The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, falls on Monday, October 3rd this year. Locally and world-wide, Jews mark the start of the year 5777 on the Hebrew calendar, a hybrid solar-lunar calendar with fixed Hebrew dates, but dates that shift on the secular calendar. Why a New Year in the Fall? Originally it was tied to the upcoming agricultural harvest, and what better time for ancient peoples dependent on a good crop to pray and celebrate? Leviticus 23:24 reads: ‘In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation.’ Israelites then [and now] cease work and bring an offering to God.
Today, Rosh Hashana is a time to celebrate with family and friends the beginning of a new life opportunity, the chance to improve the quality of our religious and spiritual self through prayer, charity, and self-introspection, cheshbon ha-nefesh. The purpose is to literally take stock of our failings and identify ways to do better in the coming year. This is an act between the individual and God in the context of the congregation. That is why most of the prayers are in the plural: We have sinned…We ask for atonement… We seek return / reconciliation. We celebrate with festive meals, sending New Year greeting cards, and often wearing a new outfit.
Rosh Hashana is serious, but not solemn.