the Jewish New Year (occurring this year on Oct.
2-3) is marked by special penitential prayers -- before the
regular morning prayers -- and the blowing of a ram's horn
("shofar" in Hebrew) after the morning prayers.
Jews of North African and Middle Eastern origin began these
special prayers Sept. 4. Jews of European origin began them on
Sept. 27 These special prayers will continue daily (except for the
New Year holiday itself and the Sabbath) until Yom Kippur (Oct.
11). None of these days are public holidays.
The Jewish New Year
The Jewish New Year ("Rosh Hashanah" in Hebrew, whose observance is
mandated by Leviticus 23:23-25) begins at sunset Wednesday and
conclude at sunset on Friday. The two days are marked by special
prayers and scriptural readings.
The centerpiece of the New Year services is the blowing of the
shofar during morning prayers, but the shofar is not sounded if one
of the two days falls on the Sabbath. Both days are full public
holidays, and as on the Sabbath, there will be no public
transportation or newspapers. In addition, many businesses,
museums, etc. that are normally open on the Sabbath will be closed
for the New Year holiday.
The New Year is also marked by two special customs. The first is
the eating of apple slices dipped in honey, symbolizing the hope
that the coming year will be a "sweet" one. The second involves
going to a natural source of flowing water (the ocean, a river, a
spring, etc.) and reading a selection of scriptural verses while
casting pieces of bread into the water -- this symbolizes the
casting off of the previous year's sins. The custom derives from
Micah 7:19 ("...And You will cast all their sins into the depths of
the sea.") This ceremony takes place on the first day of the New
Year (the second if the first day falls on the Sabbath).
The Period Between New Year and Yom Kippur
The 10 days between New Year and Yom Kippur (inclusive) are known
variously as "The Days of Awe" or "The 10 Days of Repentance."
Jewish tradition holds that this is a time of judgment when all
people -- and nations -- are called to account for their deeds
during the past year, and when their fates for the coming year are
One Sabbath, known as the "Sabbath of Repentance", always occurs
between the New Year and Yom Kippur. This Sabbath, which falls on
Oct. 4 this year, is marked by a special reading from Hosea
14:2-10, which begins with, "Return, Israel, unto the Lord your
The day after the New Year holiday is a day of fasting known as
"Tzom Gedaliah", or The Fast of Gedaliah, and commemorates the
murder of the Jewish governor of Judea, Gedaliah, who was
appointed by the Babylonians after they captured Jerusalem in 586
BCE. (II Kings 25:22-25.) However, if the day after the New Year
holiday falls on the Sabbath, as it does this year, the fast is
postponed to Sunday.
Thus, the fast extends from sunrise on the morning of Sunday, Oct.
5, until after sunset the same day. There are special scriptural
readings for the day, but it is not a public holiday.
Yom Kippur (Hebrew for "The Day of Atonement") begins on Friday,
Oct. 10, at sunset and concludes at sunset on Saturday. Its
observance is mandated by Leviticus 16:29-31 and 23:27-32. The
holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement,
as well as the day on which, according to Jewish tradition, our
fates for the coming year are sealed.
Services in the synagogue -- centering on the penitential prayers
-- will continue most of the day and include special scriptural
readings (including the Book of Jonah, in the afternoon). The
special memorial prayers for the deceased, said on four special
occasions during the year, are said on Yom Kippur. Upon the
conclusion of the fast, the shofar is sounded once to mark the end
of Yom Kippur. Fast days which fall on the Sabbath -- as in the
case of the Fast of Gedaliah this year -- are always postponed
until the following Sunday; Yom Kippur is the sole exception.
It is a full public holiday in Israel -- almost all establishments
which are normally open on regular Sabbaths will be closed on Yom
Kippur. There will be no radio or television broadcasts. Yom
Kippur is a day of introspection, completely separate from the
normal course of daily life -- the physical aspects of our lives
are sublimated while we concentrate on our spiritual concerns.
Thus, the day is marked by a full (sunset to sunset) fast, and the
wearing of leather and jewelry, the use of make-up, bathing, and
marital relations are likewise forbidden.
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