Rosh Ha-shana is the day on which God creates the new year and grants new life to all His creations. It is a mysterious day, rooted in the transcendent, beyond time and place, and therefore everything about it is hidden and can only be glimpsed little by little. This is why one of its names is keseh, deriving from kisui, “cover.” It is the only holiday that coincides with the beginning of the month, when the obscured moon just begins to reappear (Rosh Ha-shana 8a). The practical manifestation of this hiddenness is that there is some uncertainty about when exactly Rosh Ha-shana is supposed to be. To alleviate this uncertainty, it was celebrated for two days. (See sections 7 and 8 below.)
Like other holidays, there is a mitzva to refrain from melakha on Rosh Ha-shana and to sanctify it through food, drink, and clean clothes. Its unique feature is the mitzva to turn it into a day of remembrance (zikaron) and blasts (teru’a). As we read:
The Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: “Speak to the people of Israel thus: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated (zikhron) with loud blasts (teru’a). You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall bring an offering by fire to the Lord.’” (Vayikra 23:23-25)
Similarly, we read, “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. You shall observe it as a day of blasts (yom teru’a)” (Bamidbar 29:1).
In the Amida and kiddush, Rosh Ha-shana is called the “Day of Remembrance” (Yom Ha-zikaron), because on this day God remembers His creations and renews their life for the upcoming year. The term “zikaron” (remembrance) in reference to God means that He comes to someone’s aid and grants them life. So that His kindness is not turned into wickedness by wicked people who would use it for evil, God ordained that blessing would be granted based on one’s deeds throughout the year. If one chooses good, he merits a shefa of goodness and blessing, whereas if he chooses evil (God forbid), the shefa of goodness is minimized, and the person consequently suffers much grief and pain. We see, therefore, that Rosh Ha-shana is a day of remembrance and judgment; God sits on His throne of judgment and appraises His world, judging each person individually and each nation collectively.
The primary judgment of the world hinges on the Jewish people and Eretz Yisrael, as the Jews are God’s people, the heart of the world, upon whom the repair of the world depends. Accordingly, the reward and punishment of the Jews is greater than that of other nations. God therefore judges the Jews first, and the judgment of mankind and the world in general is an outgrowth of this judgment (Rosh Ha-shana 8a-b; Ta’anit 10a). When we blow the shofar, recollections of us ascend to Him positively.
On the day that God remembers His creations, we, too, must awaken ourselves to remember what is most important and fundamental to us – faith in God, the Creator of the World – and, accordingly, to accept His divine yoke upon ourselves. Of course, it is always a mitzva to remember the foundations of faith. But on the day that God designated to recall His creations and judge their every action, for better or worse, we, too, must correspondingly contemplate His kingship, undertake piercing introspection, and resolve to better ourselves. This is the meaning of the commandment to make Rosh Ha-shana a “zikhron teru’a”: By remembering our faith and accepting the yoke of heaven, we tremble with the dread of judgment and the immensity of the responsibility we bear. And this is precisely how we are recalled before God in a positive light, mitigating the severity of judgment and increasing blessing in the world.
Because Rosh Ha-shana is a day of judgment, it is called “yom teru’a” (Bamidbar 29:1). While teki’a expresses joy and stability, teru’a alludes to brokenness, dread, crying, and radical change (4:1 below). Thus, Onkelos translates the phrase “yom teru’a” as “a day of wailing.”
Similarly, God instructed the Israelites in the desert to blow a teki’a on the trumpets when they needed to gather the people, as a teki’a expresses joy and togetherness. In contrast, when they needed to go out to war or leave their encampment and move on, they were instructed to blow a teru’a (Bamidbar 10:1-7), for a teru’a represents brokenness and crying over that which is finished but imperfect, and apprehension about what comes next. If this is the feeling that results from physical dislocation, how much greater is the apprehension surrounding Rosh Ha-shana – a time when a person’s allotted life for the past year has run out, and his life for the next year has yet to be allotted. It has yet to be determined who will live and who will die, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer. All is dependent upon the judgment.
Furthermore, intense apprehension fills the heart of all who are aware of the tremendous responsibility God tasked us with – sustaining and repairing the world. With fear and dread, each person takes stock of his internal landscape, evaluating whether he has carried out his mission or fallen short. Therefore, even though the sound of a teru’a is of short duration, the day in its entirety is referred to as yom teru’a – a day of brokenness and tears, fear and apprehension.
We are commanded to blow a shofar rather than a trumpet because the sound produced by the shofar better expresses the teru’a. It is a cri de coeur, a primal sound, a sound that precedes words and articulation, more primal than standard sighs or tears. Its sound has the power to express tremendous pain for all the lies, thieving, neglect, and wantonness; for the awful distance which separates a person from the Creator; for the vast chasm between our lofty aspirations and our mundane lives (Shlah, Masekhet Rosh Ha-shana, Torah Or §55).
This is the great mitzva that God commanded His people – to blow the shofar on Rosh Ha-shana, to express, with humility and modesty, their recognition of His kingship. It is precisely through the pain and wailing hinted at by the shofar blasts that all claims against us are annulled, and we are judged favorably. This is the meaning of the Sages’ statement: “Any year that starts impoverished (rash) will end with wealth, as the verse says, ‘From year’s beginning (me-reshit [spelled defectively]) to year’s end’ (Devarim 11:12)” (Rosh Ha-shana 16b). However, we are also commanded to surround each teru’a with teki’ot, which allude to stability and happiness, since judgment and punishment at their root are meant to perfect and correct.
It is said in the name of Arizal that one should cry on Rosh Ha-shana, and that if one is not overcome with weeping, it indicates that his soul is indecent and imperfect (Sha’ar Ha-kavanot 90a). Tears are an expression of yom teru’a, a day of wailing and tears. True, Rosh Ha-shana is also a holiday and a sacred occasion, on which there is a mitzva to rejoice. Evidently, the tears of Rosh Ha-shana are not tears of despair and depression, but tears of longing to ascend higher, tears of sorrow for all that we have not yet been privileged to repair, tears of overwhelming joy over the privilege to stand before Him, the immensity of the mission He gave us, and the holy soul with which He has endowed us. This weeping on the day of judgment causes inner joy and pleasure, because it expresses the truth, and leads to improvement and blessing. These two aspects of Rosh Ha-shana – holiday and teru’a day – are expressed through the teki’ot and the teru’ot.
. It is written, “Smash them (tero’em) with an iron mace; shatter them like potter’s ware” (Tehilim 2:9). The word tero’em indicates breaking. Similarly, we read, “The earth is breaking, breaking (ro’a hitro’a’a). The earth is crumbling, crumbling. The earth is tottering, tottering” (Yeshayahu 24:19). Finally, “They shall lay waste (ve-ra’u) to the land of Assyria with the sword” (Micha 5:5), meaning they will smash the land of Assyria (Rashi).
The Sages disagree about when the world – or more precisely when the first human – was created. R. Yehoshua maintains that it was the first of Nisan, as the Torah refers to Nisan as the first month. R. Eliezer maintains that it was the first of Tishrei. This disagreement reflects the hidden character of Rosh Ha-shana, which leads to a dispute about what happened on its date. The Rishonim explain that both opinions are correct: God thought about creating the world on the first of Tishrei, and actually created it on the first of Nisan. The disagreement is about which day we should consider primary: the day that God, as it were, thought of creating the world, or the day He actually created it (Rabbeinu Tam). The Sages tell us that we follow R. Eliezer in practice, which is why the Rosh Ha-shana prayers read: “This day is the beginning of Your works, a commemoration of the first day” (Rosh Ha-shana 27a and Tosafotad loc.). In any event, all agree that God judges His world and creates the new year on the first of Tishrei. This is why it is called “Rosh Ha-shana” (literally, the head of the year), as everything which happens in the course of the year is a result of what happens then.
The halakhic significance of Rosh Ha-shana as the “new year” pertains to the dating of contracts, counting years for Shemita and Yovel, and separating terumot and ma’asrot. We shall now explain.
Every contract must be dated, as it must be clear when the obligations it entails begin; pre-dated contracts are invalid. The first of Tishrei is the new year for documentary purposes (Rosh Ha-shana 8a). During the times of the Amora’im and Ge’onim, contracts were dated according to the Seleucid era (minyan shtarot). At the end of this era, Jews began dating documents from the world’s creation. This is the current practice for all contracts, including marriage and divorce documents.
Likewise, when the years are counted to determine Sabbatical and Jubilee years, the year begins in Tishrei (Rosh Ha-shana 8b). We are also commanded to separate terumot and ma’asrot from the produce of each year; one may not tithe from the produce of one year for the produce of another, as we read: “You shall set aside every year a tenth part of all the yield of your sowing that is brought from the field” (Devarim 14:22). Rosh Ha-shana is when the new year begins for this purpose (Rosh Ha-shana 12a).
. At first glance, it would seem more reasonable for Rosh Ha-shana to be the first day of the first month (Nisan), but in fact, Rosh Ha-shana is the first day of the seventh month. Maharal explains that this actually makes perfect sense, since the seventh is always holy. We see this with Shabbat, Shemita, and many other important sevens (ḤiddusheiAggadot on Rosh Ha-shana 10b, commenting on Vayikra Rabba 29:11). Taking Rabbeinu Tam’s approach one step further, we can suggest that while the world was actually created in Nisan, every year it takes seven months before the Jews can appreciate its deep significance. Accordingly, God judges His creations on the first of Tishrei, which is referred to as Yom Ha-zikaron, corresponding to the time the world was created in thought. Rosh Ha-shana was established on the day of man’s creation even though this did not take place until the sixth day, because humankind is the main purpose of creation (Shlah, Toldot Adam, Beit Yisrael §1).
. The year to which vegetables are assigned is determined by when they are picked, while the year to which grains are assigned is determined by when they have reached a third of their full growth. This also has implications for whether one must take ma’aser sheni (on years 1, 2, 4, and 5 of the Shemita cycle) or ma’aser ani (on years 3 and 6 of the Shemita cycle). While the year for vegetables and grains begins with Rosh Ha-shana, for fruit trees it begins with Tu Bi-Shevat. That is, on Tu Bi-Shevat, the age of the tree is incremented by one.
The parameters of the mitzva of orla are a bit different. We are commanded not to eat a tree’s fruits during its first three years, and the fruits of the fourth year are to be eaten in purity in Jerusalem. These years are counted from the first of Tishrei. For example, let us say that someone planted a tree on the fifteenth of Av. It takes two weeks for a tree to take root. After taking root, the tree is alive for an additional month before Rosh Ha-shana. These six weeks are the minimum amount of time necessary for the tree to be considered to have completed a year, so Rosh Ha-shana marks the beginning of its second year. Two more years must pass before its fruits are no longer deemed orla. However, since the new year for trees is Tu Bi-Shevat, one must wait from Rosh Ha-shana until Tu Bi-Shevat to eat the fruits. The fruits themselves are assigned to a year based on when they blossom (SA YD 294:4).
According to tradition, the first year of minyan shtarot corresponds to the year Alexander the Great became emperor (MT, Laws of Divorce 1:27), in 3449 from creation (312 BCE). This was the conventional dating system in the Seleucid Empire. It was in use throughout the latter part of the Second Temple era, and Jews used this system until medieval times. In fact, some Yemenite communities still record this date in ketubot. For more on the laws discussed in this section, see R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin, Ha-mo’adim Ba-halakha, Rosh Ha-shana, section 2.
While Rosh Ha-shana is a yomteru’a and a day of judgment, it is also a sacred occasion, which we are commanded to sanctify though food and drink and honor with nice clothes (Sifra, Emor 12:4; Peninei Halakha: Festivals 1:7). Half the day should be devoted to God, as on Shabbat and holidays. However, since the prayer services are very long on Rosh Ha-shana, they reduce the time available to study Torah, though it is important that prayer and study together amount to at least nine hours (as explained in Peninei Halakha: Festivals 1:5-6).
Based on textual similarities in the Torah’s description of the various holidays, the Gemara concludes that the holidays share several features (Shevu’ot 10a), and just as there is a mitzva to rejoice on the three pilgrimage festivals, so too, there is a mitzva to rejoice on Rosh Ha-shana by eating meat and drinking wine. It, too, is therefore called a “festival,” as we read: “Blow the shofar on the new moon, the covered moon for our festival day” (Tehilim 81:4).
However, since it is also a day of teru’a and judgment, the level of happiness is not the same as on the rest of the festivals. This is why in the Amida we do not add the phrase “festivals for rejoicing, holy days and seasons for joy” as for other festivals (SA 582:8), nor do we recite Hallel. The angels asked God about this: “‘Why don’t the Jews sing [Hallel] before You on Rosh Ha-shana and Yom Kippur?’ He replied: ‘Is it conceivable that the King is sitting on the throne of judgment with the books of the living and the dead opened before Him, yet the Jews burst into song?’” (Rosh Ha-shana 32b; Arakhin 10b; SA 584:1; see Peninei Halakha:Festivals 2:7).
Therefore, there is a mitzva to serve two festive meals, one at night and one during the day, and joyfully consume meat and wine. However, Rishonim write that a person should not eat to satiety on Rosh Ha-Shana, so that he does not come to act frivolously. Rather, he should stand in awe of God (SA 597:1). We see that the meals on Rosh Ha-shana should be better and more joyful than those of Shabbat, but not as lavish as those of the pilgrimage festivals.
Similarly, there is a mitzva to wear nice clothes and to wash them before the holiday. However, we do not wear our nicest clothes as we do on the other festivals, because of the fear of judgment. Some have a custom to wear white on Rosh Ha-shana (SA 581:4; MB ad loc. 25). One whose hair is too long and looks disheveled must get a haircut in honor of Rosh Ha-shana. One who is normally clean-shaven must shave before Rosh Ha-shana (SA 581:4).
The dual nature of Rosh Ha-shana can be learned from Ezra the Scribe, who, in addition to encouraging the people to repent, instructed them to rejoice on Rosh Ha-shana, as it is a day consecrated to God. Early in the time of the Second Temple, when the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael was becoming established after returning from the Babylonian exile, many of the simple people did not observe mitzvot properly. On Rosh Ha-shana, Neḥemia the political leader and Ezra the spiritual leader gathered the nation together, men and women, to inspire them to repent. Ezra read from the Torah, starting in the morning and continuing until midday, explaining the Torah and mitzvot to them. When the listeners understood that they had sinned, they were inspired to repent, and they began to mourn and cry. Ezra and Neḥemia emphasized that it was a day to rejoice in addition to repenting:
“This day is holy to the Lord your God; you must not mourn or weep,” for all the people were weeping as they listened to the words of the Torah…. “Go, eat choice foods and drink sweet drinks and send portions to whoever has nothing prepared, for the day is holy to our Lord. Do not be sad, for your rejoicing in the Lord is the source of your strength.” The Levites stilled the people, saying, “Hush, for the day is holy; do not be sad.” (Neḥemia 8:9-11)
Ezra and Neḥemia instructed the people to eat delicacies and drink sweet drinks in fulfillment of the mitzva of eating meat and drinking wine. Additionally, this would serve as a good omen for abundance and sweetness for the entire year (Rosh, Rosh Ha-shana 4:14). “Then all the people went to eat and drink and send portions and make great merriment, for they understood the things they were told” (Neḥemia 8:12). They understood that God was not interested in punishing them, but rather was happy with their repentance.
Nevertheless, in the times of the Ge’onim and Rishonim there were pious and wise people who fasted on Rosh Ha-shana. It stands to reason that given the tribulations of exile, they felt the need to identify with the pain of the Shekhina. How could they joyfully eat on the day of judgment while the Shekhina was in exile? They wished to facilitate a more profound repentance by indulging in certain ascetic practices in the hopes of neutralizing evil. In practice, though, the accepted halakha is that even during the bitter days of exile, there is a mitzva to have festive meals on Rosh Ha-shana, and it is certainly forbidden to fast.
. As we have seen, the Gemara (Shevu’ot 10a) compares all holidays to one another, Ezra instructed the people to rejoice on Rosh Ha-shana (Neḥemia 8:9-12), and the Mishna mentions that on Erev Rosh Ha-shana, the people slaughtered a large number of animals for the holiday. Yere’im §227 and Responsa Maharil §128 therefore maintain that there is a mitzva to rejoice on Rosh Ha-shana. This is why Rosh Ha-shana cancels the mourning periods of shiva and shloshim (SA YD 396:6). Sha’agat Aryeh §102, Yafeh La-lev 2:1, and other Aḥaronim agree that there is a mitzva to be happy on Rosh Ha-shana.
In contrast, others maintain that since Rosh Ha-shana is not a pilgrimage festival and no shalmei simḥa are offered on it, there is no specific mitzva to be happy then. However, since it is a sacred occasion, when it comes to honor (kavod) and pleasure (oneg) it is similar to Shabbat. This is the opinion of Maḥzor Vitri §322; Yam Shel Shlomo, Beitza 2:4; SAH 529:5-6. They base themselves on the fact that in the Rosh Ha-shana Amida, we do not say “festivals for rejoicing, holy days and seasons for joy.” (True, there are some Ge’onim who say that we do recite “festivals for rejoicing” in the Amida, but they are not followed in practice, as pointed out by R. Hai Gaon; Rambam; Rosh, end of Rosh Ha-shana; and SA 582:8.)
Rambam writes (MT, Laws of Yom Tov 6:17) that there is a mitzva to rejoice on all the festivals, including Rosh Ha-shana. However, elsewhere he writes that the joy of Rosh Ha-shana is not as intense (MT, Laws of Ḥanuka 3:6). Similarly, Sefer Ha-aguda states that people should eat and drink and rejoice, but should not eat to satiety, so that they will feel lacking and thus stand in awe of God. This is also the position of Shulḥan Arukh (597:1) and many Aḥaronim. We see that there is an obligation to drink wine and eat meat on Rosh Ha-shana, but not in as great quantities as on other festivals. If, however, one prays with the proper awe, and afterward wishes to fulfill the mitzva of joy to the utmost and to eat and drink in quantity as on other festivals, it would seem that he may do so, since many Rishonim and Aḥaronim permit this, in accordance with Ezra’s instruction to rejoice greatly.
Some Ge’onim maintained that it is a mitzva to fast on Rosh Ha-shana (Otzar Ha-Ge’onim, Beitza 4b), and some Rishonim did so, as recorded in Or Zaru’a 2:257. It is reasonable to assume that they agreed that there is a mitzva to rejoice on Rosh Ha-shana, and that they did so at night. Nevertheless, they felt that it was proper to fast during the Ten Days of Repentance because of the anguish of the Jews in exile. They felt that this would be permissible even on Shabbat and Rosh Ha-shana, just as it is permissible to fast on Shabbat or festivals following a bad dream. Many other Ge’onim, including R. Sa’adia and R. Hai, forbade fasting, and Shulḥan Arukh cites their view (597:1). There is an opinion that someone who fasted once on Rosh Ha-shana is obligated to continue this custom for the rest of his life, even if he fasted only because of a bad dream. If he chooses to eat, he endangers his life (Sefer Ha-agur). Shulhan Arukh cites this as well (597:2-3), although Kol Bo and R. Yitzhak Tyrnau in his Sefer Ha-minhagim say that one does not have to take this into account. Rema writes that someone who is not worried about this may eat on Rosh Ha-shana in subsequent years, as long as he does hatarat nedarim. This is the position of MB ad loc. 9 and the general custom.
“For what great nation is there that has a god so close at hand as is the Lord our God whenever we call upon Him?” (Devarim 4:7). Tur (581:4) elaborates on this verse:
What nation is like this one, which knows the character (i.e., the ways and judgments) of its God? The way of the world is that a person facing judgment wears black, wraps himself in black, and lets his beard and nails grow, because he does not know what the outcome will be. But Israel do not do this. They wear white, wrap themselves in white, shave their beards, cut their nails, eat and drink, and rejoice on Rosh Ha-shana, because they are confident that God will perform a miracle for them.
At first glance, we can ask: How can we be so confident that God will perform a miracle for us and that we will be vindicated? We see with our own eyes that many people die every year, and many others get hurt or fall ill. Clearly, they experienced no miracles.
Rather, anyone who properly observes the mitzvot of the holiday, accepts the yoke of God’s kingship, and is moved to improve their service of God can be confident of a favorable judgment, because God wants to benefit his creations. The simplest understanding of this is that God will bless us with a good year, as usually happens. But we also know that sometimes, because of a sin’s gravity or the world’s imperfection, God sees that it is best for a person to suffer or die, so that the person refines and corrects his deeds, thus earning true life in the next world. Even though we would like God’s goodness to reveal itself to us in this world without suffering, we have yet to deserve this. Nevertheless, we know that the judgment is for our own good, and we should celebrate it (Shlah, Masekhet Rosh Ha-shana, Torah Or §17).
Since God wished the Jews to accrue merit, He established the day of remembrance and shofar blasts as a day of rest and sanctity. A day of sanctity is one on which we abstain from weekday work and worries and manifest the holiness of the day through Torah, prayer, and rejoicing in the mitzva with festive meals. Had we not been commanded to celebrate Rosh Ha-shana, we would likely spend the whole day making personal requests, dreading judgment. This would not help our case. On the contrary, it would harm us, for sin happens when people forget their sacred mission and focus on personal issues. Instead, the sanctity of the day is a vehicle for the Jewish people to manifest God’s kingship in the world. This inspires them to repent out of love, meriting a favorable judgment and a blessed new year.
The primary theme of the prayers on Rosh Ha-shana is crowning God as our king. For this reason, the third berakha of the Amida concludes with “ha-Melekh ha-kadosh” (the holy King) instead of the usual “ha-Kel ha-kadosh” (the holy God). We continue using this alternative conclusion throughout the Ten Days of Repentance. This change is so significant that if one forgets to make it, and concludes with “the holy God,” he has not fulfilled his obligation and must repeat the Amida (SA 582:1; 5:2 below). On Rosh Ha-shana, we add sections to this berakha to pray for God to reveal His kingship:
And so may Your name be sanctified, Lord our God, regarding Your people Israel, regarding Your city Jerusalem, regarding Zion, the dwelling place of Your glory, regarding the royal house of David, Your anointed, and regarding Your place and sanctuary…
Every creature will revere You, and all of creation will bow before You, and they will be bound together to carry out Your will with an undivided heart…
All wickedness will dissipate like smoke when You remove wanton governance from the earth. And You will reign – You, Lord our God, alone – over all that You made, on Mount Zion, the dwelling place of Your glory, and in Jerusalem, Your sacred city.
The conclusion of the holiday-themed fourth berakha in every Amida as well as in kiddush on Rosh Ha-shana is: “King over all the earth, Who sanctifies Israel and the Day of Remembrance.” In Musaf, the main prayer of Rosh Ha-shana, during which we blow the shofar, our Sages instituted three central berakhot, each of which comprises an entire section of the Amida: Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot.Malkhuyot, the first of these berakhot, is the foremost of these berakhot and mentions the holiness of the day. It, too, concludes: “King over all the earth, Who sanctifies Israel and the Day of Remembrance.” We see that the primary theme of Yom Ha-zikaron is crowning God king. In truth, Zikhronot also relates to God as the King of the world, Who remembers all of His creations. Similarly, Shofarot deals with the manifestation of His kingship in the world by means of the shofar. This is both reminiscent of Sinai and a foreshadowing of the future, for it is the blowing of a great shofar that will gather all the exiles, who will then bow before God in Jerusalem. Our shofar blasts manifest His kingship as well; due to the dread they instill, we stand before Him broken and repentant.
Given our anxiety about the upcoming year, we could have devoted the entire day of judgment to personal prayers for livelihood, health, and everything else that preoccupies people all year. However, the Jews are unique in that their deeper desire is for God’s kingship to be manifest and for the whole world to be repaired and redeemed, even if they will need to suffer to attain that goal. This is the great, awe-inspiring path that the Jewish people have chosen, from the times of our patriarchs and matriarchs, who chose to believe in God despite all the idolatry around them, through the long exile when, despite all their suffering, the Jewish people chose not to assimilate and instead continued to carry the banner of faith and Torah, to establish the world under the kingship of God.
When the Jewish people set aside their sorrows and work for God’s honor and the manifestation of His kingship, God says to the angels, “Look at My dear children, who leave their troubles aside and work for My honor.” This silences the accuser (satan), who wishes to rid the world of the Jews. Thus, Israel is granted a new year in which they will take another step toward repair and redemption. The more we humbly accept God’s rule with fear, joy, and trembling on Rosh Ha-shana, the better and more blessed a year we will experience.
According to the Torah, Rosh Ha-shana is only one day: “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts” (Vayikra 23:24; similarly, Bamidbar 29:1). However, in practice we observe Rosh Ha-shana for two days.
To understand why, we must first grasp that all the holidays hinge on the Hebrew calendar, which is based on the lunar cycle. At the beginning of each month, only a tiny sliver of the moon is visible. It waxes until the middle of the month, when it appears full, a complete circle. During the second half of the month, the moon wanes progressively until, at the end of the month, it is invisible to us for about twenty-four hours. It then once again appears as a tiny sliver, and a new month begins. There is a mitzva, practiced in times past, for those who saw the new moon on the thirtieth night of the month to testify before the supreme beit din, and based on this testimony, the beit din would sanctify the month. Since the moon’s cycle is about twenty-nine and a half days, sometimes a month has twenty-nine days and sometimes thirty. (See Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 1:1-2.)
If there was a holiday during the upcoming month, the beit din would immediately send messengers to all Jewish communities to let them know when the new month began. Based on this, people knew when the holiday would take place. However, because these messengers did not have time to reach distant diaspora communities before the holiday, in those communities there was doubt about its date. Therefore, the Sages ordained that holidays in the diaspora should be celebrated for two days (Peninei Halakha: Festivals 9:1-4).
Rosh Ha-shana is the only holiday that coincides with the beginning of a month. When the beit din sanctified the month, it meant that very day was a holiday. Messengers could not set out to let people know when the month was sanctified, since travel outside of the teḥum was now forbidden. As a result, even in Eretz Yisrael, people did not know when Rosh Ha-shana was declared, so they had to keep two days of Rosh Ha-shana on account of this uncertainty.
In Jerusalem, the seat of the beit din, people knew as soon as the month was sanctified, but they could not know in advance which day would be sanctified, as witnesses were accepted, and the month sanctified, only during the day. Therefore, due to uncertainty, the people had to observe the holiday starting the night of the thirtieth of Elul. If witnesses later arrived (on the thirtieth) and testified that they had seen the new moon, the beit din sanctified the month, and it was clarified retroactively that the day was indeed Rosh Ha-shana. The next day was a weekday. If the witnesses did not arrive on the thirtieth, it became clear that the thirtieth was really a weekday and the holiday would be the next day. Thus, when the beit din sanctified the month on the thirtieth, in Jerusalem the holiday was celebrated for one day; when the new moon was sanctified on the following day, two days were observed even in Jerusalem.
This uncertainty about the date fits well with the hidden, concealed character of Rosh Ha-shana. It is also the reason the holiday comes at a time when the hidden moon is just beginning to appear, which is why it is referred to as keseh. Thus we read, “Blow the horn on the new moon, the covered (keseh) moon, for our festival day” (Tehilim 81:4). Our Sages ask, “During which holiday is the moon covered? It must be Rosh Ha-shana” (Rosh Ha-shana 8a).
According to halakha, when the beit din cannot sanctify months based on testimony, Rosh Ḥodesh is sanctified according to the calculation of the Hebrew calendar. In 359 CE (4119 from creation), almost three hundred years after the destruction of the Second Temple, Hillel the Second, the nasi of the beit din, realized that it was no longer possible to sustain the beit din that sanctified the months. He and his colleagues instituted a fixed calendar and, based on it, sanctified all the months until the restoration of the beit din (MT, Laws of Sanctification of the New Moon 8:2; Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 1:3 n. 3).
Seemingly, at that point there was no longer a need to keep two days of Rosh Ha-shana. After all, everyone knew, based on the calendar, when the first of Tishrei would be. However, just as the Sages ordained that those living in the diaspora should continue to follow their custom and keep each holiday for two days, so too, they ordained that residents of Eretz Yisrael should follow their custom and keep Rosh Ha-shana for two days. One might suggest that the fact that it was often necessary to keep two days even when the month was sanctified based on witnesses implies that this is the proper way to observe it. As usual, halakha reflects spiritual reality. Zohar (III 231a) explains that because of the severity of the judgment, the Sages saw fit to add a day, so the judgment contain compassion and thus be mitigated. If Rosh Ha-shana were only one day, the world might be destroyed due to the severity of the judgment.
Furthermore, the reason all holidays must be celebrated for two days in the diaspora is because the people there are living far away from the manifestation of holiness. In Eretz Yisrael, however, where holiness is more accessible, the holiness of the holidays can be absorbed in only one day. This can be compared to a flashlight: When illuminating a nearby location, the light is strong and focused on a small area. In contrast, when it is used to illuminate a distant location, the light is weaker and more diffuse (Derekh Mitzvotekha 114:1). Because Rosh Ha-shana is a day of hiddenness and concealment, two days are needed to absorb its light, even in Eretz Yisrael.
Perhaps we can suggest that the prayers of the first day are primarily directed toward collective matters – that we may merit that God’s kingship manifests over His people, Israel, and over Zion, the dwelling place of His glory, so that every living being will say, “The Lord, God of Israel, is King, and His kingship has dominion over all.” Through this, the whole world will attain blessing and peace. In contrast, in the prayers of the second day (which was established by the Sages), we ask for all these lofty ideals to be realized in our individual lives as well. We ask to be partners in revealing God’s glory in the world in our day-to-day lives, and thus to merit divine blessing.
. Several great Rishonim (Rabbeinu Ephraim and Ba’al Ha-ma’or) maintain that in Eretz Yisrael, Rosh Ha-shana should be celebrated for only one day. Their logic is that people who lived near the court knew when the month was sanctified and thus when the holiday fell out. Since the court theoretically could convene anywhere in Eretz Yisrael, only one day should be celebrated there. In practice, though, the opinion of the decisive majority of Rishonim is that even in Eretz Yisrael, Rosh Ha-shana should be celebrated for two days, because in practice, even when the month was sanctified based on witnesses, in most of Eretz Yisrael two days were observed. Even in Jerusalem, where the court was located, if witnesses did not arrive on the first day, Rosh Ha-shana was observed for two days. True, witnesses almost always arrived on the first day. Nevertheless, since the people had to celebrate two days if the witnesses arrived late on the first day (Rosh Ha-shana 30b and Beitza 4b as explained in the next section), Rosh Ha-shana sometimes had to be observed for two days even in Jerusalem (MT, Laws of Sanctification of the New Moon 8:5; Rosh, Beitza 1:4). Furthermore, the Sages did not want to make a distinction between Jerusalem and the rest of Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, they ordained that two days should be celebrated everywhere. This is similar to the way they ordained that all Jews living outside Eretz Yisrael should celebrate the festivals for two days, even though there were areas where the messengers did arrive before Shemini Atzeret and the last day of Pesaḥ. (See Ramban, Milḥamot Hashem on Rif, Beitza 3a; Rashba, Beitza 5:2, s.v. “amar.”)
. Zohar (Pinḥas 231b) explains that the first day is one of uncompromising judgment (dina kashya), while the second is one of milder judgment (dina rafya). The underlying rationale is clear: The first day is of Torah origin while the second is rabbinic. Sha’ar Ha-kavanot (Derushei Rosh Ha-shana #2) states that the first day is for rectification of the inner ze’er anpin and the second for rectification of the outer ze’er anpin. Ramḥal writes that the first day is a corrective for Leah and for the keter aspect of Raḥel, while the second is a corrective for the ḥokhma aspect of Raḥel (Kitzur Ha-kavanot, Rosh Ha-shana, p. 110). Shem Mi-Shmuel (Rosh Ha-shana 5673, s.v. “ita be-kitvei”) suggests that the first day is one of uncompromising judgment about divine matters, while the second day is one of milder judgment about mundane matters. See the Harḥavot.
Nowadays we have a calendar and know when Rosh Ha-shana is. Thus, the first day of Rosh Ha-shana is Torah-mandated, while the second day is rabbinic. This is true for all the holidays in the diaspora as well – the first day is Torah-mandated and the second is rabbinic. Therefore, if doubts arise concerning the laws of Yom Tov or shofar, on the first day we are stringent, following the principle, “When there is uncertainty about Torah law, we are stringent.” In contrast, on the second day we are lenient, following the principle, “When there is uncertainty about rabbinic law, we are lenient.” Thus, the Sages permitted performing burials on the second day of Yom Tov and Rosh Ha-shana, for the sake of the dignity of the dead (SA 526:4; Peninei Halakha: Festivals 7:5). It is also forbidden to prepare on the first day of Rosh Ha-shana for the second day. This prohibition includes cooking, setting the table, and washing the dishes. These laws are the same as those concerning preparing on the first day of Yom Tov for the second day in the diaspora (SA 503:1; Peninei Halakha:Festivals 9:5, 2:12).
However, there are some differences between the two days of Yom Tov celebrated in the diaspora and the two days of Rosh Ha-shana. The two days in the diaspora were grounded in uncertainty as to which day the court had sanctified the month. In contrast, Rosh Ha-shana was sometimes celebrated for two days even when there was no doubt as to its date. This happened when the witnesses arrived in the late afternoon of the first day. In this case, the Sages ordained that their testimony not be accepted lest the beit din sanctify the month without leaving enough time to offer all the holiday sacrifices and to recite the special psalm for Rosh Ha-shana. However, since the first day was worthy of being sanctified, the Sages ordained that the day continue to be observed as a holiday, even once it was decided that it would not be sanctified. Since Rosh Ha-shana sometimes extended to two days due to this law, the Sages called the two days of Rosh Ha-shana “one long day” (“yoma arikhta”).
For this reason, it is unclear whether the berakha of She-heḥeyanu should be recited on the second day. In the diaspora, on the second day of Yom Tov, the berakha is recited; since the second day was established on account of uncertainty, its mitzvot are the same as those of the first day. In contrast, on Rosh Ha-shana, since the two days are considered one long day for some purposes, some say that She-heḥeyanu should be recited only on the first day. In practice, most poskim maintain that the berakha should be recited during kiddush of the second night as well as of the first, and this is the custom. However, le-khatḥila it is preferable to wear something new or to serve a new fruit at the meal on the second night of Rosh Ha-shana. Then all would agree that She-heḥeyanu is recited (SA 600:2). Clearly if a new fruit was on the table during kiddush so as to enable the recitation of She-heḥeyanu, She-heḥeyanu should not be recited again before eating the fruit.
Before blowing the shofar on the second day, Ashkenazic custom is to recite the berakha of She-heḥeyanu, while Sephardic custom is not to (SA, Rema 600:3). When possible, it is preferable for the person blowing the shofar to wear a new garment and have it in mind too when he recites She-heḥeyanu (MB ad loc. 7).
. An egg laid on the first day of Yom Tov may be eaten on Yom Tov Sheni. The egg is prohibited on the first day due to muktzeh, but on the second day, no matter which side of the uncertainty is correct, the egg is no longer muktzeh. If the first day was the true Yom Tov, then the second day is a weekday, and thus the egg may be eaten. If the second day is the true Yom Tov, then the first day was a weekday, and the egg laid on it is not muktzeh. The same applies to fish caught on the first day and fruit that fell from a tree on the first day: None of them are muktzeh on the second day. In contrast, since Rosh Ha-shana sometimes had to be observed for two days even when there was no doubt as to its date, we relate to the two days as one long day. Therefore, if an egg is laid, fish are caught, or fruits fall from a tree on the first day, they remain muktzeh on the second day (SA 600:1). Despite the fact that for these purposes the two days of Rosh Ha-shana are regarded as one long day, we are not lenient when it comes to preparing on the first day of Rosh Ha-shana for the second. In that case, the rules are the same as for holidays in the diaspora: It is forbidden to prepare from the first day to the second, as is explained in SA 503:1. Thus, the two days of Rosh Ha-shana are considered to be one day only when it comes to stringencies, but not when it comes to leniencies (Rabbeinu Peretz, Hagahot Smak n. 10 on Smak §294).
The Musaf service is the most significant of the Rosh Ha-shana services. We blow the shofar during this service, and the Sages ordained that we add the three berakhot of Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot to its Amida. These sections express the unique elements of the day, and through them we can merit a good new year. As God said to the Jewish people: “On Rosh Ha-shana, recite Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot before Me. Malkhuyot to crown Me your King; Zikhronot to invoke your memory before Me; and how is this done? Via the shofar” (Rosh Ha-shana 16a). These three sections are one unit. One who is unfamiliar with one of them should not recite the other two either. They also must be recited in the correct order; one who recites them out of order has not fulfilled his obligation (SA 593:1; MB ad loc. 5).
The Sages ordained that each section should consist of ten verses related to the theme of the berakha. These correspond to the ten utterances with which God created the world, the Ten Commandments, and the ten times that the word “halleluhu” appears in the last chapter of Tehilim. Each section begins with three verses from the Torah. These are followed by three verses from the Writings, three verses from the Prophets, and a concluding verse from the Torah. Verses that mention calamities that befell the Jews are not included, nor are Zikhronot verses of an individual, even if they are positive (Rosh Ha-shana 32a-b; SA 591:4-5).
The first berakha includes both the sanctification of the day and Malkhuyot. It begins with “You have chosen us,” the familiar formulation that begins the fourth berakha of every Yom Tov. This is followed by Aleinu – familiar as the concluding prayer of every service – in which we praise and thank God for giving us the privilege of recognizing His reign and pray that all the nations accept the yoke of His kingship. We then recite the ten verses relating to Malkhuyot, concluding with “Shema Yisrael.” Although this verse does not explicitly invoke God’s kingship, it entails accepting the yoke of the kingdom of heaven. The berakha concludes by asking God to rule over the entire world and draw us near to His worship, His Torah, and His mitzvot. “For You, God, are truth, and Your word is truth and endures forever. Blessed are you, Lord, King over all the earth, Who sanctifies Israel and the Day of Remembrance.”
In the second berakha, that of Zikhronot, we recount how God remembers His world, all His creatures, and all their deeds, particularly on this day: “This day is the beginning of Your works, a commemoration of the very first day,” on which God judges the world. We pray for God to remember us for good and bring about salvation. We conclude: “Today, in Your compassion, You remember the binding of Yitzḥak for his descendants’ sake. Blessed are You, Lord, Who remembers the covenant.”
In the third berakha, Shofarot, we describe God’s revelation to us on Mount Sinai, which was accompanied by shofar blasts. We pray that we will again experience revelation and shofar blasts announcing the redemption. We conclude:
Blow the great shofar for our freedom, and raise a banner to gather our exiles; bring together our dispersed from among the nations, and gather in our scattered from the ends of the earth. Bring us to Zion, Your city, joyfully, and to Jerusalem, the place of Your Temple, in everlasting happiness…. For You hear the sound of the shofar and listen to its blasts, and there is none to compare to You. Blessed are You, Lord, Who listens to the sound of His people Israel’s shofar-blasts with compassion.
If one is in a place without a minyan, he should neither recite Musaf nor blow the shofar during the first three hours of the day, as that is a time of judgment. Without the merit of the community, we are afraid that he will not be judged favorably. However, one praying with a minyan may pray even during the first three hours, because communal prayers are always accepted. Even if an individual does not adequately concentrate on the prayers, God does not reject them (SA 591:8; MB ad loc. 15; Peninei Halakha: Prayer 2:1-2).
. It is permissible to add more verses. Bedi’avad, if one recited only three verses (corresponding to Torah, Prophets, and Writings or to kohanim, Levi’im, and Yisraelim), he has fulfilled his obligation. In fact, even if he did not recite any verse but simply stated, “Thus it is written in the Torah, Prophets, and Writings,” he has fulfilled his obligation (Rosh Ha-shana 32a; SA 591:4; MB ad loc. 11). The recitation of these berakhot is rabbinically mandated, while blowing the shofar is Torah-mandated. Therefore, we blow the shofar before Musaf. See 4:7 n. 6 below.
We do not recite any vidui (confession) on Rosh Ha-shana – neither communal nor personal – because the theme of Rosh Ha-shana is to crown God king over us and the entire world, and to ask for the upcoming year to be a good one, enabling us to reveal the glory of His kingship. It is not appropriate to use this day for our personal self-improvement. That is what the rest of the Ten Days of Repentance are for. It is also not appropriate to mention sins, which diminish the glory of His kingship. There is even concern that mentioning them might strengthen the accusers’ case against us (Zohar II 186a; according to Arizal, in between the shofar blasts one may quietly confess; see below 4:7).
Some maintain that just as we do not recite vidui on Rosh Ha-shana, we should also leave out the lines of the Avinu Malkeinu prayer that mention sin, like, “Our Father, our King, we have sinned before You” (Beit Yosef; Arizal). Others maintain the custom of reciting the entire Avinu Malkeinu, arguing that the lines that mention sin are not confessional but simply note our general state (Rema 584:1; MB ad loc. 3).
Even though we normally recite Hallel on holidays, we do not do so on Rosh Ha-shana because it is a day of judgment (as explained above, section 4).
There are many changes made in the Amida during the Days of Awe. The most important one is in the conclusion of the third berakha where we substitute “ha-Melekh ha-kadosh” for “ha-Kel ha-kadosh.” One who forgot to incorporate this change has not fulfilled his prayer obligation, as explained below (5:2).
The laws and customs pertaining to the ḥazan are explained above (2:10). The custom to stand when the ark is open, and the admonition not to pray out loud nowadays, are explained above as well (2:11).
As on all the festivals, five people are called up to the Torah (Peninei Halakha: Festivals 2:8). On the first day, we read the story of Yitzḥak’s birth and the banishment of Hagar and Yishmael (Bereishit 21:1-34), and the haftara is the story of Ḥanna and the birth of Shmuel (SA 584:2). This is appropriate, as three righteous women conceived on Rosh Ha-shana: Our matriarch Sarah, mother of Yitzḥak; our matriarch Raḥel, mother of Yosef; and Ḥanna, mother of the prophet Shmuel (Rosh Ha-shana 10b). These women were so exceptionally righteous that they were destined to give birth to children whose souls were radically new. These souls could not be born naturally, which is why their mothers remained barren for so long. It was only through the renewal of Rosh Ha-shana that they could be helped.
Most of the Torah reading, however, tells of the banishment of Yishmael. We can learn two principles from this: 1) Despite the pain it caused, the banishment of Yishmael was not in any way immoral. Had it been, the Sages would not have ordained its reading on Rosh Ha-shana, as they would not have wanted to provide the accusers with material. 2) Especially on Rosh Ha-shana, the day of judgment, it is important to distinguish between the Jewish people and the rest of the nations, who are not willing to accept upon themselves the great and awe-inspiring mission of repairing the world under the kingship of God – just as it was necessary to separate Yishmael from Yisrael.
On the second day we read the story of the binding of Yitzḥak (Bereishit 22:1-24), in order to invoke the merit of our ancestors. We then read a comforting haftara from the Book of Yirmiyahu (31:1-19). On both days, the custom is to take out a second Torah scroll for the maftir reading, whose subject is the holiday offerings (Beit Yosef OḤ 488:2).
Everything we do on Rosh Ha-shana has implications for the whole year. Since this is the first day of the year, when life is allotted to every being, every action, word, and thought of the day impacts upon the whole year. This is the meaning of our Sages’ principle, “Symbols are a real thing” (Keritot 6a). That is, symbolic acts have significance; if one performs a symbolic act of blessing at the beginning of the year, it will lead, we hope, to blessing throughout the year.
Based on this, the Gemara recommends that at the Rosh Ha-shana meal, people eat foods that have auspicious implications for the whole year: karti (leek), so that “our enemies may be cut down (yikartu)”; rubya (black-eyed peas), so that “our merits may be plentiful (yirbu)”; tamar (dates), to signify that “our enemies and sins may come to an end (yitamu)”; selek (beet), “so that our enemies may be removed (yistalku)”; and dela’at (pumpkin), which symbolizes blessing, as it is large and fast-growing (SA 583:1). It is also customary to eat apples dipped in honey or sugar water, to symbolize a sweet and good new year, and pomegranates, whose many seeds symbolize our wish for our merits to increase (Rema ad loc.). Many have the custom to eat from the head of a ram or a fish, symbolizing our wish to be the head, not the tail (SA 583:2). It is also customary to eat fish, as they are very fertile and not subject to the evil eye.
Based on this principle, there are additional customs to eat a variety of foods whose names, shapes, or tastes are positive omens for the new year; each community’s customs are based on its languages and the foods that were available to it. When possible, it is good to carry on these traditions.
We do not just eat these foods. Rather, Rishonim say that it is proper to add a short prayer (Yehi Ratzon) before the consumption of each food. For example, before eating dates one should recite: “May it be Your will, Lord our God and God of our fathers, that our enemies come to an end.” Shlah explains that the primary goal of all of these symbolic foods is to inspire us to pray and repent. Every prayer on Rosh Ha-shana has a serious impact on what happens during the course of the year. Therefore, it is proper on Rosh Ha-shana that even eating itself be permeated with prayers for the upcoming year to be good and sweet (Shlah, Masekhet Rosh Ha-shana, Ner Mitzva §21).
Many customarily dip the challah on which they recite Ha-motzi in honey or sugar to symbolize our wish for good and sweet year (MB 583:3). Some dip the challah into salt first, but use only a little, so that it will not impair the sweet taste. Others simply leave salt on the table but do not dip the bread in it. Some keep dipping challah in honey until Simḥat Torah. Others do so only on Rosh Ha-shana. All of the customs are legitimate, and everyone should continue with his family custom.
It is customary on Rosh Ha-shana to eat good, fine foods as a good omen for the entire year. Many also avoid eating unripe fruit or preparing sour, salty, or bitter foods (Rema 583:1; MB ad loc. 5). This is the custom of Ashkenazim and many Sephardim (Ḥida; R. Ḥayim Palachi; Ben Ish Ḥai; Kaf Ha-ḥayim 583:18). Nevertheless, many people do eat sharp foods, although since many Ashkenazim tend to eat sweet foods, they are anyway not eating sharp, peppery foods.
There is an Ashkenazic custom to avoid eating nuts on Rosh Ha-shana, because they allude to sin and because they can increase phlegm and sputum and lead to disturbance of the prayer service (Rema 583:2).
. This wish is primarily directed to the Jewish people as a whole. However, some also have in mind the individual, and thus try to ensure that the head of household tastes the head. The idea here is not that everyone should strive to dominate his friends, but rather that each person should give expression to his unique abilities, the area where he excels. Some eat from a ram’s head specifically, to call to mind the merit of the ram offered in place of Yitzḥak at the Akeida.
One who does not want to eat one of the symbolic foods, for example because he does not like the taste, may simply look at it. This is because some maintain (based on the wording of the Gemara in Horayot 12a) that the symbolic foods are meant to be pointed at rather than eaten.
Some eat the symbolic foods after kiddush but before eating challah. However, the more correct custom is to have the challah first, since halakha views bread as the more important food (Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 9:8). Additionally, if the symbolic foods are eaten before the bread, it is not clear what should be done about a berakha aḥarona (ibid. 3:12).
Therefore, after making kiddush, we wash our hands and make the berakha on the challah (which many dip into honey or sugar, as explained in the previous section). Afterward, we eat the symbolic foods. The berakha of Borei Pri Ha-etz should be recited over one of the fruits, which then covers all the rest of the fruits. The fruits require a separate berakha because Ha-motzi covers only foods that are filling and are an integral part of the festive meal. However, the symbolic fruits are meant to add meaning to the meal rather than being an integral part of it. Therefore, they require their own berakha (ibid. 3:7). Dates should be eaten first and the berakha of Borei Pri Ha-etz should be recited over them (even though eating an apple and honey is the best-known custom), because dates are one of the seven species associated with Eretz Yisrael (and are considered more auspicious than pomegranates as they are closer to the word “land” in the verse that lists the seven species; ibid. 9:9-10). After reciting the berakha, one should eat a bit of the fruit before reciting the traditional Yehi Ratzon, so that there is no interruption between the berakha and the eating.
Symbolic foods whose berakha is Borei Pri Ha-adama do not require a separate berakha. Since they are cooked in the same way as normal vegetables, are filling, and are part of the meal, they are exempted by the berakha of Ha-motzi.
It is customary to recite a Yehi Ratzon before eating each of the symbolic foods. One of the participants recites the Yehi Ratzon out loud and everyone responds Amen and eats.
Some eat the symbolic foods on the first night only (Bnei Yisaskhar, Tishrei 2:11), but many people do so on both nights (Ḥida; Eliya Rabba; Ḥatam Sofer). Some even do so during the daytime meals (Mateh Ephraim 597:4; Ben Ish Ḥai, Year 1, Nitzavim §8).
Since everything we do on Rosh Ha-shana is an omen for the entire year, all should be joyful and confident that God will accept their repentance; all should be loving toward their friends and judge them favorably. One should not get angry at friends, argue with them, or speak badly of them. Apart from the prohibitions entailed by such things, they are bad omens for the upcoming year. (See MB 583:5.)
Since Rosh Ha-shana is a Yom Tov, it is a mitzva to be happy and to make others happy. Therefore, during the meals, everyone should try to make everyone present feel good. This, too, is a good omen for the whole year. (See n. 4 above; Peninei Halakha: Festivals 1:11.)
One should not sleep too much on Rosh Ha-shana, as our Sages tell us that if one sleeps on Rosh Ha-shana, his mazal – the angel charged with bringing him good fortune – will sleep all year (cited in the name of the Yerushalmi). Rather, in addition to the obligatory prayers and meals, it is appropriate to study as much Torah as possible. Nevertheless, one should not get too little sleep either, as this can disturb the ability to concentrate during prayer and study. Therefore, someone who is tired after the meal should sleep, to enable him to study properly. Some Torah greats slept on Rosh Ha-shana just as they did on other festivals (Maharam of Rothenburg). In any case, as we have seen (section 4), people should make sure to dedicate half the day to God; prayer and Torah study time should amount to at least nine hours per day.
Some avoid sleeping during the day, in hopes that this will lead to their being energetic and lively for the entire year (Rema 583:2; Mateh Ephraim). However, if someone sits around and wastes time, though awake, it is considered as if he is sleeping (MB 583:9). Most Aḥaronim, following Arizal, write that the main concern is not to sleep before midday (SAH ad loc. 8, AHS ad loc. 4; MB ad loc. 9; Kitzur Shulḥan Arukh 129:20). According to this custom, one should arise at dawn, or sunrise at the latest. If one is concerned that waking up so early will make it difficult for him to focus on prayer or to study properly, he may sleep until close to prayer time, for waking up early, though virtuous, is not as important as being focused when praying and studying Torah.
After Ma’ariv, people say to each other, “Le-shana tova tikatev[i] ve-teḥatem[i]” (“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year”; the bracketed parts are for addressing a woman). Some say that since the judgment is sealed on Yom Kippur, on Rosh Ha-shana one should simply say, “May you be inscribed for a good year” (Vilna Gaon). This greeting is said during the morning as well, but after midday it should no longer be used, as the primary time of judgment is over. It is enough to simply wish people a “shana tova” – a good year. If the person offering the greeting adds additional good wishes, one should reply in kind. One may also reply “same to you” (“ve-khen le-mar”).
Some do not say these greetings on the second day of Rosh Ha-shana, as the primary time of judgment is on the first day. However, most people continue to extend these greetings, as judgment is inscribed on the second day, too (MB 582:25). All these customs are legitimate.
There is a widespread custom to go to a body of water on the first day of Rosh Ha-shana and recite several verses, including “He will cover up our iniquities; You will hurl (tashlikh) all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micha 7:19). For this reason, the practice is referred to as Tashlikh. Over time, many communities added various other prayers and verses.
The custom of reciting Tashlikh began in the Rhineland – the heartland of Ashkenaz – during the medieval era. Over time, the custom spread to Sephardic communities as well, especially after Arizal praised it. However, there is no obligation to recite Tashlikh, and some Torah giants did not observe this custom (Vilna Gaon; R. Ḥayim of Volozhin). Most Yemenites do not say it either. Some Ḥasidim recite Tashlikh on a weekday following Rosh Ha-shana.
Various explanation for this custom are offered. Some say that it is meant to remind us of the dedication of our forefathers Avraham and Yitzḥak; when they were on their way to the Akeida, their path was suddenly blocked by floodwater, which they forded, passing the test (Maharil). Additionally, water symbolizes purity and life. When a person elevates himself through repentance, he is purified and cleansed. It is as if his sins are washed away in purifying waters. Furthermore, Tashlikh includes a petition to God to cast all the accusers created by our sins into the depth of the seas and never be recalled. Some people shake out their clothing when they recite Tashlikh, demonstrating that whatever sins they have committed are external to them, the result of evil influences that we are now shaking off.
Historically, most women did not recite Tashlikh. Some even say that it is preferable for them not to do so, in order to avoid the mingling of the sexes (Elef Ha-magen 598:7). Nevertheless, women who wish to participate may do so.
When there is no natural body of water nearby, it is customary to recite Tashlikh by a well or cistern. Where a sea or stream is visible, even at a distance, some recite it.
When Rosh Ha-shana is on Shabbat, we do not blow the shofar, as explained below (4:9-10).
Some say that if Rosh Ha-shana is on Shabbat we do not recite Avinu Malkeinu because it is inappropriate to pray on Shabbat for weekday needs, using a prayer that was originally instituted for fast days (Ran; Rema 584:1; Maharitz). In practice, Ashkenazim, Yemenites, and some Sephardim refrain from reciting it on Shabbat. Others, however, do recite it even on Shabbat (Tashbetz). Since Arizal also maintained that it should be recited even on Shabbat, this is the common custom among Sephardim. (Regarding Shabbat Shuva, see below 5:6-7.)
One must eat three meals. If it is difficult to have the third meal, whether because people are still full from the earlier meal, or because this third meal would be too close to the upcoming meal (supper of the second day), lunch can be split in two: People can wash their hands, eat a course or two, recite Birkat Ha-mazon, wait for half an hour (during which they can study Torah or take a walk), then wash again and have the second half of the meal. (See Peninei Halakha: Berakhot ch. 12 n. 2.)
When the first day of Rosh Ha-shana is on Shabbat, many of those who normally say Tashlikh on the first day delay its recitation until the second day (Rema 583:2; MB ad loc. 8; see Kaf Ha-ḥayimad loc. 30-34).