Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and often the intervening period more informally, are known as the High Holy Days within Judaism.
Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew: ראש השנה), (literally “head of the year”)
The Jewish New Year, is consideed one of Judaism’s holiest days. Meaning “head of the year” or “first of the year,” the festival begins on the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, which falls during September or October. Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world and marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, a 10-day period of introspection and repentance that culminates in the Yom Kippur holiday, also known as the Day of Atonement.
The name “Rosh Hashanah” is not used in the Bible to discuss this holiday. The Bible refers to the holiday as Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the day of remembrance) or Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar). The holiday is instituted in Leviticus ….”In the seventh month, on the first of the month, there shall be a sabbath for you, a remembrance with shofar blasts, a holy convocation.” (Leviticus 16:24)
This two-day festival marks the anniversary of human’s creation—and the special relationship between humans and God, the creator.
Rosh Hashanah begins with the sounding of the shofar, an instrument made of a ram’s horn, proclaiming God as King of the Universe, just as a trumpet would be sounded at a king’s coronation. In fact, Rosh Hashanah is described in the Torah as Yom Teru’ah, a day of sounding (the Shofar).
The sound of the shofar is also a call to repentance—to wake up and re-examine our commitment to God and to correct our ways. Thus begins the “Ten Days of Repentance” which ends with Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement.”
Rosh Hashanah Traditions
There are many traditions associated with Rosh Hashanah, including the following:
Apples and honey: One of the most popular Rosh Hashanah customs involves eating apple slices dipped in honey, sometimes after saying a special prayer. Ancient Jews believed apples had healing properties, and the honey signifies the hope that the new year will be sweet. Rosh Hashanah meals usually include an assortment of sweet treats for the same reason.
Round challah: On Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) and other holidays, Jews eat loaves of the traditional braided bread known as challah. On Rosh Hashanah, the challah is often baked in a round shape to symbolize either the cyclical nature of life or the crown of God. Raisins are sometimes added to the dough for a sweet new year.
Tashlich: On Rosh Hashanah, some Jews practice a custom known as tashlich (“casting off”), in which they throw pieces of bread into a flowing body of water while reciting prayers. As the bread, which symbolize the sins of the past year, is swept away, those who embrace this tradition are spiritually cleansed and renewed.
“L’shana tovah”: Jews greet each other on Rosh Hashanah with the Hebrew phrase “L’shana tovah,” which translates to “for a good year.” This is a shortened version of the Rosh Hashanah salutation “L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem” (“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year”).
Rosh Hashanah is meant to be a day of rest, not labor. The Torah expressly forbids one to do any work on Rosh Hashanah, as well as other major Jewish holy days. … That’s why Orthodox Jews will keep a candle burning for 24 hours a day during Rosh Hashanah.
Yom Kippur (Hebrew: יוֹם כִּפּוּר or יום הכיפורים), Also known as Day of Atonement
This is the holiest day of the year for the Jews. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jews traditionally observe this holy day with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services. Yom Kippur completes the annual period known in Judaism as the High Holy Days (or sometimes “the Days of Awe”).
According to tradition, it is on Yom Kippur that God decides each person’s fate, so Jews are encouraged to make amends and ask forgiveness for sins committed during the past year – “For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before G‑d” (Leviticus 16:30).
Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath; no work can be performed on that day. It is well-known that you are supposed to refrain from eating and drinking (even water) on Yom Kippur. It is a complete, 25-hour fast beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur.
Most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue, in prayer. In Orthodox synagogues, services begin early in the morning (8 or 9 AM) and continue until about 3 PM. People then usually go home for an afternoon nap and return around 5 or 6 PM for the afternoon and evening services, which continue until nightfall. The services end at nightfall, with the blowing of the tekiah gedolah, a long blast on the shofar.
It is customary to wear white on the holiday, which symbolizes purity and calls to mind the promise that our sins shall be made as white as snow (Is. 1:18). Some people wear a kittel, the white robe in which the dead are buried.
Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the year, it is, however, suffused with an undercurrent of joy; it is the joy of being immersed in the spirituality of the day and expresses confidence that G‑d will accept our repentance, forgive our sins, and seal our verdict for a year of life, health and happiness.
But it does not end there. The otherworldliness of the High Holidays is then channelled into the festive holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which bring the annual fall holiday season to a most joyous conclusion. Thus, it is often the custom that after Yom Kippur, we immediately begin (planning) construction of the sukkah, which we will use for the joyous holiday of Sukkot, which follows in just five days and one of the major festivals of the year (see below).
Sukkot (Hebrew: סוכות or סֻכּוֹת, sukkōt, or sukkos, Feast of Booths, Feast of Tabernacles)
This is a Biblical holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei (late September to late October). It is one of the three biblically mandated festivals Shalosh regalim on which Jews were commanded to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Sukkot commemorates the years that the Jews spent in the desert on their way to the Promised Land, and celebrates the way in which God protected them under difficult desert conditions.
The seven days of Sukkot—celebrated by dwelling in the sukkah, taking the Four Kinds, and rejoicing—are followed by Simchat Torah.
Coming after the solemn High Holidays, it is a time of joy and happiness.
The first two days (or one day in Israel) are yom tov, when work is forbidden, candles are lit in the evening, and festive meals are preceded with Kiddush and contain challah dipped in honey.
The intermediate days are quasi holidays, known as chol hamoed. We dwell in the sukkah and take the Four Kinds every day (except for Shabbat, when we do not take the Four Kinds).
The final two days (or one in Israel) are Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah. They are yom tov, marked by dancing with the Torah, Yizkor memorial prayer, and even more joy.
Shemini Atzeret (שמיני עצרת – “the Eighth [day] of Assembly”) is a Jewish holiday. It is celebrated on the 22nd day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (the first month of the calendar). In the Diaspora, an additional day is celebrated, the second day being separately referred to as Simchat Torah. In Israel and Reform Judaism, the holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are combined into a single day and the names are used interchangeably.
Simchat Torah or Simḥath Torah (also Simkhes Toreh, Hebrew: שִׂמְחַת תורָה, lit., “Rejoicing with/of the Torah,”) is a celebration marking the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings, and the beginning of a new cycle. Simchat Torah is a component of the Biblical Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret (“Eighth Day of Assembly”), which follows immediately after the festival of Sukkot in the month of Tishrei (mid-September to early October on the Gregorian calendar).
We have used material from the following resources to make this article: