Rosh Hashanah 5784: Jewish new year 5784 begins Friday evening

To humorously paraphrase a line from the Black Eyed Peas’ well-known song “Boom Boom Pow”: “I’m so 5784, you’re feeling like 2000 and… sore?” This upcoming Friday night marks the celebration of Rosh Hashanah for Jewish communities all over the world. Rosh Hashanah, also known as the Jewish New Year, holds a significant place in the Jewish calendar. The term “Rosh Hashanah” directly translates to the “start of the year” and consistently falls on the first two days of Tishrei, which is the first month in the Hebrew calendar. For those looking to extend New Year greetings in Hebrew, the phrase “שנה טובה” (Shanah Tova) is commonly used. In contrast to the widely used solar Gregorian calendar, Judaism relies on a lunisolar calendar, where months are based on lunar phases. An additional month is added every two or three years to keep the Hebrew calendar roughly aligned with the solar calendar.

Rosh Hashanah 5784
Image courtesy Beth Israel

Rosh Hashanah 5784

In the Hebrew calendar, the last day of the month is 29 Elul, spanning from the evening of September 14 to September 15. In contrast to the Gregorian calendar, where days start at midnight, the Hebrew calendar marks the beginning of a new day at sunset of the preceding day. Thus, the Jewish New Year kicks off at nightfall on Friday, September 15 this year, signifying the start of the 1st day of the month of Tishrei. Additionally, the Hebrew calendar differs in terms of its year 0 compared to the Gregorian calendar. While the Gregorian calendar designates year 0 as the year of Jesus Christ’s presumed birth, the Hebrew calendar’s year 0 is calculated based on the beliefs of the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides regarding the creation of the world. Following Maimonides’ calculations, the new Jewish year will be recognized as 5784. Suddenly, the year 2023 doesn’t seem as ancient. Rosh Hashanah extends beyond a single day for many Jewish traditions.

In ancient times, the commencement of the day relied on the sighting of the new moon, and it was formally declared as the new year only when a witness testified in court to having seen the new moon. If no witness came forward, the day was retrospectively established. In keeping with this tradition, many Jews continue to celebrate Rosh Hashanah over the first two days of Tishrei. While New Year’s Eve in New York is marked by the iconic ball drop in Times Square and fireworks in major cities, how do Jews observe Rosh Hashanah? One of the central traditions is the sounding of the shofar. A shofar is a musical instrument crafted from a hollowed-out ram’s horn. Blowing the shofar symbolizes a call to awaken and begin the process of repentance. It also serves as a reminder of the ram that was sacrificed in place of Isaac in a well-known biblical narrative.

In terms of repentance, another tradition involves symbolically casting away one’s sins. Tashlich, typically observed on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, involves tossing small pieces of bread into a nearby body of water. Both of these traditions are part of the preparation for another significant Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur, which occurs just over a week later. On Yom Kippur, Jews seek atonement for their sins from the past year to start the new year with a clean slate. Naturally, no New Year celebration would be complete without delectable treats. For Rosh Hashanah, it’s customary to usher in a sweet new year with an array of sweet foods. Apples are commonly paired with honey, symbolizing a desire for sweetness in the coming year. Moreover, the traditional bread served before a meal, usually accompanied by a pinch of salt, is replaced with honey. Many Jews also savor pomegranates during the festival.