Angela Mary Griffin: The High Holidays of Judaism


The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, commemorates the birth of the universe, the day God created Adam and Eve.

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Rosh Hashanah 2018 begins at sundown on September 9 and continues through nightfall on September 11. It is considered one long day of prayer, a time to ask the Almighty to grant a year of peace, prosperity and blessing. It is a day that reminds Jews that they are absolutely dependent upon God, a joyous day when Jews proclaim God King of the Universe.

The central observance of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn. The blowing of the shofar represents the trumpet blast that is sounded at a king’s coronation. Its mournful cry also serves as a call to repentance.

On the first afternoon of Rosh Hashanah (provided that it is not Shabbat), it is customary to go to a body of water and perform the Tashlich ceremony, in which sins are ceremonially cast into the water evoking the verse, “And You shall cast their sins into the depths of the sea.”

The Torah is read on both mornings of Rosh Hashanah. On the first day, the stories of Isaac’s birth and the subsequent banishment of Hagar and Ishmael are read. These readings are followed by the reading of the birth of the prophet Samuel. Both readings are about the prayer for a child being answered, and both of these births are reputed to have occurred on Rosh Hashanah.

On the second morning, the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac is read. The shofar blowing recalls the ram, which symbolizes Abraham’s devotion to God and God’s eternal love for His people.
Traditionally sweet foods are eaten to ask God for a year of sweet blessings, and bitter foods are avoided so as to not incur a bitter year. Celebrants might wish their friends and family a good, sweet New Year with the Hebrew words Shana Tova.

Yom Kippur, which occurs a week after Rosh Hashanah, September 19 in 2018, is considered by many Jews to be the holiest and most solemn day of the year. It is often called the Day of Repentance as it inspires introspection, prayer and petitions for forgiveness so that Jews can enter the New Year with a clean slate. This is one of Judaism’s fasting holidays, which begins at sundown and ends after nightfall the following day. The end of the fast is marked with a meal during which family and friends reconnect. The story of Jonah and the Whale is often shared as an example of how God grants forgiveness. Some Jews wear white on Yom Kippur to symbolize purity and to resemble the angels. Many attend synagogue on this day and the preceding evening.

Five days after Yom Kippur, Jews celebrate the joyous holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Sukkot is a seven-day festival (September 23rd to September 30th in 2018), also known as the Feast of Tabernacles.

It is one of the three pilgrimage festivals mentioned in the Bible. It is celebrated by the building of a sukkah, or temporary dwelling, outdoors to commemorate the shelter with which God provided their ancestors as they made their way out of Egypt. It is a time to be in nature and to eat of four different types of vegetation to express appreciation for God’s bounty.

The season of the High Holidays in Judaism is a time for reflection and spiritual growth, and it all begins with Rosh Hashanah.

The Peace is a place of many peoples and faiths. In this space, readers are invited to share their own reflections of faith in the Peace. If you have a story of faith you’d like to share, email

If you’d like to contribute articles about faith in our community, please email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at 

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