1. EREV ROSH HASHANA
The day before Rosh HaShanah is marked by several distinct observances.
[1.1]It is a prevalent practice to fast until chatzos (midday at about 1:00 pm Edt) to recall the awesome character of Rosh HaShana as a Yom haDin, the Day of Judgement.
[1.2]S'lichos are exceedingly lengthy, taking on the average at least 90 minutes to complete. This S'lichos service, known as Z'chor Bris, (Remember the covenant) has as its central theme the Akaydah, the binding of Isaac, and the covenantal relationship was formed between G-d and Abraham as the finale to that tribulation in the lives of our finding fathers.
[1.3]Hattarat N'darim (annulment of vows) is usually performed after Shacharis or, if circumstances do not permit, during the days between Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur. Hatarat N'darim need not be left until Erev Rosh haShana and may be done throughout Elul.
Resolutions, promises made to one self, verbal decisions involving a definite course of action are considered to be serious matters according to the Torah, as is written: "Whatever you may say, observe and do..." (D'varim 23:24). A mere utterance has the weight of a vow unless it is qualified by a definitive disclaimer, b'li neder, which would demonstrate by some repeated action three or more times has the binding effect of an oath or vow.
Realizing that resolutions made to one's self can often be neglected, Halacha allowed for an elaborate system of hattarah, annulment or absolution. The procedure rests upon the view that any resolution not carried out could not have truly been a serious one when originally made.
Accordingly, "the procedure of annulment is performed in front of three men sitting as a Beis Din (rabbinic court), and, standing before them, a person recites the formula printed in most Siddurim. The Beis Din replies three times: "These vows are annulled, you are pardoned, you are absolved..." Surely, this procedure was never intended to be effective with vows and resolutions a person makes between oneself and other people." (Siddur Derech HaChayim)
Specific resolutions or vows in need of annulment and of which a person is aware, must be clearly stated and specified. Rabbinic guidance should be sought in such cases.
One may say Hattarat N'darim in any language he/she understands. English translations and, where necessary abridged forms of the text are now readily available in print.
[1.4] Immersion in the mikveh on Erev Rosh haShanah could best be appreciated after considering Rambam's (Maimonides) description of the relationship between mikveh and the process of t'shuvah (repentance).
"Now, tum'ah (uncleanness in a spiritual sense) is not mud or filth which water can remove, but is a matter of the Torah's decree and dependant upon the intention of one's heart. Therefore our sages have said: If a person immerses without special intention, it is as if though nothing at all was done.
" We can find some indication for the moral basis of this: Just as one who decides on becoming clean does so immediately upon immersion, although nothing new has befallen his body, so, too one whose heart is set upon cleansing the tum'ah (uncleanness) that besets a person's soul - namely, wrongful thoughts and false convictions - becomes clean upon consenting in his/her heart to shun those ways and bring his/her soul into the water of pure reason. It is just as read in the scriptures (Ezekiel 36:25): `and I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall become clean. From all your uncleanness and your idols will I cleanse you.' May G-d in his infinite mercy, cleanse us from all sin, iniquity and quilt. Amen." (Rambam, Laws of Mikvah 11:12)
[1.5] One should be occupied on Erev Rosh haShanah with prayer, repentant thoughts and mending relationships with neighbors and not postpone these matters until after Rosh HaShanah. (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch)
2. CANDLE LIGHTING
[2.1] The preferred way for lighting weekday Yom Tov candles is:
(a) Strike the match (This applies to Erev Yom Tov only. See (e) below for second evening.)
(b) Recite the appropriate b'rachot (See below).
(c) After the b'rachot light the candles.
(d) Place the burning match in an ashtray to extinguish by itself. Do not blow the match out.
(e) On the second evening of Yom Tov, the procedure is the same as above with the exception of step (a). On Yom Tov, one may not strike a match kindling a flame anew, but it is permitted to ignite a match from an already existing flame such as a pilot light or some similar source of fire. Then, with this kindled match the candles may be lit.
[2.2] If Yom Tov occurs on Friday night, then the lighting procedure is the same as Shabbat which simply means reversing steps (b) and (c) above.
[2.3] The b'racha when lighting candles is "Baruch Ata ... l'hadlik ner shel yom tov." This is followed by Shehecheyanu, said on both nights of Rosh haShanah.
[2.4] Caution must be exercised not to recite Shehecheyanu twice an evening by force of rote, once at candle lighting and then again at Kiddush. If you light candles and also recite Kiddush it is preferable to leave Shehecheyanu for the end of Kiddush.
[3.1] Use a Machzor for Kiddush since the text differs somewhat from other Yomim Tovim.
[3.2] Shehecheyanu is recited on both nights of Rosh haShanah. If one recites the b'racha at candle lighting time, it should not be repeated at Kiddush.
[3.3] When the second night of Rosh haShanah falls on Motza'ay Shabbat, there is a special procedure (known by the mnemonic YakNaHaZ) for combining Havdalah of Motza'ay Shabbat and Yom Tov's Kiddush. How this is done is discussed in the Torah Topics entitled A Yom Tov Primer.
4. GOURMET SUGGESTIONS FOR ROSH HASHANA
Our sages of blessed memory have said "A sign has reality". We therefore perform symbolic acts as a sign of good: a prayerful expression that we emerge meritorious in judgement and that the new year be a good one for us. These symbolic acts are performed during the first evening meal of Rosh haShanah and in the Sephardic custom, the second night as well.
[4.1] A morsel of challah is dipped into honey, and where there is no honey, in sugar.
[4.2] After eating the challah, a piece of apple is dipped into honey, the b'racha over fruit of the trees (boray p'ri ho-etz) is pronounced and the fruit is eaten immediately. The following prayer is recited afterwards: "May it be Your will to renew in our behalf a good and sweet year."
[4.3] It is likewise the custom to partake of the head of a fish, and to say: "May it be Your wish that we be as a head and not as a tail."
[4.4] On Rosh haShanah nuts are not eaten since the numerical value of egoz, the Hebrew for nut, is the same as that of chet (Hebrew for sin) and we refrain from alluding to sin on Rosh haShanah.
[4.5] On the second night, prior to the recitation of Kiddush, it is customary to place on the table a new fruit (one that had not been in season or eaten for a year) or to don a new garment, which would require the b'racha of Shehecheyanu. And, when one says Shehecheyanu at Kiddush or when lighting the candles, the intention should extend simultaneously to the new fruit or garment and to Rosh HaShanah. Some of the commonly used Shehecheyanu fruits available (in our area) at this season of the year are: kiwi, mango, pomegranates, tropical melons.
5. ROSH HASHANAH GREETINGS
[5.1] On the first evening after Ma'ariv the traditional Rosh HaShanah greeting is:
"L'shanah Tova Tikosayv v'Saychosaym
l'alter l'chayim tovim
b'sifrom shel tzadikim g'murim."
"May you be inscribed and sealed immediately for a good year together with all of the righteous of our people."
[5.2] After that first evening, the greeting is simply Gut Yom Tov, Gut Yor (Have a pleasant festival and a good year); Chag Samayach, Shana Tova if you prefer the Hebrew form of the greeting, or as Sephardim say, Moadim L'Simcha.
[5.3] From Rosh haShanah through the seventh day of Sukkot, the greeting properly used is G'mar Tov - ("May you be sealed for good all this year.")
6. A WHITE KITTEL
[6.1] White in TaNaCH (the 24 books of the Bible) symbolizes purity while red is a sure connotation for corruption. Based upon this scheme of symbolic colors, wearing red on Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur is avoided. As much white as possible is worn instead. This is why a white kittel is worn by the menfolks. The kittel is not an ecclesiastical garment or uniform. Rather it is something which has been for centuries part of every man's wardrobe from the day of his wedding at which he would first wear it.
[6.2] Custom varies as to who should wear a kittel on Rosh haShanah. In some congregations, only those leading services wear it, while in other places everyone who owns a kittel uses one on Rosh haShanah. It is the opinion of this writer that a kittel should be worn by all, even on Rosh haShanah.
[6.3] Custom also varies as to what an avel (one in mourning) should do about wearing a kittel. The controversy revolves about establishing the reason for wearing the kittel. According to some, it is an ecstatic reminder of the inner joys of being purified of one's sins through repentance, therefore, the kittel represents a state of excessive joy which is not fitting for a mourner. Others have stated, that the kittel may remind a person that the shrouds a Jew is wrapped in upon death closely resembles the white linen of the kittel and, if so, an avel so actively conscious of the humbling effects of death should naturally wear a kittel. One who is a mourner should clarify which custom he ought to follow. (See Mishna B'rura 610:18; 472:12 and Aruch HaShulchan 610:2)
[6.4] Women opt for white blouses, skirts, dresses, and accessories, but not a kittel.
[7.1] All are optimally required to hear 100 sounds of the Shofar, but no less than 30 sounds on each day of Rosh haShanah. These numbers have great significance which one can grasp only after lengthy Talmudic study. Accordingly, even a brief explanation here is not attempted.
[7.2] These 100 sounds are distributed throughout the length Musaf: 30 before beginning Musaf, 30 during the Chazzan's repetition of Musaf, and finally 40 at the conclusion of the Musaf.
[7.3] Infants brought to the synagogue for Shofar not only do not benefit from these impressive moments, but more often than not, create noise and distraction for the entire congregation. Leave infants with a babysitter. Children who can already understand the meaning of Shofar on Rosh haShanah should be encouraged to be at their parents' (grandparents are also parents) side throughout the whole of Musaf so that they may hear the 100 sounds.
[7.4] It is a worthy practice to exercise self-restraint and refrain from any form of conversation from the moment the Shofar b'rachot are said until all 100 sounds have been completed. Those who must converse as a result of their responsibility to conduct services do not violate this practice so long as their conversation is for the purpose of carrying out their responsibilities.
[7.5] If you arrive in shul after the Shofar b'rachot were recited, you, yourself, are to recite the two b'rachot just before the next set will be heard. Be certain not to be distracted by anything or anyone from the time you complete the b'rachot and the moment you hear the Shofar being sounded. Again, no idle conversation should take place until all the rest of the sounds have been completed.
[7.6] Shofar can be heard all day long, even after services. In such a case, if the person listening to the Shofar knows how to recite the b'rachos, he/she should recite them rather than the one who is blowing the Shofar. If such is not the case, the one who sounds the Shofar may repeat the b'rachos over and again.
[7.7] After the mitzvah of hearing the Shofar has been fulfilled, the Shofar ought to be put away except under the following circumstances: (a) Children may practice blowing Shofar without any limits. (b) One blowing for others to observe the mitzvah may do so as many times as is necessary. (c) One may practice for the next day only if absolutely essential. (d) One who wishes to enhance the observance of the mitzvah by repeating the sounds according to the differing opinions of the halachic authorities may do so without any restraint.
[7.8] Shofar is not sounded on Shabbat as a result of a rabbinic decree dating back to the times of the Mishna. (Mishna Rosh haShanah 4:1)
8. ARRIVING LATE FOR SERVICES
Rosh haShanah services are exceedingly lengthy due to the many piyuttim (poetic embellishments) added to the Machzor.
If you are compelled to arrive at services considerably later than the starting time, recite only the regular order of Yom Tov or Shabbat prayers, skipping all of the Rosh haShanah piyuttim so that you can join the congregation at the Shacharit silent Amidah. If you are catching up on yuor prayers and the Shofar is sounded during this time, listen intently so as to observe the mitzvah and say none of the accompanying responses which the congregation normally says. After the Shofar has been sounded, continue your t'fillot until you reach where the congregation is at.
9. WHEN ONE CANNOT JOIN A MINYAN ON ROSH HASHANAH
If for whatever reason you cannot join a minyan for Rosh haShanah, recite the regular order of prayers as you would on any other Yom Tov just saying the Rosh haShanah Amidah.
You may add at the end of your t'fillot certain highpoints in the Machzor said by the congregation For instance: a) L'kayl Orech Din b) U'nesaneh Tokef c) V'Chol Ma'aminim.
10. THE AVEL (MOURNER) AT ROSH HASHANAH
[10.1] During Shivah a mourner does not leave home to attend a minyan for S'lichot. A mourner may recite S'lichot individually or with a minyan at the mourner's home.
On Erev Rosh haShanah and avel may join the minyan in shul if no minyan can be gathered at the mourner's home.
[10.2] An avel during Shivah does not serve as chazzan for S'lichot.
[10.3] Generally, an avel does not serve as a chazzan or Ba'al Tokaya on Rosh haShana. There are exceptions to this ruling, so rabbinic guidance must be sought to determine the circumstances and all relevant conditions.
[10.4] Concerning an avel wearing a kittel, see above section [6.3].
[10.5] An avel for a relative other than parents whose Shivah is concluded on Erev Rosh haShanah may take a haircut late in the afternoon in honor of Yom Tov.
An avel for a parent may only take a haircut on Erev Rosh haShanah provided 30 days (sh'loshim) have already elapsed.
[11.1] Tashlich is recited beginning with the first afternoon of Rosh haShanah. When the first day falls on Shabbos, Tashlich is customarily postponed until Sunday. Tashlich may be recited through Yom Kippur if not done earlier.
[11.2] What symbolic lesson does one come away with from Tashlich? First, one remembers that just as water cleanses grime and dirt so does it symbolize arriving at spiritual purity. Also, a body of flowing water evokes the feeling of renewal. Just as the waters are ever flowing onward, so must a person constantly move onward and progress, never to spiritually stagnate. Finally, just as a physical object cast into the sea will never be recovered, we beseech G-d, as did the prophet Micha, that the record of our shortcomings be cast by G-d on the Day of Judgement into the depths of the sea as if never to be recalled.
[11.3] Taking bread to water's edge and telling children that we are going to throw away our sins is a woefully foolish formulation of this highly symbolic and time-honored practice. It is such explanations that give rise later on in life to so many forms of resistance to skepticism with the meaningful essence of our minhagim (practices). Moreover, feeding fish, ducks, geese and all non-domesticated creatures not dependant on you for food is prohibited on any Shabbat or Yom Tov.
12. FAST OF G'DALYAH
The day immediately following Rosh haShanah, 3 Tishray, is observed as a fast day called Tzom G'dalyah. "As governor over the remnants of Jews left in Judea after the Babylonian conquest and destruction of the first Temple, G'dalyah ben Achikam tried to stabilize Jewish life as best as possible and maintain whatever thin threads of self-government would be allowed to the vanquished Jews. Political factions, Jews and non-Jew alike, who resented G'dalyah's conciliatory attitude towards Babylonia, assassinated him and massacred many of his supporters.
"There is an opinion that G'dalyah was slain on the first day of Tishray, but the fast was postponed until after Rosh haShanah since fasting is prohibited during a festival. Concerning this fast day, the Rabbis have said that its aim is to establish that the death of the righteous is likened to the burning of the house of our G-d. Just as they ordained a fast upon the destruction of the Sanctuary, likewise did they ordain a fast upon the death of G'dalyah." (Book of our Heritage)
13.BETWEEN ROSH HASHANAH AND YOM KIPPUR
1. The seven days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are observed by placing heaving emphasis on matters pertaining to T'shuvah (returning to the Torah's paths), T'fillah (earnest prayer marked by the quality of true outreach to G-d, as much as increased quantity), and Tz'dakah (widespread charity).
2. Since there are considerable changes made through every one of the services during these days, it is essential that one be very deliberate with what is being said; a Siddur should always be in hand, never relying on memory.
3. Even before Yom Kippur it is proper to choose a Lulav and Esrog and begin building a Sukkah.
4. The entire Ten Days of T'shuvah starting with Rosh haShanah and ending with Yom Kippur should be marked by daily Torah study no matter how little time is available.
a) The Halachos dealing with Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur as found in Shulchan Aruch, other standard halachic sources, and Matte Ephraim, a classic compilation on Rosh haShanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkos.
b) Two excellent English sources are the relevant sections from the three volume work by Eliyahu Kitov entitled: Book of our Heritage. Also Nobel Lawreate Agnon's Day of Awe. There are many other such English compilations.
c) Mishna and G'mara Rosh haShanah especially Chapter 4 and Yoma especially Chapter 8.
d) Standard Mussar (ethical) works now available in English translations such as: M'sillas Y'sharim, Sha'aray T'shuvah, Orchos Tzadikkim, and the like.
e) A noteworthy practice deserving of wider observance is what Brisk (Lithuanian) circles do since the days of R. Hayim Solovechik by studying the ten chapters of Rambam's Laws of T'shuvah one each day beginning on Rosh HaShannah and ending exactly on Yom Kippur.
5. A study of the Machzor, now that there are extensive commentaries and guide books available, should not be neglected.