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Rosh Hashanah Primer

Dear All,

As with the other Holidays, I would like to offer a primer that assists with the observance of customs and laws. Some of the customs have been slightly adjusted due to various restrictions from Covid-19.  As Rosh Hashanah is a very involved holiday, I am focusing on the rituals at home and omitting any details that refer to the Synagogue service. 

1. There is a tradition for men to immerse in the mikveh before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This tradition relates to both the laws of ritual purity, and to the idea that Teshuva-Repentance is a full persona process. We use the Mikveh as a transformative step in the process of repentance. No blessing is recited upon immersion. The Mikvah will not be open for men this year. If you would like to fulfill this tradition, one can either use Fraser River as your Mikvah, use a pool if it is accessible, or shower for 5-8 minutes with your entire body in the water. These options should only be used when one does not have access to a Mikvah and does not replace the need for a Mikvah for women. 

2. The morning before Rosh Hashanah one says extensive penitential prayers. Services for these prayers begin at Schara Tzedeck at 6:15 am on September 18th.

3. It is traditional on Rosh Hashanah to have round Challot to symbolize the idea of the year and judgement.  We dip challah in honey on Rosh Hashanah. Many authorities recommend that salt should also be sprinkled over the bread together with the honey as these practices come from different but complementary origins. The honey is meant to symbolize our wishes for a sweet year, and the salt in recognition of the verse עַל כָּל קָרְבָּנְךָ תַּקְרִיב מֶלַח (Leviticus 2:13) to emphasize that salt brings out the flavour in life, and the bread on our shabbat table alludes also to the holiness of the bread offerings in the Temple.

4. There is a tradition to pray for a good year through a variety of foods

a. The Apple.  The round apple symbolizes the new year and the honey sweetness. we say the following

Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam bo-re pri ha-etz.

ברוך אתה ה' אלוקינו מלך העולם בורא פרי העץ

Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.

Ye-hi ratzon she-ti-cha-desh alei-nu shanah tovah u-m'tu-kah.

יהי רצון שתחדש עלנו שנה טובה ומתוקה

May it be Your will to renew for us a good and sweet year.

b. It is traditional to eat leaks and to say 

יהי רצון מלפניך ה׳ אלוקינו ואלהי אבותינו שיכרתו אויבך ושונאיך וכל מבקשי רעתינו

Ye-hi ratzon Hashem Elokenu, ve- elokey Avotenu,  Sheyich-ratu oy-vecha ve-kol me-vakshay ra-atenu

May it be Your will, Gd and Gd of our forefathers to cut off all our enemies, those that hate us and those who design evil against us.

c. We eat beets and say 

יהי רצון מלפניך ה׳ אלוקינו  ואלהי אבותינו יסתלקו חטאתינו    

Ye-hi ratzon Hashem Elokenu, ve- elokey Avotenu, she-yistalek cha-to-taynu

May it be Your will, Gd and Gd of our forefathers that our sins should be detached from us. 

d. We eat the head of a fish or if you are truly adventurous a head of a lamb. and say 

יהי רצון מלפניך ה׳ אלוקינו  ואלהי אבותינו יסתלקו חטאתינו

May it be Your will, Gd and Gd of our forefathers that we be the head and not the tail

There are other foods such as dates, and carrots and black-eyed peas. Consult the Artscroll Rosh Hashanah Machzor p 98 for the additional prayers associated.

f. One food which is traditionally avoided is nuts, as the word for nut in Hebrew אגוז has the same gematria or numerical equivalence with the Hebrew word חטא, meaning sin,(or least close enough for gematria work).


5. It is customary to avoid afternoon sleep on Rosh Hashanah,  the days are simply too serious to be caught sleeping.  Your Bubbie or her Bubba might have said, you are shlufing sleeping away your Mazal--or good luck.
6. It is also customary to go to flowing water and recite the Tashlich prayers. This is based on the verse from the Prophet Micah who suggested that we figuratively throw our sins into the depths of the sea.  An alternative explanation from the Lubavitch tradition is that the Kings of Israel were always annointed by the side of a flowing river.  Since Rosh Hashshana is when we figuratively crown Gd, it is appropriate to do so by the side of the river.  Contrary to popular belief, one need not bring bread or bread crumbs.  The prayers for Tashlich can be found at We will not be gathering as a community to fulfill this custom. Please remember to go on your own to a flowing river. One option is the flowing pond in Queen Elizabeth park

7. Rosh Hashanah is the only Yom Tov in Israel that lasts 2 days, as such it may be considered one long 48 hour day.  This special feature puts the recitation of the Shechyanu prayer into doubt.  However, our custom in Vancouver is to recite the Shechyanu prayer, the blessing celebrating a new holiday, Friday and Saturday nights, at Kiddush or while lighting candles. It is traditional to save a new fruit, untasted yet this season to be a stand-in for the Shechyanu prayer. The parameters of a new fruit should be one that has disappeared in its fresh variety from the local market for a time and has come back into season.   Even if you forget to buy a fruit, the practice is to recite the Shechyanu prayer. 

Rabbi Andy Rosenblatt
Rabbi Aryeh Federgrun

Wed, 30 September 2020 12 Tishrei 5781