The Jewish New Year at Home

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Since Jewish holidays begin at sunset, most home rituals related to Rosh Hashanah take place in the evening. The central home ritual of this holiday consists of a special festive meal, during which families use their nicest china and place settings, much like on a Friday evening at the beginning of Shabbat. The holiday celebration begins with the lighting of candles (hadlakat nerot), symbolizing the transition from profane to sacred time, and the recitation of the blessing thanking God for enabling us to reach this season (shehecheyanu).

Next, one sanctifies the holiday by reciting the special kiddush (blessing over wine) for Rosh Hashanah. It is a custom to ensure that all family members and guests are able to participate by holding and drinking from their own cup of wine or grape juice. As with all other festivals, it is traditional to recite the shehecheyanu prayer again after the kiddush and before drinking.

Before partaking of the meal, one recites hamotzi, the blessing over bread. This is also a feature of Friday night Shabbat meals in which this blessing is made over challah, the traditional twisted egg loaves. However, because Rosh Hashanah celebrates the cyclical passage of time and the recurring progression of seasons and holidays, it is customary to make the blessing over round loaves of sweet raisin bread, symbolizing the circle of life and the revolving seasons. And because we want to ensure that the coming year will be a sweet one, filled with good and joyous experiences, the bread is sweetened by drizzling honey over the pieces of bread as one is about to eat.
Rosh Hashanah quizTo express the hope that it will be a sweet year, one of the most well-known and popular customs of Rosh Hashanah is to eat apples dipped in honey. Why? It is a tradition to eat a newly ripened fruit for the first time that season, and since Rosh Hashanah falls around the beginning of apple season, the apple has become that "first fruit." This provides us with the opportunity to recite the blessings both over the apple (bore pri ha'etz: who creates the fruit of the tree) as well as another shehecheyanu. And then, before eating the fruit dipped in honey, we ask God "to renew this year for us with sweetness and happiness."

After the meal, one recites the birkat hamazon, the "grace after meals," including all the special additions marking the festival of Rosh Hashanah. Since Rosh Hashanah is a two-day festival, all of the above rituals are repeated the second evening as well, except that there is a tradition among some people to use a different newly ripened fruit of the season, such as pomegranates. This is a popular Rosh Hashanah fruit for several reasons, first because it is mentioned as being one of the native fruits of the land of Israel (see Deuteronomy 8:8), and second, because there is a tradition that there are 613 of the juicy sweet seeds in each fruit, which corresponds to the number of commandments in the Torah. When eating a pomegranate, it is not necessary to dip it in honey since its seeds are sweet enough by themselves.

A festive meal with kiddush over wine and hamotzi over round loaves of raisin bread can also be enjoyed for lunch each day of Rosh Hashanah. At this time of year, one greets one's friends and family with the greeting "Shanah Tovah," which means "(May you enjoy) a good new year." Over the course of the last century or so it has become customary to send family and friends Rosh Hashanah greeting cards.

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