Rosh Hashanah Fun Facts
By Amy Lansky (CJC Ritual Chair)
Note: This article was written for Rosh Hashanah in 2013.
What? It’s Rosh Hashanah already ? You aren’t imagining things if you think that it feels a bit early for the Jewish New Year. The fact is, September 5 is the earliest possible date that Rosh Hashanah can occur (the last time this happened was in 1899), and it will never occur this early again! Because of various differences between the Hebrew calendar and the Gregorian calendar, after 2089, the new earliest date will become September 6.
You may have also noticed that the traditional two-day Jewish celebrations (two days of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning two days of Sukkot, etc.) always occur either on: Saturday/Sunday; Monday/Tuesday; Tuesday/Wednesday; or Thursday/Friday. That means that the first full day of Rosh Hashanah never occurs on Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday.
Our ancestors were very clever when they designed things this way. This schedule avoids conflicts between Havdalah (the ending of Shabbat) and Erev Rosh Hashanah; Erev Shabbat with the end of Yom Kippur; and Erev Shabbat with the end of Rosh Hashanah. You see, Shabbat pretty much takes precedence over everything; Shabbat really is the most important of Jewish holidays. Yom Kippur is the only rival — sometimes being called “Shabbat Shabbatot” — the sabbath of sabbaths.
In the Torah, Rosh Hashanah is only designated as a one-day celebration, and it is observed that way by us at CJC, in Israel, in Reform synagogues, and by Karaite Jews. In the diaspora, however, other Jewish denominations celebrate Rosh Hashanah with two full days. The origin of the two-day celebration is found in the oral law, after the destruction of the second temple. The rationale is that it is sometimes hard to determine the exact day of the new moon. By celebrating for two days, we keep our bases covered. How typically Jewish!
Actually, the name “Rosh Hashanah” doesn’t even appear in the Torah, which instead associates the holiday with the blowing of the shofar (Yom Teru’ah) — probably because of its significance in heralding the imminence of Yom Kippur. The actual types of shofar blasts are even mentioned in the Torah: Teki’ah (long sound) Numbers 10:3; Shevarim (3 broken sounds) Numbers 10:5; and Teru’ah (9 short sounds) Numbers 10:9.
So get your Shofars out and start practicing! Rosh Hashanah will be here before you know it!