They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Rosh Hashannah

Sound the ram’s horn at the New Moon,
    and when the moon is full, on the day of our festival;
this is a decree for Israel,
    an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
–Psalm 81:3-4

This week, for Jewish people all over the world, marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year and the Fall Holy Days festivals that were commanded by God in the book of Leviticus. God set up seven High Holy Days and grouped them together as follows:

  1. Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits all occur together in the spring and are celebrated concurrently in the March/April time period on our calendar
  2. Pentecost is the fourth festival and occurs by itself in June
  3. Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot all occur in the fall and are also celebrated consecutively during the September/October time period

The fall festivals begin with Rosh Hashannah, or the Feast of Trumpets, and occurs on the first day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, which corresponds on our calendar to today, September 5th, 2013.

Leviticus 23:23-25 says:

“The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of sabbath rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present a food offering to the Lord.’”

Rabbi blowing shofarThis verse begins with, “The Lord said to Moses” and therefore indicates a start of a new section in the Feasts which in this case is the Fall Feasts. The phrase, “commemorated with trumpet blasts” translates the Hebrew word, “tĕruw`ah”. This word is similar to the English word “fanfare” and refers to the things for which a trumpet would be sounded, such as the arrival of a King, or a call to battle. The Day of Rosh Hashannah therefore announces the coming of the Holidays to follow and says by the blowing of the trumpet that these days to follow are incredibly important. You need to be prepared; you better get ready because the day has arrived.

The Jewish people actually begin blowing the ram’s horn (shofar) in the synagogue in the previous month to remind the people that the Fall Holy Days are approaching and to get everyone ready to observe them. Then, on the first day of the seventh month, there is a special service that features an elaborate ceremony of trumpet blowing. The trumpets remind the Jewish people to prepare for the coming Day of Atonement by examining their lives for the past year. This is much different than our American tradition of celebrating our New Year. We make it a happy and raucous celebration and give no thought to the year just finished, but focus on the new beginnings to come. In contrast, Rosh Hashannah and the succeeding Yom Kippur have a much different atmosphere. They are known as the ”Days of Awe” and are serious days as they call you to reflect on your life from the past year and the moral responsibilities that you carry. These two holidays are not greeted with noise and joy, but with a serious and contrite heart.

Besides being reminded to prepare and examine your heart, Rosh Hashannah also reminds the Jewish people of some other important events. It reminds them to celebrate God’s creation because they believe God began His creation of the universe on the first day of the seventh month, which is the same day Rosh Hashannah is celebrated. Also, it reminded them that the Lord descended on Mt. Sinai with the blast of a shofar (Exodus 19:16-19) and that the coming of the Messiah’s Kingdom will be announced by the blast of the shofar.

To Christians, the spring holidays speak of the first coming of the Messiah (Passover, Pentecost) and the fall holidays speak of his imminent return. Look at the following verses:

And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
– Matthew 24:31

in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
– 1 Corinthians 15:52

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
– 1 Thessalonians 4:16

Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.
– Revelation 8:6

As the trumpets sound before the Day of Atonement to call all Jews to repentance, they also sound for all mankind to repent before that day when the Lord will return and pour out his wrath on the earth because it has not repented. For Christians, the trumpets announce the return of the King. These trumpets call us to repent and prepare our hearts for His coming. For the lost, the trumpets are a call to repentance, because they announce the coming judgment of God. Yom Kippur, the holiday that follows Rosh Hashannah, will be for each person either a Day of Atonement or a Day of Judgment.

Additional information on the feasts can be found here:

Rosh Hashanah: Leviticus 23:23-25; Ezekiel 40:1

Note: For religious Jews, September 29 of the year 2011 is the Old Testament Feast of Rosh Hashanah. It begins at sunset on the 28th and ends at nightfall on the 30th. Since this is a holiday that God ordained, I thought we at least ought to know a little bit about it and what the purpose of the feast was.

The Feast of Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. “Rosh” means head and “Hashanah” means year, so it is the Head or top or beginning of the New Year. It is observed on the first two days of the Jewish month of Tishri, the 7th month of the Jewish Calendar. It is described in the Torah as the day for the sounding of the Shofar. The day is more commonly know as the Feast of the Trumpets or the Day of the Sounding of the Trumpets.

Rosh Hashanah marks the start of the New Year in the Hebrew calendar and is when contracts and other legal documents start over. It also marks the day the Jews believe that God began his creation of the universe. So, it is a very important and serious holiday for the Jewish believer. It is totally unlike the American New Year celebration in that it is a very sober and serious occasion.

How do you observe Rosh Hashanah? The Day of Rosh Hashanah begins a ten day period called the High Holy Days or the Days of Awe. The first day is the Day of Judgment or the Day of Remembrance. The ten day period ends with the most important day of the feast, “Yom Kippur” or the Day of Atonement. This was the day, in Bible times, when the scapegoat would be let out to send the people’s sins away from the camp. There are three themes that are emphasized for the ten day period – repentance, admitting, and returning. This process of repentance is called “teshuvah”. It is a time for reflection and introspection and looking back at the mistakes of the past year. You ask God to forgive you and make plans to change your life for the new year. People are encouraged to make amends with anyone they have wronged or have differences with and to make plans to improve during the coming year. It is a time to make peace in the community and strive to be a better person.

At the synagogue, the shofar (ram’s horn) is blown one hundred times throughout each day in varied notes, calling people to repentance and to remind God of his covenant relationship with his people. No work is permitted during the entire two day holiday. Religious Jews spend most of the day in the synagogue, listening to the special liturgy that accompanies the festival.

These were days that were important to God and his chosen people because He had them written down way back during the time of Moses. These feasts are still being faithfully followed by religious Jews over three thousand years later. On the day that Jewish people begin to ask God to forgive them and bless them for another year, perhaps it would be wise for us to pause and also ask God for his forgiveness and blessings for our nation and for each of us individually.