Why did God choose the Jewish New Year, “Rosh Hashana,” as the “Day of Judgment,” and what are this holiday’s wider implications for the rest of the world?
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
Rosh Hashana, meaning “The Head of the Year” is the Jewish New Year.
The name for the holiday, “Rosh Hashana,” is a somewhat later term. The true biblical name of the holiday is “The Day of Blowing” (Leviticus 23:24 / Numbers 29:1), which refers to the primary mitzvah of the day, the sounding of the shofar.
Another even later name for this holiday is “Yom Hazikaron,” meaning “The Day of Remembrance,” which refers to the fact that God looks at our past year and “remembers” all the good deeds and bad deeds we committed.
It is probably this latter term that is used most in the course of the Rosh Hashana prayers. Make no mistake, Bible buffs: the term “Rosh Hashana” in Ezekiel 40:1 is not referring to the Jewish New Year.
There are actually four different new years in the Jewish calendar. The “New Year for Trees,” usually observed in January or February, is probably the second most famous New Year.
The New Year of Rosh Hashana commemorates the creation of man and is the day of judgment. The Talmud teaches that three books are opened before God on Rosh Hashana – one to inscribe the details of the coming year for those who are wicked, one to inscribe the details of those who are righteous, and one to inscribe the details of those somewhere in between – probably the book where most of us would find ourselves.
The inscription of this latter category isn’t sealed until Yom Kippur, giving us ten days of repentance to sweeten anything God might have inscribed about us.
The question is asked: Why did God designate Rosh Hashana as a day of judgement?
It is explained that Adam and Eve’s sin occurred on Rosh Hashana, and God judged and punished them on that very same day for having eaten the forbidden fruit.
As such, God decided that every year on this day, He would judge all of mankind. Yes, we believe that Rosh Hashana is not merely a Jewish day of judgment, but a global day of judgement.
This means that everyone should improve their deeds and return to God during the days of repentance surrounding Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur .
Allow me to conclude with the traditional greeting of Rosh Hashana. I wish all our readers a “Ketiva v’chatima tovah” – May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year!