The High Holidays are coming up soon! Here's a quick FAQ on what the Days of Awe are all about:
When are the High Holidays in 2009 (5770)?
Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Friday, September 18 and ends at nightfall on Sunday, September 20. The Jewish New Year is celebrated on September 19 and, for Conservative and Orthodox Jews, also on September 20.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins at sundown on Sunday, September 27 and ends at nightfall on Monday, September 28 and is observed for one day by all Jewish denominations.
The Jewish holidays are based on a lunar calendar, so their dates vary each year on the Gregorian calendar.
What is Rosh Hashanah?
Rosh Hashanah (literally, head of the year) is the Jewish New Year. It is one of the Days of Awe, during which Jews go to synagogue to reflect on the past year and think about how they would like to improve themselves the next year. Part of this process is apologizing to the people you have wronged last year--this is the origin of Stephen Colbert's OOPS-JEW hotline!
During the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, Jews often perform the ceremony of Tashlikh (Hebrew for "casting off"): they throw bits of bread into a flowing body of water to symbolize casting off last year's sins.
Jews often send Rosh Hashanah cards with the Hebrew greeting L'Shanah Tovah (literally, "for a good year") to wish family and friends a good year.
Because the Days of Awe span 10 days, there is always at least one Shabbat (from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This is called Shabbat Shuvah, or the Sabbath of Return, meaning that Jews should return to G-d and the principles of the Torah (the Hebrew Bible).
What is the shofar?
The shofar is a ram's horn that is played as a musical instrument to awaken people to the new year. In fact, the Hebrew Bible calls the holiday not Rosh Hashanah, but Yom Teruah, the day for sounding the shofar.
What do Jews eat on Rosh Hashanah?
Apples, challah bread, and honey are traditional Rosh Hashanah foods. Jews often dip apple or challah slices in honey to symbolize a wish for a sweet new year. Special round challah is often made for the new year, symbolizing the circle or cycle of the year.
What is Yom Kippur?
Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement, one of the High Holy Days. It is traditional to pray in a synagogue to atone for last year's sins. Typically services start in the morning and last until the early afternoon. Jews may then take a nap or participate in discussions about Jewish teachings, then evening services conclude the day. Jews often fast as a sacrifice symbolizing their atonement and attempts at self-improvement, but because Judaism values health above all else, fasting is not encouraged if medically inadvisable. Some Jewish people also refrain from wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur, so as not to tread on the cow from which the leather came.
When does Yom Kippur end?
Yom Kippur ends at nightfall on Monday, September 28. At this time, hungry Jews have a break-the-fast gathering with their family and friends!