The laws of Rosh Hashanah.
1. The Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year is of course the time of judgment. However, the Jewish “Judgment Day” brings us completely different associations than that to non-Jews. Remembering Rosh Hashanah, we think about the lofty ideas of these days. Even the melodies of prayers in the synagogues cause a person tremendous desire to repent, come back to the ways of the Creator. This is the feeling of a king’s son who left the palace and after wandering for many years wants to come back. How far off did we stray? This should not have happened… The Creator loves us so much… We say in our prayers: “Until the day of death You are still waiting for every person …” – He is waiting for our repentance so much. The Creator in His infinite mercy chose these ten days a year so that we can sum up all of our deeds and correct everything that was not done right. During these days it is possible to feel how the Creator is bringing us back. If we use these days correctly, it is possible to rise very high. One Slovak non-Jew, after conversion to Judaism said how he was especially affected by seeing the Jews during the days of repentance: “These were absolutely different people not the ones I used to do business with throughout the year – these were angels”.
2. Rosh Hashanah is first of all a holiday. Therefore, the usual laws of a holiday apply to these days. Besides that it is prohibited to do the work forbidden on Yom Tov, it is necessary to make this day a celebration – to eat two meals, to put on beautiful clothes (some people put on Kitel – a special white cloth but others put it on only on Yom Kippur). It is customary to eat during the evening meals certain kinds of food as a good sign, showing that we believe that we will be justified during the forthcoming judgment. Thus, for example, we dip the challah in honey (according to Sephardic custom we also dip it in the salt as during other meals). The Sidurim bring various other symbolic foods eaten on this night.
3. The Torah commands us to hear the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah. The detailed laws of kosher blowing are quite complicated and are beyond the scope of this book. In general, we should keep in mind before the blasts start that we want to fulfill a mitzvah of Torah and afterwards we should listen carefully and not talk. The shofar is blows after Torah reading and again during the Musaf prayer. It is customary to hear 100 blasts altogether throughout the prayers.
4. According to the law, the women are not obligated to hear the shofar, but the custom of all Jewish women is to hear at least the minimal number of thirty blasts. In most places special blowing of the shofar is held during the afternoon at the time when it is convenient even for those women who take care of little children. If Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbos, the shofar is not blown and is considered muktza.
5. The day after Rosh Hashanah is the fast of Gedaliya as we discussed in Parshas Vayigash. This way everybody fasts immediately after Rosh Hashanah. Some people continue to fast throughout the rest of the days of repentance except for Shabbos and the day before Yom Kippur. Obviously, our repentance and change of behavior is most important, we should especially examine our bad qualities, see Parshas Shemos.
The laws of Yom Kippur.
1. On the day before Yom Kippur, there is a mitzvah to eat well. (Besides the fact that it will help us fasting, there are deep Kabbalistic reasons for this as is described in the writings of Arizal).
2. Any work that is prohibited on Shabbos is forbidden on Yom Kippur as well. Besides this, it is forbidden to eat or drink, wash or smear oils and creams, wear leather shoes and have marital relations. We will now discuss each of these prohibitions separately.
3. The Torah forbids eating or drinking on Yom Kippur in any amount. However, the person does not get Kares – spiritual incision, unless he eats as much food as the size of an average date within about nine minutes or drinks a full cheek of liquid. For this reason, a person for whom fasting is dangerous is usually fed in small quantities every nine minutes or so. Obviously, if even this is not enough, he can be fed normally, when there is life danger according to the doctor’s decision.
4. We don’t wash even hands and face on Yom Kippur. However, after sleeping or going to the bathroom we are allowed to wash our fingers three times. We don’t use any lotions or soaps on Yom Kippur. Note that solid soaps and creams cannot be used on a regular Shabbos or Yom Tov as well, however liquid soaps are permitted but not on Yom Kippur.
5. According to the majority opinion the prohibition against wearing shoes applies only to leather shoes. For this reason most Jews wear rubber shoes on Yom Kippur. However, there is also a strict opinion according to which all shoes are forbidden and only wearing socks is permitted. Note, that some people take off their rubber shoes at least during the prayers.
6. On Yom Kippur the husband and the wife behave like when she is Nidah. They sleep on separate beds at a distance from each other and don’t touch one another.
7. On Yom Kippur we pray five times. The last prayer is called Neilah – the closing of the Heavenly gates. This is our last chance for return. Obviously it is possible to return to the Creator at any time, but on Yom Kippur we are given special strength to do this and one can rectify his misdeeds to a much greater extent.
8. After Yom Kippur, Havdallah is made, but not the same way as after a regular Shabbos – we don’t make a brocha on the nicely smelling spices. The fire needed for Havdallah has to be lit from before Yom Kippur, for this purpose we light a long candle before the holiday.