How To Celebrate and Observe A New Jewish Year – Rosh Hashanah

Since Jewish holidays begin at sunset, most home rituals related to Rosh Hashanah take place in the evening. The central home ritual of this holiday consists of a special festive meal, during which families use their nicest china and place settings, much like on a Friday evening at the beginning of Shabbat.

When Rosh Hashanah falls on Thursday and Friday (as it does in 2017), it is traditional to say an extra blessing called Eiruv Tavshilin before lighting the candles on the first night. In it, the head of the family should take bread or matzoh and an item of cooked food such as meat or fish, put them on a plate and say the blessing, which can be found here. After the blessing, that item of food is put away and saved to be eaten on Shabbat .

Note: Blessings and translations below are reprinted from the Machzor Rosh Hashanah Ashkenaz Linear as it appears on Sefaria.

Candle Lighting and Shehechiyanu
The holiday celebration begins with the lighting of candles (hadlakat nerot), symbolizing the transition from profane to sacred time, and the recitation of the blessing thanking God for enabling us to reach this season (Shehechiyanu).

Candle Lighting
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה

Blessed are You, Adonoy

אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם

our God, King of the Universe,

אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְו‍ֹתָיו

Who sanctified us with His commandments

וְצִוָּֽנוּ

and commanded us

לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל יוֹם טוֹב:

to kindle the Yom Tov light.

Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu l’hadlik ner shel yom tov.

Shehechiyanu
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה

Blessed are You, Adonoy

אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם

our God, King of the Universe,

שֶׁהֶחֱיָֽנוּ וְקִיְּמָֽנוּ

Who has kept us alive and sustained us

וְהִגִּיעָֽנוּ לַזְמַן הַזֶּה:

and brought us to this season.

Barukh ata adonai elohenu melekh ha’olam, shehecheyanu, v’kiyimanu, v’higiyanu la’z’man ha’zeh

Kiddush (Blessing Over Wine)
Next, one sanctifies the holiday by reciting the special Kiddush (blessing over wine) for Rosh Hashanah. It is a custom to ensure that all family members and guests are able to participate by holding and drinking from their own cup of wine or grape juice. As with all other festivals, it is traditional to recite the Shehechiyanu prayer again after the Kiddush and before drinking.

Hamotzi
Before partaking of the meal, one recites hamotzi, the blessing over bread. This is also a feature of Friday night Shabbat meals in which this blessing is made over challah, the traditional twisted egg loaves. (The text of the Hamotzi on Rosh Hashanah is exactly the same as the text on Shabbat.) However, because Rosh Hashanah celebrates the cyclical passage of time and the recurring progression of seasons and holidays, it is customary to make the blessing over round loaves of sweet raisin bread, symbolizing the circle of life and the revolving seasons. And because we want to ensure that the coming year will be a sweet one, filled with good and joyous experiences, the bread is sweetened by drizzling honey over the pieces of bread as one is about to eat.

בָּרוּך אַתָּה אַדָנָי אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם הָמוֹציא לֶחם מן הַארץ

Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has brought forth bread from the earth.

Blessing Over the Apples
To express the hope that it will be a sweet year, one of the most well-known and popular customs of Rosh Hashanah is to eat apples dipped in honey. Why? It is a tradition to eat a newly ripened fruit for the first time that season, and since Rosh Hashanah falls around the beginning of apple season, the apple has become that “first fruit.” This provides us with the opportunity to recite the blessings both over the apple (bore pri ha’etz: who creates the fruit of the tree) as well as another Shehechiyanu. And then, before eating the fruit dipped in honey, we ask God “to renew this year for us with sweetness and happiness.”

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam borei p’ri ha’eitz.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.

round challah bread

Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals)
After the meal, one recites the Birkat Hamazon, the “grace after meals,” including all the special additions marking the festival of Rosh Hashanah.

Since Rosh Hashanah is a two-day festival, all of the above rituals are repeated the second evening as well, except that there is a tradition among some people to use a different newly ripened fruit of the season, such as pomegranates. This is a popular Rosh Hashanah fruit for several reasons, first because it is mentioned as being one of the native fruits of the land of Israel (see Deuteronomy 8:8), and second, because of the traditional claim that there are 613 of the juicy sweet seeds in each fruit, which corresponds to the number of commandments in the Torah. When eating a pomegranate, it is not necessary to dip it in honey since its seeds are sweet enough by themselves.

A festive meal with Kiddush over wine and Hamotzi over round loaves of raisin bread can also be enjoyed for lunch each day of Rosh Hashanah. At this time of year, one greets one’s friends and family with the greeting “Shanah Tovah,” which means “(May you enjoy) a good new year.” Over the course of the last century or so it has become customary to send family and friends Rosh Hashanah greeting cards.