Happy New Year! Rosh Hashanah is a Jewish holiday observed on the first and second days of the month of Tishrei on the Jewish calendar.

This year, in 2011, Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Wednesday, September 28 and will be celebrated on Thursday, September 29 and Friday, September 30.

On the Jewish calendar, these days mark the new year 5772. Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year” or “first of the year.”

While nonreligious December 31 New Year’s celebrations are often marked by energetic parties, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated quite differently. That’s because it’s considered one of the holiest days of the Jewish year.

The celebration of Rosh Hashanah features many layers. The Torah (the holy book of Judaism) refers to Rosh Hashanah as both Yom Ha-Zikkaron (“the day of remembrance”) and Yom Teruah (“a day of shofar blowing”).

Many of the rituals of Rosh Hashanah take place in a synagogue, which is a Jewish place of worship. One of these rituals is the blowing of the shofar, a ram’s horn trumpet.

A hundred notes are played in a special rhythm at the beginning of Rosh Hashanah. The sounding of the shofar begins a 10-day period (commonly called the “High Holy Days”) that ends with the festival of Yom Kippur.

Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world. It is also a holy day of judgment when Jews reflect on their actions over the course of the past year and make plans for changes to be made in the coming new year.

To the extent that these changes are resolutions, Rosh Hashanah does have at least one thing in common with nonreligious New Year’s celebrations.

Over the years, many traditions have developed around Rosh Hashanah. One of these is to feature sweet foods as a symbol of the hope for a sweet new year to come. Many children — and adults! — look forward to sliced apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah.

Challah bread is also dipped in honey at meals. Instead of its usual braided shape, though, the challah bread at Rosh Hashanah is baked in the shape of a circle to symbolize the hope that the new year will roll smoothly without unhappiness or sorrow.

Another tradition many Jews observe during Rosh Hashanah is eating pomegranates. Many people believe the legend that pomegranates have 613 seeds, one for each of the commandments Jews are obliged to keep according to the Torah.


28 Join the Discussion

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  1. We learned a lot of new things today!! We had always seen “Rosh Hashanah” and “Yom Kippur” on calendars but never knew what they meant. Now we know! :)

    We also noticed that the video was a Jewish Sesame Street program and connected it to the show we have all seen.

    We wondered… If it is the year 5772 for Jews, how do they write the date and how do they keep up with what year it is? Also, we wondered if Jewish people have the same number of days per year that we do… Does it always fall on September 28-29? We have some research we will have to do today in Social Studies! :)

    We all have made New Year’s resolutions! We all shared some of our resolutions for this school year. We mentioned goals for playing sports, learning cursive, going on fieldtrips, winning trophies for different things, and most importantly to be a great student! :)

    • WOW! You guys DID learn a lot today, Kerrick Elementary School! That makes us VERY happy! Please let us know the interesting facts you find out from your Social Studies research…we can’t wait to learn some new things from YOU! :-)

    • Thanks for letting us know what you thought about today’s Wonder of the Day®, Mallorie! We like cheese, too! Can you guess what tomorrow’s Wonder might be about?

    • Hi, Cherigurl555! Thanks so much for leaving us this great comment! You can tell us your ideas for new Wonders or submit your own Wonders of the Day anytime you feel like it! All you have to do is click on the “nominate” link at the top of every page in Wonderopolis. It’s simple and easy…and FUN! We can’t wait to see and hear what you’re WONDERing about! :-)

  2. Umm, cool, but the only reason i don’t like this is that I have to a huge paper on it :( Oh well, I’m sure everyone enjoyed the article as much as i did, and hope they don’t have a paper on it :)

    • Hi, Worker! Learning new things makes us smarter! We’re so glad you visited Wonderopolis and chose this Wonder to help you with your school assignment. We know you will do GREAT on your paper! :-)

    • We’re so happy to hear that you love visiting Wonderopolis and that you’re going to visit us every day, Plumdude! Thanks for leaving us such a nice comment! :-)

  3. I read this WONDER about Rosh Hashanah and the one about Yom Kippur and just wanted to thank you for making our Jewish holidays more widely known. Your first sentence in this WONDER is “Happy Rosh Hashanah.” Would you like to know how to say that in Hebrew? You would say to a Jewish person, “Shanah Tovah!” and they say the same back to you–wishing you a happy new year as well!

    • We really like learning new things from you, Bethany! Thank you for visiting Wonderopolis today and sharing your knowledge of Rosh Hashanah with all of your Wonder Friends! :-)

  4. I’m Jewish, so I knew most of this. But it was really fun reading more about it! I didn’t know about this Wonder. So I was veeerrryyy interested in it when I found it!!

    • Hi again, Annie! We like learning about our WONDERful Wonder Friends…thanks for sharing a little bit more about yourself today! We appreciate you letting us know that you had some great background knowledge about Rosh Hashanah before you explored this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  5. Hey Wonderopolis. This is amazing. I spent two years studying Jewish customs and laws. From the time of the Old Testament until now, the Jewish customs are amazing. I was studying last week about the Purim. Excellent story of Esther who saved her people from the slaughter of Haman. Powerful.
    I love this site because it really educates people and makes them want to learn more and more. Thank you Wonderopolis!! Excellent topic!!

    • WOW, what an exciting and interesting two years you must have experienced, Jeff! We love your comments and interest in our Wonders– thank you for adding to the AWESOME world of curiosity! We are so happy to have you as a Wonder Friend! Have a SUPER day– thanks for your comments! :)

  6. Thanks for the wonderful article. Rosh Hashanah is a holiday filled with hope for the New Year. Jews believe that God is compassionate and just, and that God will accept their prayers for forgiveness.


    • Thanks for sharing your comment today, Wonder Friend! We love to learn about how various cultures, families and friends celebrate holidays together! It’s fun to Wonder about the different holidays’ meanings, and why we celebrate with old and new traditions! Have a terrific Thursday! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is Rosh Hashanah?
  • What is a shofar?
  • Why are apples dipped in honey eaten during Rosh Hashanah?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to make some resolutions? You don’t have to be Jewish to celebrate Rosh Hashanah by taking a look back over the past year.

What good things have you done? Are there things that you’ve done that you regret? What changes would you like to make in the year ahead?

You don’t have to wait for January 1 to make resolutions to make your life better. If you’re near the beginning of a new school year, think about how you can make this the best year of school ever.

Set goals for yourself. Write them down. Work hard to achieve them.

If you want to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in a musical way, make your own shofar that you can blow to announce the beginning of Rosh Hashanah!


Still Wondering

Visit Smithsonian’s History Explorer to learn more about the shofar, an ancient musical instrument usually made from a ram’s horn that is sounded many times during traditional Rosh Hashanah services.


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