Despite the fact that Tishrei is referred to in the Torah as the seventh month (the first being the month of Nissan) Rosh Hashanah represents the start of the new year for many Jewish cycles including the 7-year shmitah (agricultural sabbatical), and 50 year Jubilee.
Rosh Hashanah is the only festive holiday celebrated for two consecutive days in the Land of Israel. During the two days, Jews in Israel and abroad will spend the majority of their time in community synagogues, engulfed in prayer and repentance.
In Jewish tradition, the Rosh Hashanah festival traditionally celebrates the yearly re-coronation of G-d of as the King of the world, with the Jewish people re-establishing their role as the King's loyal servants.
The first day of the month of Tishrei is associated with the anniversary of the sixth day of the world's creation, the day on which Adam, the first man was created. Rosh Hashanah also begins the Ten Days of Repentance which culminate with Yom Kippur.
One of the most important aspects of the traditional service include the blowing of the Shofar, or ram's horn. The sounds of the shofar represent crying, and are intended to bring each individual toward deep introspection and repentance.
Yet, the Jewish New Year unlike Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, includes festive meals as a central component of the Holy Day. Honey and apples, which now are in season in Israel, symbolize the hope and traditional Rosh Hashanah greeting for a Shana Tova U'Metukah, or a sweet new year.
Rosh Hashanah traditions include eating certain foods that are considered as good signs, or omens. The Talmud teaches (in the name of Rabbi Abaye), "Now that you have said that an omen is significant, at the beginning of each year, each person should accustom himself to eat gourds, fenugreek [an herb], leeks, beets and dates."
The foods are considered reminders to a person that receiving good things is dependent on his doing good deeds, on which he is judged on the new year, which also is called the Day of Judgment.
Before eating each food, the tradition is to say, "May it be Your will, our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers," and then complete the phrase according to each food. For apples, which one dips in honey, the phrase is, "May You renew us for a good and sweet year."
Israeli grown pomegranates are very popular on the holiday, as some say their sweet and plentiful seeds number 613, the same number of mitzvoth listed in the Torah according to the sage Maimonides.
For pomegranates, the phrase is, "May it be Your will...that our merits increase as the seeds of the pomegranate."
Many of the foods traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah have been selected based on puns of their Hebrew names. Beets, named 'selek" in Hebrew, share the root of the word "to get rid" of something. On beets, one says, "May it be Your...will that our adversaries be removed."
On fish, the phrase is "May it be Your will...that we be fruitful and multiply like fish." The head of a fish, or of a sheep, often is served with the expression, "May it be Your will that we be as the head and not as the tail."