Rosh Hoshanah: The Jewish New Year, Part 2

In by Bruce Scott

Rosh Hashanah is the only Jewish holiday celebrated on a new moon (the first of the month), in the month Tishri (September-October). Like other major Jewish festivals (except Yom Kippur), Rosh Hashanah is observed for an extra day, from Tishri 1 through Tishri 2.

Even so, in Jewish teaching both days of Rosh Hashanah are regarded as one long day rather than two separate days.

The biblical directives for observing this holiday include a set of special offerings, in addition to the regular daily sacrifices and the sacrifices offered on the first of each month. Without a Temple, these sacrifices are no longer performed in Israel. Rosh Hashanah was also marked by the blowing of the trumpets, but this was not unusual, for on the first of every month throughout the year trumpets were blown over the monthly sacrifices as a memorial before God.

Rosh Hashanah was not unique from the first days of the other months because of the sacrifices or blowing the trumpets. Rather, it was the fact that it was a Sabbath day on which no work was permitted—a day of rest. Today, the work prohibition is still followed for both days.

In earlier times, the leaders of the Jewish communities fasted on the eve of Rosh Hashanah believing that their act would pardon one-third of Israel’s sins. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur other selected people also fasted, thus earning the pardon of one-third more of Israel’s sins. Finally, on the Day of Atonement everyone fasted, wiping out the remaining third of Israel’s sins.

Today fasting is not common on Rosh Hashanah. Instead, hearty meals are eaten, with an emphasis on sweet foods, symbolizing the hope for a sweet new year. On the first night of the holiday, a piece of hallah (festival bread) is dipped in honey and eaten. This is followed by the dipping of a slice of apple. A blessing is pronounced, along with a prayer, “May it be Your will to renew in our behalf a good and sweet year.”3 After the evening service on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the worshipers greet each other with, “May you be inscribed and sealed immediately for a good life.” Another commonly expressed variation of this greeting is, “May God inscribe you and your loved ones for a healthy and happy New Year!” This greeting is not expressed again during the two days of Rosh Hashanah. To do so would imply that the person being greeted has not already merited the inscription.

The highlight of the holiday is the blowing of the shofar. A shofar can be made from the horn of any animal except a cow, because of its association with the golden calf of Exodus 32. In Temple days the shofar was made from the horn of a wild goat. It was straight, and its mouthpiece was overlaid with gold. The shofar was blown in Israel on occasions other than Rosh Hashanah. It was especially used during times of public distress. Blowing the shofar was looked upon as an act of crying out to God in time of great need. Today shofars come in various shapes and sizes.

The procedure for blowing the shofar is the same for both days of Rosh Hashanah. Before it is sounded, Psalm 47 is recited seven times. During the course of the festival, the horn must be blown a minimum of nine blasts, three sets each of a sustained blast, a quavering blast, and another sustained blast. In biblical times the sound of the shofar blowing in the Temple Court could be heard all the way to Jericho.

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, following the afternoon service, Orthodox congregants go to the nearest body of water (an ocean, river, stream, or even a well) and empty their pockets into the water. Some people throw in bread crumbs or stones. This practice is based on Micah 7:18–19 and is said to symbolize the intent of the worshipers’ hearts to cast away their sin and “achieve total purification from its effect.”4 This ritual is known as Tashlich (lit., You shall cast). It is a ritual of somewhat recent origin, not having been observed before the 13th century. In the 14th century, Jewish people were falsely accused of poisoning the wells of Europe through the ceremony of Tashlich, and they were subsequently blamed for causing the Black Death (bubonic plague).

Other common modern practices during the two days of Rosh Hashanah include sending New Year’s greeting cards, wearing the festival garment known as the kittel, and, on the second day, adding a new fruit at meal time or wearing a new garment.

On Wednesday, June 7, 1967, at the height of the Six-Day War, Israeli forces pushed into Jerusalem and recaptured the Temple Mount. After two thousand years, the Jewish people’s holiest place was once again in their possession. At the Western Wall, the last vestige of the walls that once surrounded the ancient Temple, hardened soldiers wept openly in joy. Others gently embraced the rough stones that towered above them. The Chief Army Chaplain, Rabbi Schlomo Goren, then performed a very significant act: He sounded the shofar.

People familiar with the prophetic designs of the Feast of Rosh Hashanah immediately recognized the intent of Rabbi Goren. By blowing the shofar, he symbolically announced to the world Israel’s return to the home of their forefathers. This is the prophetic message of Rosh Hashanah—the future return, restoration, or regathering of the people of Israel back to the land God has given to them.

In the Book of Deuteronomy Moses delivered his final charge to the people of Israel. They were told that if they disobeyed God’s commands, the result would be global dispersion. A survey of Israel’s history shows that God has been true to His Word. The nation did rebel against God and therefore suffered the terrible consequence of dispersion. As a result of the scattering in 70 a.d. by the Roman army, followed by another dispersion in 135 a.d., Jewish people were scattered to the four corners of the earth. Today Jewish people can be found in almost every country of the world.

In spite of their displacement from the land of promise, God has given the people of Israel His pledge that one day He will bring them back home.

And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, to which the Lord thy God hath driven thee, And shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations where the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from there will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from there will he fetch thee. And the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers. And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live (Dt. 30:1–6).

There are three main elements in this passage: Israel’s repentance, Israel’s regathering, and Israel’s revival. These three components are also reiterated in numerous other prophetic texts. The order of end-time events in relationship to the nation of Israel can therefore be outlined as follows:

1. A partial return to the land in unbelief (see chapter on Yom ha-Atzma’ut).
2. Israel’s repentance brought about by the Tribulation period and the revelation of Jesus Christ (Dt. 4:30; Zech. 12:10).
3. The Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Zech. 14:3–4).
4. The supernatural regathering of Israel, accompanied by the sound of the shofar (Mt. 24:31).
5. The judgment of Israel to purge out those who still refuse to believe in Jesus Christ (Ezek. 20:33–38).
6. The return of Israel to the land of promise (Ezek. 36:24; also foreshadowed by the Feast of Rosh Hashanah).
7. The cleansing of Israel and the gift of a new heart and a new spirit to all Jewish people (see chapter on Yom Kippur).
8. Israel will receive and enjoy the Kingdom blessings (Ezek. 36:33–38; Dan. 9:24; see chapter on Sukkot).

As with some of the other festivals, there is no clear indication in Scripture that Rosh Hashanah will be celebrated during the millennial reign of the Messiah Jesus. Because blowing the trumpets was to serve as a memorial or reminder to God of His covenant promises to Israel, there would be no reason to continue that reminder once the covenant promises are fulfilled. But it is also possible that Rosh Hashanah could be one of the feasts listed in Ezekiel 45:17 that will be observed during the Millennium. If so, it would most likely be to memorialize God’s faithfulness in keeping His covenant promises.