Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, marking the year 5764, begins Sept. 26 at sundown. The Jewish High Holidays (or High Holy Days), the 10 days starting with Rosh Hashana and ending with Yom Kippur, are known as the Days of Awe or the Days of Repentance. This is an introspective time, when Jews consider the sins of the previous year and repent before Yom Kippur.
This year, Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, starts on the evening of Sept. 26. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins on the evening of Oct. 5. Each lasts 24 hours, from sunset to sunset. (Want to find out why Jewish holidays don’t fall on the same date each year? Learn about the Hebrew calendar)
Rosh Hashana is the beginning of the new year on the Hebrew calendar. While it is a festive holiday (one common celebration is a treat of apples dipped in honey “for a sweet New Year”), no work is permitted on Rosh Hashana and observant Jews spend the day at synagogue, attending religious services and contemplating the past and upcoming year.
Tradition holds that on Rosh Hashana, God makes inscriptions in the Book of Life for the coming year. On Yom Kippur, those decisions are sealed.
Yom Kippur is the most solemn — and most holy — day on the calendar. It is the Day of Atonement, when Jews ask for God’s forgiveness for sins against the Almighty. For sins committed against other people, Jews are required to ask forgiveness from them directly. It is an important precept in Judaism that only fellow humans can forgive wrongs done to them by others — God plays no part in that process of person-to-person confession and forgiveness. These exchanges are encouraged during the Days of Repentance.
Also on Yom Kippur, those who are physically able are called upon to fast for 24 hours, neither eating nor drinking.
Many Jews who do not observe other Jewish customs will refrain from work, fast and/or attend services on this day.
The holidays are tied together symbolically by the blowing of the shofar, a ram’s horn that was traditionally used to call Jews to prayer. The ram also plays a pivotal role in the High Holiday reading from the Torah scroll that recounts the biblical story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac for God, and of God’s saving Isaac from that fate.
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