Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rosh HaShanah - Head of the Year

Later this morning, I’ll be privileged for the first time to take part in the first of the Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh HaShanah, thanks to the hospitality of my good friends, Susanne and Al Batzdorff. We’ve been friends for 15 years and I was privileged to have attended the canonization in Rome of Susanne’s aunt, Edith Stein (St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross, Carmelite), in 1998. On Sunday, September 27, I will attend Kol Nidre, and then Yom Kippur the next day, at their Congregation Beth Ami.

Rosh HaShanah (ראש השנה), literally Head of the Year in Hebrew, is the Jewish New Year, and falls once a year during the month of Tishrei, 10 days before Yom Kippur. Together, the two days are known as the Yamim Nora’im, which means the Days of Awe in Hebrew: In English, the High Holy Days. Rosh HaShanah falls in the month of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. The month of Tishrei is believed to be the month in which God created the world. Hence, another way to think about Rosh HaShanah is as the birthday of the world.

According to Jewish tradition, during the High Holy Days God decides who will live and die during the coming year. So, during this ten day period, Jews embark upon the serious task of examining their lives and repenting for any wrongs they have committed during the previous year. Making amends with anyone they have wronged is encouraged as well as making plans for improving during the coming year. Thus, Rosh HaShanah is about making peace in the community and striving to be a better person.

During the Rosh HaShanah services a special prayer book, the machzor is used. Its main themes are repentance by humans and judgment by God, Our King. On the first day (today) Genesis 21 is read: the narrative of Isaac’s birth to Abraham and Sarah, who, according to the Talmud, is said to have given birth on Rosh HaShanah. There is also a reading of 1 Samuel 1:-2; 10: the story of Hannah, her prayer for offspring, Samuel’s subsequent birth (Hannah is traditionally believed to have conceived him on Rosh HaShanah), and Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving. Numbers 29:1-6 is also read: “And in the seventh month, on the first of the month, there shall be for you a convocation to the Sanctuary; you must not do any service work.” It goes on to speak about the offerings which the people’s ancestors were obliged to make as an expression of obedience to God.

Participants of Rosh HaShanah greet one another with L’Shanah tovah: For a Good Year, or May you have a good year; there are other variations also.

No comments: