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Guide To The High Holidays For Interfaith Families: What to Expect at Home On Rosh Hashanah

Jewish Holiday Blessings

Jewish holidays traditionally begin at sunset, when Jews make a blessing on lighting candles. Before or after evening services at synagogue, the Jewish family has a ritual dinner in honor of the holiday. At home, families may recite the blessing over the wine to sanctify the holiday, and the blessing over the bread to elevate the meal. These traditions of blessing wine and food are part of the Jewish pattern of elevating the home table to the status of an altar. Usually, guests do not have to recite the blessings, but only to affirm them by saying "amen."

Ritual Foods for the New Year

If you have participated in Shabbat meals or other Jewish holidays, the rituals of blessing the bread and wine will be familiar to you. There is one special ritual for Rosh Hashanah meals, which is the meditation on (and eating of!) symbolic foods that are sweet, round, symbolize money, or make a pun on a Hebrew word that indicates good fortune. In most American Jewish families, the special foods are apples with honey and round challah (enriched, braided white bread) with raisins. Many prayer books contain a set meditation for eating these sweet foods, "May it be your will, our God and God of our ancestors, that you renew for us a good and sweet year."

Jews traditionally eat yellow or orange foods, like carrots, as a symbol of prosperity, as well as foods whose names pun with desirable outcomes for the New Year and foods with heads. Rosh Hashanah literally means the head of the year and therefore some Jews eat fish with the heads on, or calf brains. In the same spirit, feel free to eat a head of lettuce or cabbage instead--some French Jews eat food with a head of garlic in it. Some eat honey cake or teiglach, an Eastern European cookie that is boiled in honey, or other sweets. Pomegranates are traditional in some Jewish communities, because the many seeds inside symbolize abundance. Another tradition is to eat a new fruit on the second night of Rosh Hashanah.


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Hebrew for "Head of the Year," the Jewish New Year. With Yom Kippur, known as the High Holy Days. Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." A bread that comes in a few different varieties; its most common variation is a braided egg bread, though there are water challahs that don't have eggs, and there are whole-wheat challahs which sometimes also don't have eggs. It is customary to being Sabbath and holiday meals by saying blessings and eating challah. The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.

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