Rosh Hashanah 5776


5776!  Wow!  That means this is the start of the 17th year of Torah Portion Humor!  WOOHOO!!!

For a holiday that’s hardly there in the Torah, Rosh Hashanah’s prominence has certainly increased over the millennia, accumulating enough customs and activities for a two day holiday (Yes, I know Reform Jews only keep one day.  Pity.).  Shofar blowing indeed goes back to the Torah (Leviticus 23:23-26 and Numbers 29: l-6), but not apple and honey and round challah (or round, sweet things in general).  In “THE ENIGMA OF ROSH HASHANAH,” (1996), Rabbi Neil Gillman notes that Rosh Hashanah’s importance grew as a prelude to Yom Kippur.  Then the Babylonian Tishrei replaced Nisan as first month of the year, and a debate in the Talmud settled on the first of Tishrei, rather than the first of Nisan, as the day when the world was created.

Since the holiday starts the 10 Days of Penitence, it of course is solemn, with the very long service (about 5 hours at my synagogue, not that more than a handful are present for the whole time, of course) containing prayers about pleading for forgiveness, judgement, who shall live, and who shall die in the coming year.  Special sections of the service contain biblical verses pertaining to God’s kingship, God’s remembrance of us, and the blowing of the shofar.  Another custom is tashlich, where throwing bread crumbs into a stream symbolizes the casting off of sins.  It’s traditionally done on the first day, unless that’s Shabbat, in which case it is moved to the second, though technically it can be done as late as the 7th day of Sukkot.

Though Rosh Hashanah is designated as the birthday of the world, the Torah and haftarah readings do not concern the Creation of the world but instead contain stories of births and families, the birth and weaning of Isaac (1st day, Genesis 21:1-34 & Numbers 29:1-6 ; the section from Numbers, read both days deals with sacrifices, what else) and  the birth of Samuel (1st day,  Samuel 1:1 – 2:10 ).  But the readings are not idyllic.  Hagar and son Ishmael are driven into the wilderness, where the boy nearly dies of thirst.  After that, Isaac is nearly sacrificed by his father (2nd day, Genesis 22:1-24).  Finally, the 2nd day haftarah, Jeremiah 31:2-20, contains the famous image of Rachel weeping for her exiled children – Rachel, who had died in childbirth.

So, we’ve got big events and issues (like our fates) on the one hand, and the small-scale but as serious concerns like birth and family on the other.  All concern our need to create some type of order out of large-scale or small-scale chaos.  And for many of us, this is a time for family gatherings and traditional foods in addition to challah, apple and honey.  I make a rice kugel with raisins.  I miss my grandmother’s kreplach and soup.

But, to go back to Rabbi Gilman’s paper, Rosh Hashanah is one time of many in Judaism we stand at a threshold:

“One understanding of religion suggests that its function is to order our human experience, to wrest a sense of cosmos from the chaos that hovers over our lives. … To stand on a threshold is to be in between, neither here nor there, and invariably to feel a certain tension. That is why many religious rituals are located precisely at threshold moments. In Judaism, we ritualize dawn and dusk through worship, the end and the beginning of the week through ceremonies marking the onset and conclusion of Shabbat, and life cycle events (birth, puberty, marriage and death) each through a particular celebration or rite. We also mark private and public spaces through the mezuzah we affix to the doorposts of our homes. …Now think of Rosh Hashanah as one more mezuzah, this one in time.”

In a few weeks, we’ll start reading the Torah over again, and the very first thing we’ll read is about creating order out of chaos.  This Rosh Hashanah, may you step over the threshold into a new year of goodness, sweetness, health, and peace.

L’shanah tovah tikatevu (may you be inscribed for a good year),



For more on Rosh Hashanah, you might enjoy,

The History of Rosh Hashanah, Which Wasn’t Always the ‘New Year’ by Elon Gilad, which describes the Babylonian origin of many Rosh Hashanah traditions and how a calf’s head morphed into gefilte fish (so glad it did!)

Or how about, Nine things you didn’t know about Rosh HashanaFind out how the Jewish New Year links honey, a Nerf ball, 800 tons of carp and pomegranate greatness. By Viva Sarah Press  SEPTEMBER 10, 2015, 7:00 AM

Here’s one: Rosh Hashanah literally means “head of the year” in Hebrew. In some Jewish communities it is traditional to eat the head of a fish (or lamb or chicken) during the holiday meal. Other communities don’t eat the fish head but display it on the holiday table. ((I didn’t know that.  No, we don’t)

And, of course there are symbolic foods:  which can go on a modern seder plate for Rosh Hashanah.  (Credit: Liz Steinberg)

tph rosh hashanah seder plate Liz Steinberg

Guide to symbolic foods for RH. “The roots of the Rosh Hashanah seder can be found in the Babylonian Talmud circa 300 CE. It was built around symbolic foods chosen for their Aramaic names, which are word plays on the accompanying blessings. The five foods included squash, black eyed pea, leek, Swiss chard and dates.”  (I didn’t know that either)


The Technion comes through again!

Rosh Hashanah Dancing Robots

Video of the Week: 

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology has the touch to get you ready for the New Year – a robot picks a pomegranate from the tree in the Seven Species Garden outside the CEAR lab in the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering and his friends travel across campus to deliver apples and honey to the president.


Rosh Hashanah Foods

A custom on Rosh Hashanah is to eat various foods that are signs

(simonim) for good things. For example, it is customary to eat from

a fish head or a lamb’s head and say, “Our Father in Heaven,

let us be like the head and not the tail.”

Here is a new simon: Cut a raisin in two equal pieces and place it

along with a piece of iceberg lettuce in a stalk of celery.

While eating this, you should say, “Our Father in Heaven,

lettuce half a raisin celery”.

And I hope you get one for the new year.

———————- (oldie but goodie)

High Holiday Seating

Dear Congregant(s),

During the last holiday season, many individuals expressed concern over the seating arrangements in the synagogue. In order for us to place you in a seat which will best suit you, we ask you to complete the following questionnaire and return it to the synagogue office as soon as possible. We will try to honor as many of your requests as possible.

1. I would prefer to sit in the… (Check one :)___ Talking section___ No talking section

2. If talking, which category do you prefer? (Indicate order of interest 🙂 ___ Stock market___ Sports___ Medicine___ Congregants’ secret medical tragedies___ General gossip___ Specific gossip (choose :)___ The rabbi___ The cantor___ The cantor’s voice___ The cantor’s wife___ The rabbi’s wife___ The cantor’s wife’s voice___ Fashion news___ What others are wearing___ Why they look awful___ Your neighbors___ Your relatives___ Your neighbors’ relatives___ President Clinton___ Sex (Preference: ______________________)___ Who’s cheating on/having an affair with whom___ Other: _______________________________

3. Which of the following would you like to be near for free professional advice? ___ Doctor___ Dentist___ Nutritionist___ Psychiatrist___ Child psychiatrist___ Mother in law___ Podiatrist___ Chiropractor___ Stockbroker___ Accountant___ Lawyer___ Real estate agent___ Architect___ Interior Decorator___ Travel Agent

4. I want a seat located (Indicate order of priority 🙂 ___ On the aisle___ Near the exit___ Near the window___ In Aruba___ Near the bathroom___ Near my in-laws___ As far away from my in-laws as possible___ As far away from my ex-in-laws as possible___ Near the pulpit___ Near the Kiddush table___ Near single men___ Near available women___ Where no one on the bimah can see/hear me talking during services___ Where no one will notice me sleeping during services___ Where I can sleep during the rabbi’s sermon [additional charge]

5. (Orthodox only.) I would like a seat where:___ I can see my spouse over the mechitza___ I cannot see my spouse over the mechitza___ I can see my friend’s spouse over the mechitza___ My spouse cannot see me looking at my friend’s spouse over the mechitza

6. Please do not place me anywhere near the following people:(Limit of six)_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Your name: ____________________________________


Top Ten Ways to Scare Your Guests During the High Holidays

ADMIN — JULY 22, 2006

10) “We dip the apple in the beehive itself”.

9) “You don’t mind sleeping in a coffin; just like they did in the desert!”

8) “We would’ve invited last years’ guests back as well, but…”

7) “Yeah, we dress our pets in white as well”.

6) “We don’t feed our fish on Yom Kippur either… we just replace them the day after”.

5) After some food falls on the floor during Yom Kippur, invoke the “5-second rule”.

4) Rosh Hashanah activity: bobbing for apples in honey.

3) “We’ll wake you up for shul at 8… with the shofar” (disclaimer: don’t actually go do this, it’s halachically problematic. Oh, and don’t do the first 7 either). 2) “Want to learn during the break?”

1) On Rosh Hashanah, count down from 10 at midnight (note: make sure to start the countdown 10 seconds before midnight).


Top Ten Reasons, Beyond Koved [honor], To Learn Tekiat HaShofar [shofar blowing]
by avrum Posted: 09-04-2007(Viewed 1318 times)

10. Can be used instead of dinner bell at the campus Hillel
9. Effective way to hail a cab
8. Drowns out the sound of the muezzin at the local mosque
7. Serenade your girlfriend
6. Works better than shouting “fore” on the golf course
5. Adequate musical replacement for ill jug band players
4. Good for sounding alarm while serving with local Shomrim anti-crime group
3. Lead cheers at Mets games
2. Can be used to announce arrival of (another!) presidential candidate to the neighborhood
1. Impresses the shayna maydels [pretty girls]!


This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s