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>Israel Faxx
>JN Oct. 1, 1997, Vol. 5, No. 180

Jews Around the World Celebrate Rosh HaShanah

By IINS News Service

Several of Judaism's most important holidays will take place, this year, between Oct. 1-23. Several of these days are also full legal holidays in Israel. The Government Press Office provides this brief summary.

Preparations for the Jewish New Year

The period before the Jewish New Year (occurring this year on Oct. 2-3) is marked by special penitential prayers -- before the regular morning prayers -- and the blowing of a ram's horn ("shofar" in Hebrew) after the morning prayers.

Jews of North African and Middle Eastern origin began these special prayers Sept. 4. Jews of European origin began them on Sept. 27 These special prayers will continue daily (except for the New Year holiday itself and the Sabbath) until Yom Kippur (Oct. 11). None of these days are public holidays.

The Jewish New Year

The Jewish New Year ("Rosh Hashanah" in Hebrew, whose observance is mandated by Leviticus 23:23-25) begins at sunset Wednesday and conclude at sunset on Friday. The two days are marked by special prayers and scriptural readings.

The centerpiece of the New Year services is the blowing of the shofar during morning prayers, but the shofar is not sounded if one of the two days falls on the Sabbath. Both days are full public holidays, and as on the Sabbath, there will be no public transportation or newspapers. In addition, many businesses, museums, etc. that are normally open on the Sabbath will be closed for the New Year holiday.

The New Year is also marked by two special customs. The first is the eating of apple slices dipped in honey, symbolizing the hope that the coming year will be a "sweet" one. The second involves going to a natural source of flowing water (the ocean, a river, a spring, etc.) and reading a selection of scriptural verses while casting pieces of bread into the water -- this symbolizes the casting off of the previous year's sins. The custom derives from Micah 7:19 ("...And You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.") This ceremony takes place on the first day of the New Year (the second if the first day falls on the Sabbath).

The Period Between New Year and Yom Kippur

The 10 days between New Year and Yom Kippur (inclusive) are known variously as "The Days of Awe" or "The 10 Days of Repentance." Jewish tradition holds that this is a time of judgment when all people -- and nations -- are called to account for their deeds during the past year, and when their fates for the coming year are decided.

One Sabbath, known as the "Sabbath of Repentance", always occurs between the New Year and Yom Kippur. This Sabbath, which falls on Oct. 4 this year, is marked by a special reading from Hosea 14:2-10, which begins with, "Return, Israel, unto the Lord your God."

The day after the New Year holiday is a day of fasting known as "Tzom Gedaliah", or The Fast of Gedaliah, and commemorates the murder of the Jewish governor of Judea, Gedaliah, who was appointed by the Babylonians after they captured Jerusalem in 586 BCE. (II Kings 25:22-25.) However, if the day after the New Year holiday falls on the Sabbath, as it does this year, the fast is postponed to Sunday.

Thus, the fast extends from sunrise on the morning of Sunday, Oct. 5, until after sunset the same day. There are special scriptural readings for the day, but it is not a public holiday.

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur (Hebrew for "The Day of Atonement") begins on Friday, Oct. 10, at sunset and concludes at sunset on Saturday. Its observance is mandated by Leviticus 16:29-31 and 23:27-32. The holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement, as well as the day on which, according to Jewish tradition, our fates for the coming year are sealed.

Services in the synagogue -- centering on the penitential prayers -- will continue most of the day and include special scriptural readings (including the Book of Jonah, in the afternoon). The special memorial prayers for the deceased, said on four special occasions during the year, are said on Yom Kippur. Upon the conclusion of the fast, the shofar is sounded once to mark the end of Yom Kippur. Fast days which fall on the Sabbath -- as in the case of the Fast of Gedaliah this year -- are always postponed until the following Sunday; Yom Kippur is the sole exception.

It is a full public holiday in Israel -- almost all establishments which are normally open on regular Sabbaths will be closed on Yom Kippur. There will be no radio or television broadcasts. Yom Kippur is a day of introspection, completely separate from the normal course of daily life -- the physical aspects of our lives are sublimated while we concentrate on our spiritual concerns. Thus, the day is marked by a full (sunset to sunset) fast, and the wearing of leather and jewelry, the use of make-up, bathing, and marital relations are likewise forbidden.

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