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Literally, the New Year. The cycle of the High Holidays begins with Rosh Ha-Shanah. Falling on the first and second days of the month of Tishri, it introduces the Ten Days of Penitence, when Jews examine their souls and take stock of their actions. The season, beginning with the New Year on the first day of Tishri and ending with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on the tenth, is known as “Days of Awe.” The tradition is that on Rosh Ha-Shanah God sits in judgment on humanity. Then the fate of every living creature is inscribed in the Book of Life or Death. These decisions may be revoked by prayer and repentance before the sealing of the books on Yom Kippur.

Also known as Yom Teruah (the Day of the Sounding of the Shofar), Yom ha-Din (the Day of Judgment), and Yom ha-Zikkaron (the Day of Remembrance), the holiday is highlighted by the blowing of the ram’s horn (See Shofar). Sounded in the Temple on solemn occasions, on this day the shofar reminds the congregation of the gravity of the day and calls them to repent. It also brings to mind the sacrifice of Isaac, the story of whose rescue from death is an example of God’s mercy.

On the eve of the holiday, Jews greet each other with the words L’shanah tovah tikatevu, May you be inscribed for a good year. Bread or apples are dipped in honey on the eve of the holiday to express hope for sweetness in the year ahead. To symbolize purity of heart, some men wear white robes in synagogue; these are the shrouds in which observant Jews are buried. On the afternoon of the first day, Jews go to a river or other body of water for the Tashlikh, or Casting Off, ceremony, in which each person symbolically casts his sins into the water.

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