Rabbi Baruch Efrati
Rabbi Baruch EfratiCourtesy

Rosh Hashannah is the start of a spiritual journey for us.

At the beginning of the journey we turn our heads, face the right direction, define our aspirations - for a world of justice and heavenly ethics, led by the people of Israel. That is how we see the "head"- rosh - of the year. A day of harmonizing expectations with the goals of Torah.

After that, on Yom Kippur, we engage in introspection to see whether we are meeting the objectives we set on Rosh Hashannah, and in self-searching to decide how to correct the problems we meet on the way. That is Yom Kippur – a day that is the "heart" of the year. A day of sincerity, a day of preparation.

As a result of the meeting of goals and their implementation, between the head and the heart, the joy of the Sukkot holiday, relating to the body, is born.

A person is happy when his mission is clear and he manages to strive for it. That is the greatest happiness, the time of our rejoicing, the confidence in the justice of our way of life.

Laws of Rosh Hashannah

Erev Rosh Hashannah, 29th of Elul


-Slichot are said. Tachanun is said during slichot, but not in the Morning Prayer Service (Shacharit)

-Annulment of vows (Hatarat Nedarim) at the end of Shacharit, any three men can do the annulment, although a minyan is preferable

-Haircut and shave in preparation for the Day of Judgment

- Some immerse themselves in a mikvah in preparation, but a 3-4 minute shower can be substituted (this is not applicable for purposes of family purity ritual immersion)

-Donating to charity ("Charity saves from death")

-Visits to family gravesites and those of tzaddikim (righteous men)

The past year was a Shmitta year. Therefore, anyone who loaned money to another person and does not want the loan to be cancelled (Shmittat Kesafim) must sign a "Pruzbul" contract in front of two witnesses before Rosh Hashanah. It is recommended that everyone sign a Pruzbul, even if they do not recall lending money to anyone. The form for the contract can be found on the Israel Chief Rabbinate website.

The First Night of Rosh Hashannah

-One should refrain from wearing embroidered and silken garments on Rosh Hashannah as we do on other holidays, so that we experience the fear of judgment palpably (16). That is why the custom is to wear nice but simple, rather than elegant, clothing

-At candle-lighting, the blessing is said before lighting the candles as opposed to Shabbat, and it is "to light the holiday candles" (lehadlik ner shel yom tov). Ashkenazic women add the "Shehecheyanu" blessing as well before lighting, while most Sephardic women do not.

-It is important to leave a flame burning (for example, a long term yahrzeit candle) from which to kindle the candles for the second night. A gas burner may be lit using this light, since cooking on the holiday is permitted as long as the flame is transferred and not lit from scratch).

-In the evening prayer (Maariv) on the first night we begin to say the four additions the Silent Prayer (Shemone Esrei, Amida) added during the 10 Days of Repentance (Zochrenu lechaim, Mi kamocha av harachamim, Uchtov lechaim tovim, Besefer Hachaim) and we change the bracha "Ha-el Hakadosh" to "Hamelech Hakadosh." These additions are printed in the right places in every siddur, but we skip them during the rest of the year. After the holiday, when we say the weekday Silent Prayer, we also change the mishpat blessing to "Hamelech Hamishpat."

-If one forgets to say "Hamelech Hakadosh" and remembers after starting the next blessing of the Silent Prayer, he must return to the start of the prayer. If one forgets "Hamelech Hamishpat" or the other additions, he does not return to the beginning.

-In Kaddish, some say "le'ela ule'ela" instead of just "le'ela" and "oseh hashalom" instead of "oseh shalom". There are other additions to Kaddish practiced by different Jewish communities.

-At the end of the service, worshipers wish one another "Leshana Tova tikatev(i) vetechatem(i)" – May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year! There are those who say the same upon arriving home to each member of the family.

-Rabbi Kook would say "Chag Mevorach" – Have a blessed holiday – on Rosh Hashannah, instead of the usual "Chag Sameach" - Happy Holiday – because of the fear of judgment, based on the phrase "And tremble with joy". The commandment to be happy does apply to the New Year holiday, but festivity is expressed in special foods and melodies.

-One must be especially careful not to show anger on this day, and it is good to show love and affection for one's household and community.

-Blessings during Kiddush are in the following order: over wine (pri hagefen), over the holiness of the day (mekadesh) , and last, over the time (shehecheyanu)

-At the meal one partakes of the special symbolic foods for Rosh Hashannah (such as apple dipped in honey, carrots, beets, dates, etc), each household choosing the traditional foods customary in their family.

-It is customary to avoid eating sour foods and nuts.

-Those whose custom is to eat the symbolic foods during the meal, do not recite a blessing over the cooked vegetables because the hamotzi - blessing over bread - includes them, but do recite the blessing over dates (borei pri ha'etz – creator of the fruits of the tree) as fruits are not covered by the hamotzi blessing. Those whose custom is to partake of the symbolic foods before washing one's hands for bread, does recite the blessing for fruits and another for vegetables among the symbolic foods.

-In grace after meals, the Yaale Veyavo prayer, found in the regular grace but omitted during regular days, is said.

-It is of merit to study MishnaTractate Rosh Hashannah that night.

The first day of the holiday, 1 Tishrei

-The prayers are those for holidays. There are special Rosh Hashannah prayer books called Machzors and many shuls have copies for those who do not have one.

-No type of sound amplification is allowed, neither for the prayers or the shofar. It is forbidden to broadcast prayers or to watch them on applications such as Zoom during the holiday.

-It is forbidden to say "viduy" – the confession prayers – or to bring oneself to tears on the holiday, but it is allowed and even recommended to ponder teshuva – repentance.

-The main emphasis of Rosh Hashannah prayers is not our individual lives, but the future of our nation and of all of mankind. That is how the prayers are written, and that is the subject of the various piyutim (liturgical poems) in the holiday prayer book. The outlook is national and universal, and on this holiday we view our personal selves as part of the fabric of life and service of G-d.

-If there is another minyan outside the building, t is permitted to open a large, permanent sun umbrella in a yard in order to provide shade for worshipers (one who opens the umbrella slightly before the holiday begins is especially blessed).

Shofar blowing:

-After the haftarah is read, the "Lamenatzeach" chapter in Psalms is said 7 times,

-30 blasts are then sounded while standing – these are called "tekiot demeyushav" – blasts while seated – because if one does sit down, he has still performed the mitzvah.

-During the Mussaf service, there are another 30 blasts during the repetition of the Silent Prayer: 10 after the portion called Malchiot, 10 after the portion called Zichronot, 10 after the portion called Shofarot. These are called "tekiot demeumad" – blasts while standing. Some congregations blow the shofar during the Silent Prayer itself (at the end of those three portions).

-More shofar blasts are sounded after Kaddish Tiskabel, and some synagogues do shofar blasts before the Alenu prayer, and then a long blast at its end. Whatever the synagogue's custom is regarding how many blasts there are at each blowing and when they occur, there are 100-101 shofar blasts all told.

-Most opinions are that each "shevarim" and "truah" blast must last at least two seconds.

The tekia blast must be as long as what is between tekia blasts, i.e. if the set is tekia-shevarim-tekia, then the tekia is to be 2 seconds long, and if the set is tekia-shevarim-truah-tekia, then the tekia is to be 4 seconds long.

-Standing next to the person blowing the shofar, there is a "somech"- supporter – whose task is to announce the blasts in the proper order, and to check that they are "kosher" i.e. properly blown. The "somech" must study the halakhot of shofar blowing and the mistakes that can be made beforehand, as must the person blowing the shofar.

-It is forbidden to speak during the shofar blowing, from the first blast to the last of the 100 blasts We must hear the sound, think about G-d's rule over the world and of repenting for our sins. The shofar is a call to battle, the battle of man with the evil inside him, a battle that can reach the level of martyrdom as in the binding of Isaac. The shofar announces G-d's rule of the world and the good intrinsic in reality.

- It is incumbent on parents to supervise their children and ensure that silence is maintained during prayer and especially during shofar blowing.

-The halakhot of shofar blowing demand knowledge, attention and skill. The person who blows the shofar must prepare himself appropriately from before the holiday, to ensure that he can blow in a correct and kosher way.

-Someone who hears the shofar blasts and intended to fulfill the mitzvah while the person who blew the shofar intended to be the instrument of that fulfillment, has completed the required mitzvah – even if he is not inside the synagogue proper.

-An outside prayer group can blow the shofar in the parking lot under a building and those listening from porches have also fulfilled the mitzvah if they hear the blasts clearly.

-Women are not obligated to hear the shofar, but many of them are careful do so anyway.

-For someone who is ill, in isolation or in a difficult situation, and unable to hear all the shofar blasts in the proper order, hearing 30 blasts is sufficient.

-"It is customary not to sleep on the first day of Rosh Hashannah until after midday, and he who idles the time away is [also] considered someone who is asleep." (Rama and Baal Haturim)

-Following the afternoon service, it is customary to say the Tashlich prayer near a spring or place with accumulated water. Some Ashkenazim refrain from saying it.

The second day of Rosh Hashannah, 2 Tishrei

-We begin preparing for the second day from about 14 minutes after sunset. Reminder: Cooking on yom tov is permissible, as long as the flame used has been lit since before the holiday or transferred from a lit flame during the holiday.

-Candles are lit when the stars come out (once again, by transferring a lit flame). the Evening Prayer,, Maariv, for the second night is said, then Kiddush at home and a festive meal (some repeat the symbolic foods as on the first night).

-When lighting the candles and during Kiddush, it is customary to prepare a new utensil, garment or fruit we have not yet eaten this season (some use pomegranates or fresh figs) to have in mind when saying the "Shehecheyanu" blessing (as it is said on those occasions as well) on the second day.

-Shacharit, Torah reading and Mussaf are found in the machzor (holiday prayer book) under the heading the second day of Rosh Hashannah.In the afternoon, the holiday afternoon, mincha, service is said.

-It is of special merit to recite all of the Book of Psalms during the holiday.

-Since the weather is expected to be hot, we remind readers that hot showers are permitted on holidays.

-Maariv ending the holiday includes the extra additions for the Ten Days of Repentance.

-Havdala includes only the blessing of havdala itself and that said over wine.

-The Rama and Rabbenu Yona (of Gerona, Spain, author of The Gates of Repentance) said:

"Every human being must examine and search his actions and repent for them during the Ten Days of Repentance. A sin we are not sure we have committed requires more repentance than one we are sure we have committed because we regret the ones we are conscious of more than the ones we do not realize we have committed. That is why [in Temple times] the guilt offering was more expensive than the sin offering."

May G-d remember us for good things in the merit of our prayer and repentance.Shana Tova!

Rabbi Baruch Efrati studied at Merkaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem and serves 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 Religious Zionist rabbis.

Translated by Rochel Sylvetsky