Faith Forum: Why is Rosh Hashana considered the Jewish New Year?

David Berkowitz, past president, the Lawrence Jewish Community Center, 917 Highland Drive:

In Hebrew, “Rosh Hashana” literally means “head of the year,” which, of course, would indicate the New Year.

Interestingly enough, however, on the Hebrew calendar, a lunar calendar with an extra month added periodically to prevent a drift from the seasons, Rosh Hashana does not fall on the first day of the month, but the first day of the seventh month. Therefore, in a sense, Rosh Hashana is not the New Year of the beginning of the Hebrew calendar.

Tradition holds that Rosh Hashana is the anniversary or the birthday of the world, which was created 5,771 years ago. While some orthodox may believe this, the overwhelming majority of the Jews do not and, in fact, accept scientific explanations of the Big Bang theory, along with evolution. So, if Rosh Hashana is not the actual start of the Hebrew year and in reality is not the anniversary of the birth of the world, why should it be considered the Jewish New Year?

The real reason is that Rosh Hashana is the beginning of a period that is known as the Ten Days of Repentance, which concludes with Yom Kippur (the day of atonement). There is a tradition that states that God enters judgment upon each individual on Rosh Hashana, but does not seal it until Yom Kippur. During this period, prayer, sincere repentance and acts of loving-kindness may change an evil decree. This is a period where every Jew attempts to gain forgiveness for the sins against one’s fellow humans as well as those against God. Trusting in the mercy and forgiveness of God, we resolve to do better in the coming year. In this sense, Rosh Hashana is indeed the Jewish New Year.

— Send e-mail to David Berkowitz at

Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, Chabad Jewish Center, 1203 W. 19th St.:

Leather seats, user-friendly ticketing, signature blue chips and 16-channel satellite TV make the airlines known as JetBlue. Before takeoff, their TV screens flash, “Thank you for flying with us. Without you, we’d just be flying a bunch of TVs around the sky.”

During the six days of creation, from day one to day six, the one in the sky was, as it were, feeling low about the earth (and the sky) he was creating. Everything was working in perfect symmetry; it was all faultlessly first-class. But ...

He then created man on day six. It took Adam and Eve to take it all in and recognize that “there is symmetry here, and with symmetry comes purpose. A purpose encompassing everything but encompassed by nothing. Behind a purpose is a planner — and that planner is all that is important. And we will call him. Let’s call him God.”

This is the day which we call Rosh Hashana. It is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve exactly 5,771 years ago, on the sixth day of creation.

Although it is the sixth day of creation, it is still considered each year as the first day of the New Year, since this was the first day of anything that really counts — recognition of purpose. The whole purpose of the universe is man’s existence — that we may make use of all of creation and our God-given abilities to transform the corporeal world into a divine domain for God.

On this day each year, we become grateful that an almighty creator has imbued tiny, miserable us with purpose, and we thank him for it. And somewhere up above the skies, he, too, wishes a sweet year with high resolution. He says something like, “Thank you. Without you, I’d just be flying a bunch of monitors above the skies.”

— Send e-mail to Zalman Tiechtel at


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