Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is observed as a two-day holiday for everyone, including those living in Israel and Jerusalem. This practice dates back to ancient times and has historical and logistical reasons behind it.
In the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. Unlike other Jewish holidays, which are typically observed for one day within Israel and two days outside of Israel, Rosh Hashanah is uniformly observed as a two-day holiday everywhere.
The origins of the two-day observance can be traced back to the time when the Jewish calendar relied on the sighting of the new moon to determine the beginning of each month, which falls within a window of two days. Because the new months starts only when the new moon is sighted by witnesses and officially declared as the new moon in the Sanhedrin, an extra day was added to holidays where the word would not have reached in time, i.e. outside the Land of Israel. Since Rosh Hashanah, uniquely among the holidays, is observed on the same day as when the new moon will be, this led to a practice of observing two days of Rosh Hashanah to ensure that the holiday would be celebrated on the correct day, regardless of when the new moon was sighted.
Although the Jewish calendar has since been standardized and calculated mathematically, the tradition of the two-day observance of holidays established by Moshe has been maintained as a commemoration of this historical practice in every Jewish community. Often these will have slightly different readings from the Torah. Again uniquely for Rosh Hashanah, there are also differences in the liturgy and emotional focus between the first and second days.
The first day of Rosh Hashanah is marked by a sense of awe and solemnity. It focuses on the themes of judgment, introspection, and repentance. The liturgical prayers and readings emphasize God’s kingship and the individual and collective accountability for our actions.
The second day of Rosh Hashanah, often referred to as “Rosh Hashanah Sheni” (the second Rosh Hashanah), has a more joyous and celebratory atmosphere. It is considered an additional day of commemoration, offering an opportunity to extend and deepen the spiritual experience of the holiday. Of course, it is still just as introspective, based on repentance and improvement.
The Torah readings are different—both from Genesis but different parts, along with different haftarah portions—and much of the arrangement of the machzor is different, especially around the Amida and Musaf sections.
The two-day observance of Rosh Hashanah for everyone, including Israel and Jerusalem, is rooted in ancient traditions and logistical complexities related to the lunar calendar. This unique aspect of Rosh Hashanah adds depth and significance to the holiday, providing an extended period for reflection, repentance, and celebration as individuals embark on the New Year, no matter where on the globe any Jew may be.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is unique among Jewish holidays in that it is observed as a two-day celebration by Jews around the world, including in Israel and Jerusalem. This practice dates back to ancient times and has historical and logistical reasons behind it.
The tradition of observing Rosh Hashanah for two days originates from a time when the Hebrew calendar was based on the sighting of the new moon to determine the beginning of each month. Since Rosh Hashanah marks the first day of the month of Tishrei, it was challenging to precisely determine the appearance of the new moon and thus the exact day of Rosh Hashanah. To ensure that everyone observed the holiday on the correct day, an additional day was added as a safeguard.
Even after the Hebrew calendar was established and fixed, the practice of observing Rosh Hashanah for two days remained. This is due to the historical dispersion of the Jewish people and the difficulties in communication and travel in ancient times. With the Jewish community spread across different regions, it was challenging to transmit the exact date of Rosh Hashanah accurately. To avoid confusion and ensure that all Jewish communities were united in their observance, the two-day tradition was maintained.
In modern times, even with the establishment of fixed calendars and improved communication, the two-day observance of Rosh Hashanah has been upheld as a universal custom. This serves to preserve the unity of the Jewish people and maintain the connection with the historical practices of the past.
It’s worth noting that there are differences in the liturgy and emotional intensity between the first and second days of Rosh Hashanah. The first day is considered the more solemn and serious of the two. It is focused on the awe-inspiring themes of judgment, repentance, and the coronation of God as King. Special prayers, such as the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn) and the recitation of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, are central to this day’s liturgy.
The second day of Rosh Hashanah maintains the spiritual intensity but is often infused with a sense of joy and celebration. It is a continuation of the first day, allowing for additional prayers and readings that emphasize themes of divine mercy, gratitude, and hope for the coming year.
By observing Rosh Hashanah for two days, both in Israel and across the Jewish diaspora, Jews ensure that they fulfill the traditions and customs passed down through generations. It serves as a reminder of the unity of the Jewish people and their shared commitment to faith, reflection, and renewal as they embark on a new year.