Rabbi Baruch Efrati
Rabbi Baruch Efrati Courtesy

Rosh Hashanah is the start of a spiritual journey for each of us.

At the start of the journey we turn our heads to face in the right direction, define our goals and aspirations – tikun olam under G-d's rule, a world of justice and G-dly ethics led by the Jewish people. That is the "head" of the year, a day of defining expectations with regard to the goals of the Torah.

After that, on Yom Kippur, we examine whether we are living up to the goals we set on Rosh Hashanah, engage in introspection so as to be prepared for problems we may meet on the way. That is Yom Kippur – the "heart" of the year, a day of honesty, integrity, preparation.

As result of connecting the heart with the head, our goals with our achievements, we can attain the joy of the Sukkot holiday.

Man is happy when his goals are clear, when he lives up to them. The joy of the holiday lies in knowing that he is on the right path.


Note: It is forbidden to broadcast holiday prayers or family meals on zoom even if the zoom meeting is ready from before the holiday.

Note: Israel's Chief Rabbinate and other Rabbinates, such as Melbourne's, have issued letters to that effect.


1.Erev Rosh Hashanah, Elul 29

The day's customs include

-Slichot (tachanun is said in slichot, but not in the Shacharit service itself)

-The 'cancelling of vows' (hatarat nedarim) at the end of the Shacharit service, a procedure that can be done by any three people, although a minyan is preferable.

-Cutting one's hair and shaving in preparation for Judgment Day

This year, due to the coronavirus, immersion in a mikvah (ritual bath) must be done according to health ministry rules. Any mikvah. spring or bathing area about which there is the slightest suspicion that those rules are not stringently followed, must not be entered into, and it is far better to forego immersion. A 3-4 minute shower instead of the mikvah is acceptable (but not in the case of a woman's immersion for family purity – post nidda)

Donating to charity – "charity saves from death"-

-Visiting the cemetery at graves of parents and tzaddikim (in accordance with lockdown rules only)

2. First night of Rosh Hashanah:

"One should not wear embroidered and silken clothing on Rosh Hashanah as on other holidays, in order to feel the fear of judgment." That is why it is the custom to dress simply and nicely, rather than elegantly.

-The blessing over the candles the first night this year is "lehadlik ner shel Shabbat veYom Tov" and women of Ashkenazic extraction add "Shehecheyanu," both blessings recited before lighting the candles. Most Sephardi (Mizrahi) women do not say the Shehecheyanu blessing.

-A long-lasting candle whose flame will last until the following night when Shabbat is over should also be lit so that it can be used to light the candles of the second night and if needed, for the rest of the holiday. On Shabbat, as we know, it is forbidden to kindle fires or cook, but on Yom Tov one may do so if there is an already burning light that can be used to light a match or kindle another fire.

-During the Evening Service, Maariv, we begin to add the four phrases said during the Ten Days of Repentance:

"Zachrenu Lechayim"

"Mi Kamocha Av Harachamim"

"Uchtov lechayim tovim"

"Besefer Hachayim."

The closing words of the "E-l Hakadosh" blessing are changed to "Hamelech Hakadosh." (Note: On the weekdays of the days of repentance we say "Hamelech Hamishpat" instead.)

-If one forgets to say "Hamelech Hakadosh" and has already begun the next blessing, one must go back to the beginning of the Silent Prayer. If one forgets "Hamelech Hamishpat" during the week, and remembers at some point while saying the Silent Prayer, he does not go back to say it. (That is the halakha for the other additions as well).

-In the Kaddish, we say "le\elah ul'elah mikol" instead of "le'elah min" and "ve'oseh ha-shalom" instead of "oseh shalom". There are other customs during Kaddish that different eidot (Jewish ethnic groups) say.

-This year the first night of the holiday is on Shabbat, so we say "zichron teruah" – remembering the shofar blowing - during the services and add the special phrases and sentences for Rosh Hashanah that falls on Shabbat.

-After the prayer service, we bless one another with the words "May you be set down and inscribed for a good New Year."

-On Rosh Hashanah, Rav Kook's custom was to say "have a blessed holiday" (chag mevorach) and not "have a happy holiday" (chag sameach) because of the fear of judgment, as the verse says; "and rejoice in trembling."

-The commandment to rejoice, however, does pertain to the holiday and is expressed in special foods and singing.

-One must be especially careful not to be angry on the holiday, and it is advisable to show love and affection to one's family and community.

-Kiddush: The order of the Kiddush prayer is in the machzor (the special Rosh Hashanah prayer book) and begins with the blessing over wine, then Kiddush, then shehecheyanu (alluding to the occasion). Take care to add the words in parentheses for Shabbat.

-During the meal, it is customary to eat special symbolic foods - which vary from family to family. It was customary to refrain from eating sour or sharp-tasting foods as well as nuts. Those who eat the symbolic foods during the meal should not make the blessing for vegetables (boreh pri ha'adama) if they have already washed and said the blessing for bread, but do recite the blessing for fruits if they eat dates (boreh pri haetz). Those who eat the symbolic foods before washing the hands for bread recite both the blessing for fruit and the one for vegetables.

-During Grace after Meals, the "retze" prayer for Shabbat and "yaaleh veyavo" for the holiday are said.

-After the meal, it is fitting to study the Mishnaic Tractate Rosh Hashanah.

3. The first day of Rosh Hashanah, Shabbat, Tishrei 1

-Prayers for Shabbat and holidays are found in the Machzor

Be very careful not to exceed Health Ministry rules for the number of worshipers allowed in synagogues and outside in the open air. Make sure to wear a mask.

These are halakhic obligations not just legal ones.

-Microphones and amplifiers of all kinds are prohibited, whether for the sound of the shofar or the prayers in synagogue.

-This year, the shofar will not be blown on the first day of the holiday as it falls on Shabbat.

-It is forbidden to say the "vidduy" (confession) prayer on Rosh Hashanah, or to weep, but one may – actually, one should - contemplate repentance.

Rosh Hashanah services are not short and since this year we are dealing with the coronavirus, it is necessary to take into account the fact that many prayer groups will be praying outside in the hot sun and find it a difficult experience. The gabbaim (sextons) must discuss this with the community or congregational rabbi and agree on which prayers (liturgical poems) to skip if there is no other choice. The Reader's repetition of the Silent Prayer must not be skipped, nor the parts of the service that are obligatory.

-It is permissible to open a standing umbrella that was placed in a yard for shade (it is best to open it a bit before Shabbat).

-"It is the custom to refrain from sleep until midday on the first day of Rosh Hashanah - and wasting time is considered sleeping (Rama and Bah"t)"

-After the afternoon service, Mincha, we say the "tashlich" prayer near a body of water or spring. Some Ashkenazim wait for the second day of Rosh Hashanah this year because of Shabbat, and some do not say it any year.

4. The Second Day of Rosh Hashanah, Tishrei 2

-Preparations for the second day may begin only after the stars are out, and one may cook only if using a flame kindled from a lit source.

--Candle lighting is done from when the stars come out (reminder: do not strike a match, use the fire from a burning flame or candle to light the match or candles).

-The Evening, Maariv, Service includes the "vatodienu" prayer within the Silent Prayer.

-Kiddush recited at home includes havdala (Borei meorei ha'esh blessing) and "hamavdil bein kodesh lekodesh"), followed by a holiday meal. Some repeat the symbolic foods.

-One should try to wear a new garment or have a new fruit on the table - and have it in mind when saying "Shehecheyanu" at candle-lighting the second night.

5. Morning Service (Shacharit), Torah Reading and Additional Service (Mussaf) – 2nd day:

Shofar blowing:

-After the Haftora, the "lamenatseach" prayer is said seven times, followed by 30 blasts while standing, called the "seated blasts" because if someone does sit, he has fulfilled the obligation anyway.

-During the repetition of the silent Mussaf prayer, there are another 30 blasts (10 for the prayer called malchuyot, 10 for zichronot, 10 for shofarot) sounded. These are called the "standing blasts". There are those who blow the shofar at those three points during the silent prayer itself.

-The shofar is sounded after Kaddish Titkabel, and some congregations sound the shofar before the Alenu prayer and afterwards. The total number of blasts is 100-101. There are various customs concerning when to blow during the service and how many blasts each time. Each ethnic Jewish group acts according to its customs.

- How long is each blast supposed to be? Most opinions state that the shvarim (3 short sounds) and truah (broken shorter sounds) blasts must last at least two seconds each, and that the length of the unbroken tekia blast depends on the time it takes for the blasts sounded between two tekia blasts, that is either 2 seconds (if shvarim or trua is between tekia blasts) or 4 seconds (if both shvarim and trua are sounded between them).

-A worshiper called the "somech" (supporter) whose task is to call out the blasts in the correct order, stands next to the shofar blower. He also makes sure the blasts are "kosher," so he is obligated to study the many laws pertaining to shofar blowing and the possible errors that can occur – just as if he were to blow the shofar himself.

-During shofar blowing it is forbidden to speak, and one must concentrate on the blasts, contemplating repentance for sins. The shofar calls out for war, for man's war against the evil impulse, a war that calls for sacrifices equivalent to the binding of Isaac. The shofar proclaims G-d's rule and the existing potential for good.

-Attention must be paid to small children to be sure they do not make noise during prayers and especially not during shofar blowing.

-The laws pertaining to blowing the shofar demand skill born of practice, knowledge and intention. He who blows the shofar must prepare himself suitably from before the holiday, so that he is able to blow the shofar in the correct and kosher manner.

- If someone hears the shofar blowing with the intent to fulfill his obligation to do so, and if concurrently, the shofar blower intends to carry out the listener's obligation, the mitzvah has been performed fully. This is the case even if he is not inside the synagogue. At an outdoors minyan, if there is no choice, one can blow the shofar in the building's parking area, and if those listening from their porches hear it well, they have fulfilled the mitzvah.

-Women do not have to hear the shofar, but many make the effort to do so.

-It is sufficient to hear the main 30 blasts if someone is ill, in isolation, or in a state of emergency, and is unable to hear all the blasts.

-If the person blowing the shofar is healthy and strong, he can stand at some distance from the congregation and blow the shofar without covering the opening for fear of droplets emitted from the opening that might carry the coronavirus from his mouth.

-If he is blowing the shofar in a place with people considered in danger if they contract the virus, the elderly and ill etc., the shofar blower is allowed to place an ordinary thin mask on the upper opening of the shofar (from which the sound emerges). He should make sure the sound of the shofar is the same with the mask and without it before blowing in that manner.

6. The Afternoon Service (Mincha) is that said on a holiday.

-It is recommended that one read the entire Book of Psalms over the holiday.

-Due to the expected heat wave, remember that one is allowed to take a hot shower on the holiday.

-Evening Service (Maariv) includes the extra additions for the Ten Days of Repentance.

At the holiday's end, the havdala blessing is followed only by the blessing over wine

"Each person must examine his deeds and repent during the Ten Days of Repentance and a sin which he is not sure he committed needs more repentance than one he is sure about, because when one is certain a sin has been committed one is naturally more repentant than one is when unsure. That is why the offering for a possible sin is more expensive than that of a sin offering." (Rama and Rabeini Yona)

May the merit of our prayers and repentance cause Hashem to remember us for a good, happy and healthy year.

Rabbi Baruch Efrati studied in Merkaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem and served as a rabbi in Efrat. He is a prolific and much-read writer on Torah issues and heads the "Derech Emunah" (Way of Torah) movement of young Israeli Zionist Orthodox rabbis.

(Translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky)