This post is part of an ongoing series “Especially for Beginners” in which I will try to give simple explanations for words and concepts in Jewish life. There is always a lot more to learn than in these little posts. If you want more, follow the links. To see what other topics I have covered in this series, click “Especially for Beginners” in the Category cloud on the right side of your screen.
Things to know about the Days of Awe:
- The Days of Awe are the ten days from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to the end of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
- The Hebrew for the Days of Awe is Yamim Noraim [yah-MEEM no-rah-EEM].
- The Days of Awe are a time for concentration on teshuvah [turning, repentance], for mending relationships and adjusting the trajectory of our lives.
- Many Jews approach others during the Days of Awe to apologize for misdeeds, slights, and misunderstandings in the previous year.
- The teshuvah of the Days of Awe should be not only personal, but communal. Jewish groups, and the Jewish People as a whole confess their wrongdoings and make changes.
- Sometimes the Days of Awe are referred to as the Days of Repentance.
- The Shabbat that falls during the Days of Awe is called Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Repentance.
- Synagogue services during the Days of Awe are unusual. They have their own music, and they are frequently much longer. They are not typical of services the rest of the year. Hence this is not a good time to “shul-shop” [look for a synagogue.] During services, someone may sound the shofar, the ram’s horn.
- Synagogues often charge or sell tickets for the most crowded services, but most larger communities have services that are free or low-cost. Call a local synagogue or Federation to find out about your options, and do so well ahead of time (a month ahead is about right.)
- The simplest greeting for the Days of Awe is “Shanah Tovah!” [sha-NAH toe-VAH]. It means (roughly) “Happy New Year!”
How can a beginner participate in the Days of Awe?
- Attend services. If you cannot find a free service and do not want to pay, know that many services do not charge for some of the less-attended services: Selichot, Second Day of Rosh Hashanah, or Yom Kippur afternoon services. Shabbat services (other than Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur) are open to visitors as they are all year long.
- Read about the Days of Awe, either online or in a book. The Beginner’s Guide to the High Holy Days is a place to begin.
- Participate in making teshuvah. For more about that, read Teshuvah for Beginners and The Jewish Cure for Guilt.
- Eat the traditional foods of Rosh Hashanah: Apples, honey, sweets, pomegranates (for a sweet new year.)
- Fast all or part of the day on Yom Kippur. See Tips for Fasting on Yom Kippur.
- Wish your Jewish friends “Shanah Tovah!”
- Consider signing up for a Taste of Judaism or Intro to Judaism course at your local synagogue. They often begin right after the High Holy Days.
I wish you a Shanah Tovah, a Sweet and Good New Year!