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Rosh HaShanah

Answer By: 
Rabbi Julie Zupan

Mazel tov – congratulations on your upcoming marriage!

Although Jewish weddings may take place on the days in between the Jewish High Holidays, it is generally discouraged because during that period, also known as the Days of Awe, we are focused on the solemn themes of the season. In addition, because this period is an especially busy time for rabbis and cantors, you will be more limited in your options for clergy-officiants.

At the same time, some people consider the four days between Yom Kippur and the start of Sukkot to be especially auspicious days for a wedding because the wedding partners will have just experienced a period of deep reflection.  

Regardless of when during the year you decide to marry, check out these resources to plan a Jewish wedding.

Wishing you every joy and blessing!

young women giving holiday hugs

On Rosh HaShanah, we can say “Shanah tovah um’tukah,” which means “May you have a good and sweet new year.” The greeting can be shortened to “Shanah tovah” (“A good year”). The more formal expression is “L’shanah tovah tikateivu v’teichateimu”, which means “A good year, and may you be inscribed and sealed (for blessing in the Book of Life).”

You may hear people say “Chag sameach” (“Happy holiday”), but strictly speaking, chag sameach is used only on the three pilgrimage festivals: Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot.  

Another traditional greeting for both Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur is a Yiddish greeting, “Gut yontif,” which means “Wishing you a good holiday.”

Special greetings on Yom Kippur include “G’mar chatima tovah,” which means, “May you be inscribed (or sealed) for good [in the Book of Life],” and “tzom kal,” which is used to wish others an “easy fast.”  

You can learn more about terms to use during the High Holidays in the ReformJudaism.org glossary.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Daniel B. Syme

Traditional Jews make a point of visiting the graves of loved ones during the month of Elul just prior to the onset of the High Holidays, on the day before Rosh HaShanah, or the day before Yom Kippur. Many Jews also visit the cemetery on the loved one’s birthday, an anniversary, or a special personal day. Visitations to the cemetery are not made on Shabbat or Jewish festival holidays.

Jewish tradition discourages excessive mourning and constant cemetery visitations, especially if it becomes an impediment to a return to life. Jeremiah 22:10 proclaims: "Weep ye not [too much] for the dead." Wisely, though, Jewish practice provides for a regular, structured, communal expression of reminiscence, through yahrzeit and Yizkor.

Source: Rabbi Daniel B. Syme, The Jewish Home: A Guide for Jewish Living (URJ Press, 2004)

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor Appell

There are many explanations for this custom. Some see the round shape as a reflection of the continuing cycle of years and seasons. Another interpretation is that the round challah resembles a crown, symbolizing the sovereignty of God.  At a time of year when our thoughts turn to repentance and resolutions of self-improvement, the round challah reminds us that the opportunity for teshuvah, return, is never-ending.

Answer By: 
Mark Washofsky

The answer is: one, mostly. That is, most Reform congregations in North America celebrate Rosh HaShanah for one day. On the other hand, some North American Reform congregations, along with Progressive Jews in Israel and elsewhere, follow the traditional two-day observance of the New Year.     

Why? Let’s begin with Leviticus, chapter 23, where we find a detailed calendar of the Jewish festival year. The text instructs us to “declare” each festival on a specific day of a specific month (verse 4). For example, the festival that we today call Rosh HaShanah occurs on the first day of the seventh month, which we now call Tishrei (vss. 23-25). In ancient times, the beginning of each month was determined through eyewitness testimony (Mishnah, Rosh HaShanah, chapters 1-2). Witnesses would testify before the beit din (the Rabbinic Court in Jerusalem) that they had seen the new moon. The Court would announce that a new month had begun. Unfortunately, communications being much slower back then, news of the Court’s announcement could not reach distant communities prior to the onset of that month’s festivals – for example, Sukkot, which begins on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Leviticus 23:34). If these communities did not know the date of Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the month, how could they count the fifteen days to proper date of the festival?

The solution was a practical one. Since the new moon can appear either 29 or 30 days after the beginning of the previous month, the distant communities began to count fifteen days from both of the days on which Rosh Chodesh might occur and to observe both of those days as the festival day of Sukkot out of “doubt” (misafek) as to which day was really the proper date. They did the same with other festivals in other months. This custom (yom tov sheni, the “second festival day”) has remained in effect in traditional Diaspora Jewish communities. In the land of Israel, by contrast, where news of the Court’s new moon announcement could reach the community prior to the onset of the festivals, the festival days remained a one-day observance.

Rosh HaShanah, for reasons too detailed to go into here, is an exception to the above. It is nowadays observed for two days in the land of Israel, as well as in the Diaspora.

The Reform Movement, from its beginnings in the 19th century, reinstated the Biblical standard of observing each festival day, including Rosh HaShanah, as one day. Since we no longer rely upon the eyewitness system for determining the calendar, the reasons given for maintaining the “second festival day” (Talmud, Beitzah 4b) are no longer compelling for us. Yet as mentioned above, some Reform congregations in North America have chosen to observe Rosh HaShanah for two days for a number of reasons, such as the desire to recover the traditional observance or to be in solidarity with our fellow Jews in the land of Israel and all over the world. It’s a very good example of the pluralism and the variety of Jewish life in the Reform Jewish community.

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