10. Erev Rosh Ha-shana

As mentioned, in the time of the Rishonim, most Jews fasted on Erev Rosh Ha-shana (SA 581:2; MB ad loc.16), while today most do not. A few people still fast half the day or until plag ha-minḥa. Others give charity in place of fasting.

Ashkenazic custom is to recite many more Seliḥot on Erev Rosh Ha-shana than on other days. If Seliḥot begin before dawn, Taḥanun is recited at the end of the Seliḥot service. Even then, Taḥanun is not said following Shaḥarit, as Taḥanun is normally not recited on Erev Yom Tov. If Seliḥot begin after dawn, Taḥanun is not recited at the end of Seliḥot either (MB 581:23).[5]

On Erev Rosh Ha-shana we do not blow the shofar, so as to distinguish the custom-based blasts of the month of Elul from the obligatory blasts of Rosh Ha-shana (SA 581:3; Levush). Some are stringent and do not even practice blowing the shofar on Erev Rosh Ha-shana. However, one who wants to practice may do so in a closed room (MA ad loc. 14; Eliya Rabba ad loc. 4; MB ad loc. 24).

Since Rosh Ha-shana is called a sacred occasion (mikra kodesh), we honor it as we do Shabbat and holidays. We prepare for it by cleaning the home, doing the laundry, showering, preparing festive meals, and setting the table nicely. If one needs a haircut or a shave, it is a mitzva to take care of it beforehand, in honor of the holiday (SA 581:1; below, 3:4).

As a good omen, in hopes that the upcoming year will be filled with abundance, it is customary to make particularly good and plentiful food for Rosh Ha-shana. To enable this, common practice was to slaughter many animals before Rosh Ha-shana, for the festive meals. In fact, Erev Rosh Ha-shana is listed in the Mishna as one of the four days of the year on which the most animals were slaughtered. Therefore, special care had to be taken to avoid slaughtering an animal and its offspring on the same day, which is forbidden (Ḥullin 83a).

Some have the custom of going to mikveh on Erev Rosh Ha-shana, to purify themselves in anticipation of the Day of Judgment (Rema 581:4). One who wishes to follow this custom but finds it difficult may wash with nine kavim (approximately 11 liters) of water instead (MB ad loc. 26). That is, he should stand in the shower while nine kavim of water streams down on him without interruption. He should ensure that this water comes into contact with his entire body (Peninei Halakha: Festivals 1:16 and n. 8).

It is customary to do hatarat nedarim (nullification of vows) on Erev Rosh Ha-shana. During the recitation, future vows are disclaimed as well (as we will explain below, 5:11-12).


[5]. Some customarily give charity on Erev Rosh Ha-shana. Others visit cemeteries (Rema 581:4) so that the merit of the righteous buried there will help their prayers to be accepted. However, those who visit a cemetery must be careful not to ask the dead to pray on their behalf; they must turn to God alone (Maharil; Maharal, Netivot Olam, Netiv Ha-avoda ch. 12; Ḥayei Adam 138:5; MB 581:27). But some say that one may ask the deceased righteous to pray to God on our behalf (Pri Megadim, Eshel Avraham 581:16; Responsa Maharam Schick OḤ §293). Individuals should follow their family’s custom. Some people also visit graves before Yom Kippur (Rema 605:1). However, in practice, almost no one does so, since Erev Yom Kippur is a Yom Tov in some respects. In fact, even on Erev Rosh Ha-shana the custom is not widespread.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman