Apples and Honey

On Rosh Hashanah it is customary to dip a wedge of apple in honey, and to wish each other "a good and sweet year." See: "Wishes we eat."


The desolate wilderness to which the scapegoat was sent, symbolically bearing the sins of the people.


In Hebrew beets are called "selek." They are used as a symbolic food on Rosh Hashanah, with the greeting "yistaleku soneinu": May our enemies go disappear.


Hebrew for "priest," the family (descended from Moses' older brother Aaron) who performed most of the worship in the Temple of Jerusalem. Most of the rituals required on Yom Kippur were performed by the High Priest (Hebrew: Cohen Gadol).


[Hebrew: Viddui.] Several times during Yom Kippur, it is customary to confess the bad things that we have done. The prayer book contains lists of sins, arranged according to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.


Hebrew for "Here I am," the opening word of a prayer recited by the cantor (prayer leader, hazan) before beginning the recitation of the "Musaf" service. The Hinneni prayer expresses the cantor's humility, and the feelings of inadequacy at having been chosen to convey the wishes the congregation before God on this important day. It expresses the wish that God will accept the prayers in spite of the cantor's unworthiness.

Day of Judgment

It is believed that on Rosh Hashanah God reviews the deeds of all people, and decides what the coming year will be like. If the verdict is a bad one, then we have until Yom Kippur to repent, and have the judgment changed.

God's great Name

The special name of God is so holy that it is never spoken by Jews. One of the few times that it was ever pronounced was during the High Priest's prayers on Yom Kippur in the Jerusalem Temple. When the people heard it, they would all bow down to the ground in reverence.

Head of a fish

It is customary on Rosh Hashanah to eat the head of a sheep of fish, and recite the wish: May we be heads and not tails.

Holy of Holies

Inside the Temple of Jerusalem was a room that was so holy that it was entered only one time during the whole year, on Yom Kippur, and only by the High Priest (Cohen Gadol). Inside the Holy of Holies, the High Priest would light a bowl of fragrant incense and pray for forgiveness.


When the High Priest (Cohen Gadol)) entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he would burn fragrant incense, as it says in the Torah (Leviticus 16:12-13):
And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail. And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony.

Kol Nidré

Just before the evening prayers at the beginning of Yom Kippur, a ceremony is held in which we ask to be released from any vows that we have made to God that might not have been fulfilled, so that those vows will not prevent us from being fully forgiven. The opening words of that ceremony are Kol Nidré ("All the vows...").


Hebrew for "royalty." One of the three special themes of the Rosh Hashanah prayers is to proclaim that God is the King of the whole universe.


The last prayer service of Yom Kippur is known as Ne'ilah, which means "closing" or "locking" in Hebrew. Recited during late afternoon and twilight, it expresses the feeling that the special Heavenly gates, that have stood open all day to receive our prayers, are gradually being closed. The community is now filled with confidence that their sins have been forgiven, and that they can begin the new year in a state of spiritual purity.


Pomegranates are filled with many little seeds. They are therefore a traditional symbolic food eaten on Rosh Hashanah. As they are eaten we wish each other "May you have as many good deeds as the seeds in a pomegranate."


Hebrew for "mercy" or "compassion." It is a popular boy's name, especially among North African Jews.

Red thread

It was customary to tie a scarlet thread to the horns of the scapegoat before it was sent out to the wilderness. If the thread turned white, it was believed that the sins of the people had been fogiven.

Rosh Hashanah

The Hebrew New Year, which occurs in the Fall. It is believed that on this day God judges the world, and decides what kind of year everybody will have.


On Yom Kippur in ancient times, a lottery would be held to choose between two goats. One of which would be offered as a sacrfice. The other one was called a "scapegoat." The High Priest (Cohen Gadol) would confess the sins of the people while placing his hands on the head of the scapegoat, symbolically transferring the sins onto the goat. The scapegoat would then be sent out to perish in the wilderness, as it states in the Torah (Leviticus 16:7-8, 21-2):
And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for Azazel... And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness. And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.


A ram's horn. The Torah commands (Leviticus 23:24): "In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of shofars." The sounding of the shofar is the most important observance of Rosh Hashanah. It has many reasons and associations. Some of these include:


Hebrew for "Shofars." One of the three special sections of the Rosh Hashanah prayers tells about the different occasions in the Bible that mention the sounding of shofars.


The opening word from the Hebrew text of Micah 7:19: "and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea." Based on the imagery of this verse, it is customary in many Jewish communities to observe the Tashlikh ceremony, in which people go to a body of water on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah and symbolically throw their sins into the water.

Ten Days of Repentance

During the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we have an opportunity to better our ways and earn a better judgment for the coming year.


Hebrew for: "teaching" or "instruction." The first five books of the Hebrew Bible. In Jewish tradition it is believed that these books were written by God and given by Moses at Mount Sinai. They tell the early history of humanity and of the people of Israel, and contain many commandments.

Wishes we eat

On Rosh Hashanah it is customary to eat foods that symbolize the blessings and good wishes for the coming year. The symbolism can be achieved through the character of the food (e.g., heads), the flavor (honey) or, in most cases, through the sounds of their names, in some language or other.

Yom Kippur

[Hebrew for "day of atonement"] On this day, the tenth day after Rosh Hashanah, it is believed that God grants forgiveness for the sins of the previous year. It is a day spent entirely in prayer and fasting (not eating or drinking), and resolving to be better people.


Hebrew for "remembering." One of the three special themes of the Rosh Hashanah prayers is that on this day God remembers all the deeds of every creature in the world, and judges them accordingly.