Rosh Hashanah

Tonight, we mark the birthday of the world, so it is quite fitting that today is the birthday of our favorite son. Happy birthday, Alan!

Rosh Hashanah, which starts tonight, marks the beginning of the year 5779 (and Year Twenty of Torah Portion Humor!  WOOHOO!!!).  Except for Reform Jews, it is a two-day holiday.  I got really tired having to remind people at work and my kids’ schools about that, year after year after…

Anyhow, this New Year is not like our secular New Year.  No noisemakers (unless you count the shofar) or confetti, no boisterous drunken parties, no shouting “Happy New Year!” when the holiday begins this evening.  There is joy, but it’s tempered with foreboding.  As they say, “On this day, the world was called into being,” but it’s the Day of Judgement, when our fates this year are to be written into the Book of Life. 

There is very little about Rosh Hashanah in the Torah.  It’s not even called that. We learn that it is the first day of what was then the seventh month, that we are not supposed to work, and that we are supposed to blow the shofar, which is typically a ram’s horn.  And of course, there were the obligatory sacrifices.  But it has grown in importance over the centuries, largely as the start of the Ten Days of Penitence leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In the Tashlich ceremony on Rosh Hashanah afternoon (not on Shabbat), we toss breadcrumbs into a stream as a symbolic casting away of sins.  (There’s some push to throw small pebbles instead to be more ecologically responsible. Thanks, Stanley.) is  It is referred to as the birthday of the world, Yom HaDin (the Day of Judgement), Yom T’ruah (the day of blowing the shofar), and Yom HaZikaron (Day of Remembrance).  These themes are reflected in the Musaf service in three sets of 10 biblical verses, on Malchuyot (Kingship), Zichronot (remembrance), and Shofarot (obvious). 

And of course, this being a Jewish holiday, there is food.    Traditional foods are sweet (for a sweet year) and round (wholeness, perfection), like apple dipped in honey, round challah bread (my husband bakes his own, with raisins for me), and honey cake.  The many seeds of a pomegranate symbolize all those hundreds of mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah.  Families have their own traditions, too.  Mine is rice kugel with raisins. 

One might expect the Rosh Hashanah Torah and haftarah readings to be grand and cosmic.  Instead, we have intensely emotional stories of families and faith. 

  • First day Rosh Hashanah (Monday) Torah readings: Genesis 21:1-34 and Numbers 29:1-6 (the obligatory verses about the obligatory sacrifices).  Haftarah: I Samuel 1:1-2:10.
  • Second day Rosh Hashanah (Tuesday) Torah readings: Genesis 22:1-24 and Numbers 29:1-6 (same sacrifices).  Haftarah: Jeremiah 31:2-20.

The Torah reading is one continuous text over the two days, including the prediction of Isaac’s birth to 90-year-old Sarah and 100-year old Abraham, Isaac’s birth and the banishment of Hagar and son Ishmael at Sarah’s insistence, and the Akedah (binding) story, in which Abraham nearly sacrifices Isaac on Mount Moriah but offers a ram instead.  The Torah readings are chanted using a special trope (cantillation), which I never got around to learning because I was usually already busy on Rosh Hashanah with one or more of leading part of the service, choir, chanting a haftarah.

I have stronger emotional ties to the haftarot.  The first day, we read of Hannah’s desperation for a child, praying so strongly at Shiloh that Eli the priest thinks she’s drunk.  During the year, she finally gives birth to a son, Samuel, whom she brings to Shiloh as a small child to be reared in service to God.  I remember chanting this haftarah, appropriately, while pregnant with my first child, still self-conscious about my new maternity clothes. 

The key image in the second day’s haftarah is that of Rachel weeping for her children as they walk into exile past her grave.  I first chanted that haftarah, still one of my very favorites, as a college freshman, at the synagogue where I’d gone for Hebrew school after my old one closed.  The gentleman who drove me home suggested I should learn to chant Torah too, which I hadn’t seriously considered because it wasn’t done at my shul then and I was very obedient (It’s true! Stop snickering!).  I did learn, and I went on to learn how to chant a whole lot more.  Offended

Since this is the penitential season, I apologize to all those I offended, hurt, or neglected this past year.  I’m supposed to apologize for specific items, but I try to do that as they occur.  I’m sure there are offenses I committed without realizing it.

I wish all of you and your families a good and sweet year.
L’shanah tovah um’tukah (for a good and sweet year),



tph ram


tph ram in bush


Rosh Hashanah Observations (selected)

  1. The Jewish New Year is not just an annual celebration of the Earth’s glorious orbit around the Sun. It’s a vital time for pomegranate, apple and honey merchants.
  2. It’s that time of year again, when Jews celebrate the New Yearand take about a month of holidays to digest all the meals.
  3. Large festive gatherings on the Jewish New Yearare a popular way for old feuds to be settled, and new ones to start. 


Richard Israel’s Crumb List

From Richard Israel’s introduction

My crumb list has yielded a great deal of fun, both from writing it and the suggestions I have gotten from others. It has also been quite aggravating… (S)omeone leaked it from private emailing, sent it to a friend, and the friend sent it to the world. It then began appearing on every known Jewish net list either without attribution or with inaccurate attribution. … Following the practice of our ancestors who wrote their names into liturgical poems (which I now understand for the first time) I spelled my name into the list (the last 13 entries from “Rearing children…” on). Should have done it a long time ago. Now let people mail it out without attribution and claim it!


Tashlich Supplement:

(c) 1997 Richard J Israel

Taking a few crumbs to Tashlich from whatever old bread is in the house lacks subtlety, nuance and religious sensitivity. I would suggest that we can do better. Instead:

For ordinary sins, use – White Bread
For exotic sins – French Bread
For particularly dark sins – Pumpernickel
For complex sins – Multi-grain
For twisted sins – Pretzels
For tasteless sins – Rice Cakes
For sins of indecision – Waffles
For sins committed in haste – Matzah
For sins committed in less than eighteen minutes – Shmurah Matzah
For sins of chutzpah – Fresh Bread
For substance abuse/marijuana – Stoned Wheat
For substance abuse/heavy drugs – Poppy Seed
For arson – Toast
For timidity – Milk Toast
For high-handedness – Napoleons
For being sulky – Sourdough
For silliness – Nut Bread
For not giving full value – Short bread
For jingoism – Yankee Doodles
For telling bad jokes – Corn Bread
For being money-hungry – Enriched Bread or Raw Dough
For telling small lies – Fudge
For war-mongering – Kaiser Rolls
For promiscuity – Hot Buns
For racism – Crackers
For sophisticated racism – Ritz Crackers
For being holier-than-thou – Bagels
For unfairly up-braiding others – Challah
For provocative dressing – Wonton Wrappers
For snobbery – Upper Crusts
For indecent photography – Cheese Cake
For trashing the environment – Dumplings
For the sin of laziness – Any Very Long Loaf
For being hyper-critical – Pan Cakes
For political skullduggery – Bismarcks
For over-eating – Stuffing Bread or Bulkie Rolls
For gambling – Fortune Cookies
For pride – Puff Pastry
For cheating – Bread made with Nutrasweet and Olestra
For being snappish – Ginger Bread
For dropping in without calling beforehand – Popovers
For trying to improve everyone within sight -Angel Food Cake
For being up-tight and irritable – High Fiber or Bran Muffins
For sycophancy – Brownies
For rearing children incompetently – Raisin Bread
For immodest behavior – Tarts
For causing injury or damage to others – Tortes
For hardening our hearts – Jelly doughnuts
For abrasiveness – Grits
For recurring slip ups – Banana Bread
For davening off tune – Flat Bread
For impetuosity – Quick Bread
For silliness – Nut Bread
For risking one’s life unnecessarily – Hero Bread
For auto theft – Caraway
For excessive use of irony – Rye Bread
For larceny (especially of copyright material) – Stollen
etc., etc.

Remember, you don’t have to show your crumbs to anyone.

For those who require a wide selection of crumbs, an attempt will be made to have pre-packaged Tashlich Mix available in three grades (Tashlich Lite, Medium and Industrial Strength) at your local Jewish bookstore.


With thanks to Robbie Fein who suggested the original formula.

Richard J. Israel

This page was posted on this web site (i.e., Daniel Bricklin’s) in early 1999. Tragically, Dick passed away in the summer of 2000. May his memory be a blessing! You can read remembrances of him on a tribute web site.

© Copyright 1999-2018 by Daniel Bricklin

All Rights Reserved.


Quotes for Rosh Hashanah Musaf

Malchuyot (Kingship)

I have seen the king with a face of Glory, He who is the eye and the sun of heaven, He who is the companion and healer of all beings, He who is the soul and the universe that births souls. Rumi

Zichronot (Remembrance)

Sorrow for sin is indeed necessary, but it should not be an endless preoccupation. You must dwell also on the glad remembrance of God’s loving-kindness; otherwise, sadness will harden the heart and lead it more deeply into despair. Saint Bernard

Shofarot (sounding the shofar)

The blessing over the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah refers to the mitzvah as “hearing the voice of the Shofar,” but since that voice speaks without words, the message that is heard depends a great deal on who is doing the listening.  Douglas Aronin


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