Symbols & Rituals of Rosh Hashanah

Symbols & Rituals of Rosh Hashanah

From our archived column, “Not Your Grandparents’ Shtetl: Exploring Jewish Culture in Western MA,”  Amy Meltzer shares different symbols and rituals of Rosh Hashanah.  Also known as the Jewish New Year, or the first day of the traditional Jewish lunar calendar, this year Rosh Hashanah takes place sunset, September 18 – nightfall, September 20, 2020.


One of the themes of Rosh Hashanah is sweetness. (A traditional greeting is “May you have a good and sweet new year.”) Apples and challah (Jewish egg bread) dipped in honey symbolize that sweetness. Before Rosh Hashanah, we make a trip to a local apple orchard to collect several varieties of local apples. On the holiday we sample the apples, and sweet recipes made from the apples…


Another symbol of the holiday is a shofar, a musical instrument made form a ram’s horn. The shofar is sounded in synagogue, but my kids love to try to blow the shofar on their own. We often forgo synagogue on the second day of the holiday in favor of a hike and a picnic. We take a shofar along and I let my kids blow it as often as they like (at least when no one else is around – it tends to sound like a dead seal in their hands.) Did you know you can buy a shofar on Amazon? They really do sell everything. This slightly silly but terrifically informative video shows how to blow the shofar.


Tashlich is a ceremony performed on the afternoon of the first day of the holiday. The ritual involves tossing bread crumbs into a body of water to represent casting off one’s mistakes from the past year. While most synagogues organize a group tashlich gathering, it can be especially meaningful to do with your family or in a small group at a favorite watering hole. A lovely book, Tashlich at Turtle Rock, tells the story of one family taking part in their own, homemade tashlich service.

Almost every Jewish holiday includes one or more festive meals. Jewish communities all over the world have developed their own unique traditional foods, all symbolizing hopes for the upcoming year, ranging from pomegranates, to seven-vegetable couscous, to, well, the head of an animal. Here’s an article describing these traditional in detail, recipes included.

Here’s a link to my very favorite challah recipe, from the wonderful blog, Smitten Kitchen. While most of the year, challah is prepared in a long braid, it is a Rosh Hashnah tradition to make round challahs, representing the cycle of renewal.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Rachel]

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