Rosh Hashanah, one of the most important holidays for Jewish people around the world, is here.
Rosh Hashanah, which translates from Hebrew to mean “the head of the year,” is one of Judaism's holiest days. The two-day celebration marks the start of the Jewish New Year and is filled with traditions, like eating a round challah and saying prayers near a body of water.
But why is Rosh Hashanah important for Jewish communities? And what do traditions, including special prayers, foods, gatherings and more, mean? Here’s what you need to know about Rosh Hashanah ahead of 2023 celebrations:
When is Rosh Hashanah 2023?
Since it is based on the Hebrew calendar, Rosh Hashanah begins on the first day of the seventh month, so this year’s celebration will begin at sunset on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023 and continue through sundown on Sunday, Sept. 17.
The exact date varies every year but is almost always in September or October.
Rosh Hashanah is the only Jewish holiday that is two days long both inside and outside Israel. It’s called yoma arichta, translated as “a long day” because the 48-hour celebration may be thought of as one extended day.
Rosh Hashanah is often treated as a time to reflect on the previous year and focus on hopes for the coming year, Jordan Rosenblum, the Belzer Professor of Classical Judaism and Max and Frieda Weinstein-Bascom Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told USA TODAY last year.
What is Rosh Hashanah? Why is it important?
Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, which are 10 days of introspection and repentance that lead into Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and most sacred holiday for Jewish people.
Samira Mehta, the director of undergraduate studies in the program for Jewish studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, previously told USA TODAY that the “Book of Life,” which symbolizes how Jewish people will be judged for the coming year, "opens" on Rosh Hashanah and is “sealed” on Yom Kippur.
"These are moments where we come together as a community, where we take time to think about ourselves as individuals, but also think about the ways that we can help others," Rabbi Rob Gleisser, the Peter J. Rubinstein reform senior Jewish educator at Penn State Hillel, told USA TODAY. "Think about the ways that we want to create a safe community, a welcoming community, a warm community and then be able to enrich the world around us after having those moments of introspection."
Rosh Hashanah is also important for some Jewish people as a celebration of the creation of humanity. It may be referred to as the "birthday of the world," marking the time when God created – or when the breath of life entered – Adam and Eve.
How is Rosh Hashanah celebrated? Traditions, explained
Jewish people might take time away from work to attend services with special prayers and songs to mark the new year, although celebrations don’t just take place within the walls of a synagogue.
Many Jewish communities will blow a Shofar, a curved ram’s horn, during service.
“It’s meant to kind of stir you, awaken you to the idea of thinking of new year, taking stock, preparing to atone, and in the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah it begins to be used as a kind of wake up,” Rosenblum said. “It really kind of pierces the air, and you can't ignore it.”
Some Jews may also pray near a body of water in a Tashlich ceremony, in addition to tossing pieces of bread or other food into the water to symbolize sending off sins.
What are some traditional Rosh Hashanah foods?
Many Jews will gather with friends and family to eat special foods and hold commemorations:
Some Jewish people eat apples and honey together to represent a sweet new year.
People may also eat challah, a braided bread, in a round loaf to represent a cycle of the year.
Pomegranate seeds also represent the 613 mitzvot, or commandments, that are cited in the Torah, the Jewish holy book.
"For Rosh Hashanah, in particular, there's just a lot of emphasis on sweetness so that you are stepping into the year with good tastes and good feelings, and with this idea that you want to have a sweet and bountiful year ahead," Rabbi Danielle Leshaw, senior educator and campus support director for Hillel International, told USA TODAY.
Rosh Hashanah greeting: Is it OK to say 'happy Rosh Hashanah'?
Happy Rosh Hashanah or happy new year are both appropriate greetings if you are talking to Jewish friends, family, co-workers, or classmates around the holiday. You can also say shanah tovah, which means good year in Hebrew.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is Rosh Hashanah? When is it? Jewish New Year greeting, food