Introduction to High Holy Days

Introduction to High Holy Days

Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are the most important of all Jewish holidays and the only holidays that are purely religious, meaning that they are not tied to historical or natural events. They are observed in the fall season during the seventh month of the Jewish calendar Ñ Tishrei.

Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, is also known as the Day of Judgement, the Day of Remembrance, and the Day of Shofar Blowing. The Day of Judgement allows for Jews to examine their past deeds and ask for forgiveness for their sins. Rosh HaShanah is called the Day of Remembrance because Jews review the history of their people and pray for Israel on this day. The Day of Shofar Blowing recalls the Shofar Ñ ram's horn Ñ being blown in the ancient Temple, in Jerusalem, to herald the beginning of the 10-day period known as the High Holy Days.

The traditions of Rosh HaShanah are simple. In synagogues, the Shofar is blown to herald the beginning of the period known as the High Holy Days. It is believed that on Rosh HaShanah, God records in the Book of Life the destiny of all humankind. After Rosh HaShanah services, as the congregants leave the synagogue they say to each other "May you be inscribed in the Book of Life."

On Rosh HaShanah it is customary for families to gather together for the holiday meal. Traditional foods sweetened with apples and honey are served, symbolizing sweetness, blessings, abundance and the hope for a sweet year


Rosh HaShanah begins a 10-day period, known as the High Holy Days. This period is a time of penitence and prayer that ends with Yom Kippur. Jews worldwide are given these 10 days to repent for their sins and ask God for forgiveness.

On the 10th day of Tishrei, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement is observed.

This is the most solemn day of the Jewish year. This holiday is considered to be the most sacred of the Jewish holidays, the "Sabbath of Sabbaths." On Yom Kippur, the Book of Life is closed and sealed. Those that have repented for their sins are granted a good and happy New Year.

In our tradition, there are two different kinds of sins. One is between people and God, and the other is just between people. On Yom Kippur, we must seek forgiveness from our fellow humans, for sins we did against them; God cannot pardon us for these sins.

Yom Kippur is a day of "not" doing. There is no blowing of the Shofar and Jews may not eat or drink, as fasting is the rule. It is believed that to fast on Yom Kippur is to emulate the angels in heaven who do not eat, drink or wash. Another important aspect of the Yom Kippur service is the "Vidui"

or confession. The confessions serve to help reflect on one's misdeeds and to confess them verbally is part of the formal repentance in asking God's forgiveness.

Adapted from an article from the Union for Reform Judaism.