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More Traditions

Blowing shofar for Rosh Hashanah in Israel, 1948

No work is permitted on Rosh Hashanah, and much of the day is spent in the synagogue. Many people read Psalm 33 and 130.

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, people perform the Tashlikh ceremony in which they throw bread crumbs or stones into a running body of water such as a river or spring, symbolically casting off their sins into the water and beginning life anew. This custom originated in the 15th century, and in all likelihood was derived from the biblical account of the scapegoat. (See Leviticus 16.)

Today, Jews view Tashlikh as symbolic of the freedom from sin they can enjoy when they repent and trust in God's miracle of forgiveness. In the words of the prophet recited in the Tashlikh liturgy, "You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19).

White is the predominant color during the Ten Days of Repentance. The skullcaps, ark curtain, and Torah mantles are all white, signifying purity, holiness, and atonement for sin — "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18). White is also the color of the shrouds in which Jews are buried. It reminds them of the gravity of judgment and the frailty of life.

It is also customary to dip a piece of challah (bread) or apple into honey at mealtime and recite the prayer, "May it be thy will that we be blessed with a good, sweet year." As with most other religious festivals, Jews partake of a festive meal on the two days of Rosh Hashanah. People are to feel joyful and confident that God, the Father and King, will pass merciful judgment on their lives and forgive their iniquities.