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August 29, 2003 - Image 80

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-08-29

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Something New

Getting ready for Rosh Hashanah.

AppleTree Editor


osh Hashanah is just weeks
away, and that means chil-
dren will start asking ques-
tions about the holiday.
Here are the answers to age-old ques-
tions (we asked them ourselves when
we were children) about why we do
what we do on our New Year, Rosh

Q: Why do we blow the shofar on
Rosh Hashanah?
A: The first time the shofar was blown
was when Moses climbed Mount Sinai
to receive, for the second time, the
Ten Commandments. The first time
he had done so, the Jews had built a
golden calf. This second time, Moses
blew the shofar to remind Jews that
they must not sin again.
The sound of the shofar was thus
used as a wake-up call, to remind Jews
of our responsibilities in observing
God's laws.
The custom of blowing a shofar in
the synagogue has its roots thousands
of years ago, when it was a ritual in
the Beit HaMikdash or Holy Temple.
Today, we blow the shofar not only
on Rosh Hashanah but throughout
the entire month of Elul (erev Rosh
Hashanah is the last day of Elul; the
first full day of the new year is on
Tishrei). This is a tradition that
harkens back to the Middle Ages. The
shofar is blown in the morning during
Elul as a reminder of the approaching
Days of Awe or, to put it in common
parlance, it's time to shape up, pal.

Q: Is Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur
the Day of Judgment?
A: Although most people believe that
Yom Kippur is the day on which they
are judged, according to the Talmud,
it is actually Rosh Hashanah when
God reviews all our actions of the past
That judgement is then finalized
and sealed on Yom Kippur.

Q: Why do some Jews wear a white
robe on Rosh Hashanah?
A: This white robe is called a kittel,
and, in Judaism, white is worn as a
symbol of purity and modesty (when
Jews die, for example, traditionally

they are wrapped in a white shroud,
to show humility as they go to stand
before God).
Isaiah 1:18 says: "Though your sins
be as scarlet [i.e., obvious], they shall
be as white as snow [after you have
repented]." Even the High Priest
would, on Yom Kippur, set aside his
ornate gold vestments and wear a
plain white gown when he entered the
Holy of Holies.
Most rabbis and cantors today wear
a kittel, as do many members of the
congregation (some may prefer to sim-
ply wear white clothing). A number of
synagogues also replace their usual
Torah cover with a special white one.

Q: Why do we eat honey on Rosh
A: Dipping apples, and challah, in
honey is a tradition more than 1,500
years old and reflects our desire for a
sweet new year. For obvious reasons,
it's also traditional not to eat sour
foods on the holiday, so don't be sur-
prised if your host doesn't offer you
horseradish with your gefilte fish at
the Rosh Hashanah table.
By the way, this is not the real rea-
son we eat honey cake on the New
Year. Honey cake, or lekach in
Hebrew, is a traditional Rosh
Hashanah food because of a concept
in the Book-of Proverbs: "For I give
you good doctrine, do not forsake my
teaching" God says. In Hebrew, lekach
means good doctrine" and it repre-
sents honey cake (literally, it's "por-
tion" and not "honey cake," but the
honey cake is served with the wish
that one should have a "goodly por-
tion" in the coming year.)

Q: Why do some people have a fish
head on the table on Rosh
A: Throughout history, Jews have
associated fish with being productive.
The head of a fish served at the new
year reflects our wish that we may
serve as a good example and be suc-
cessful in the coming year.
Unless you're from Iraq.
Whatever you do, don't offer fish to
Iraqi Jews. They typically avoid fish
on Rosh Hashanah because the
Hebrew word for fish is dag, which
sounds too much to them like daag,
the Hebrew word for "worry."

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