Rosh Hashanah

Learn about Rosh Hashanah by discovering objects related to holiday in the Jewish Museum Collection through this exhibit.

New Year Greeting (early 20th century) by Unknown Artist/MakerThe Jewish Museum, New York

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, initiates the Days of Awe—a ten-day period of repentance, prayer, and self-reflection, that culminates on the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur.

New Year Greeting (early 20th century) by Unknown Artist/MakerThe Jewish Museum, New York

Yom Kippur is the holiest Jewish holiday, and a fast day. According to tradition, God opens the "Book of Life" on Rosh Hashanah and closes it on Yom Kippur, offering a time to contemplate the deeds of the past year and an opportunity for renewal for the year ahead.

New Year Greeting (early 20th century) by Unknown Artist/MakerThe Jewish Museum, New York

The idea of being inscribed and sealed goes back to the Talmud (Tractate Rosh Hashanah, 16a): “All are judged on Rosh Hashanah, and their sentence is sealed on Yom Kippur.” Explore works in the Jewish Museum’s collection that relate to the holiday.

Shofar (19th century) by Unknown Artist/MakerThe Jewish Museum, New York

While in the Talmud the holiday is called Rosh Hashanah (“head of the year” in Hebrew), in the Bible it is referred to as Yom Teruah or “a day when the horn is sounded” (Numbers 29:1). No object is more deeply linked to Rosh Hashanah than the shofar.

A shofar is the animal horn that is sounded 100 times each day of the holiday as a call to repentance. The shofar is linked to the dramatic story of the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22: 1–19) which is read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

Many shofarot (Hebrew plural for shofar) are among the Jewish Museum’s treasured possessions, including this shofar which is one of the first objects to enter the collection, donated by Judge Mayer Sulzberger in 1904 to help establish the Jewish Museum.

Shofar (18th century) by Unknown Artist/MakerThe Jewish Museum, New York

This shofar from the 18th century is made of a ram’s horn and is inscribed in Hebrew with biblical verses read during the Rosh Hashanah prayer service: “Blow the horn on the new moon, at the full moon for our feast day.

For it is a statute for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob” (Psalms 81:4–5) and “With trumpets and the sound of the horn” (Psalms 98:6).

This Torah mantle features the climactic scene when the angel stays Abraham’s hand to prevent him from sacrificing his son Isaac. As stated in the Hebrew inscription below the scene, the mantle was dedicated in 1875/76 to the synagogue of Pfaffenhoffen, a small town in Alsace, in northeastern France. The color white is traditional in synagogue textiles made for use in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Torah Mantle, Unknown Artist/Maker, 1875/1876, From the collection of: The Jewish Museum, New York
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Book Cover with Prayer Book (1715) by EBThe Jewish Museum, New York

Reflection and prayer are important aspects of the Days of Awe. The prayers for the High Holidays are contained in the mahzor or prayer book for the Jewish festivals. Among Italian Jews, it was customary for bride and groom to exchange gifts (sivlonot).

Book Cover with Prayer Book (1715) by EBThe Jewish Museum, New York

 This elaborate silver book cover for a prayer book exemplifies this custom as well as the adoption of unofficial coats of arms among affluent Italian Jews.

Ceremonial dress (lulwi) (1801/1900) by Unknown Artist/MakerThe Jewish Museum, New York

While white is the preponderant color of synagogue textiles used in the High Holidays, in Jewish communities in Yemen and Central Asia dark colors are associated with the sobering spirit of the Days of Awe, like this ceremonial dress from Sanaa, Yemen.

While today many people may send their loved ones best wishes for Rosh Hashanah via email or text, the tradition in fact goes back centuries. The medieval Rabbi Jacob ben Moses Moellin, known as Maharil, encouraged the writing of special greetings to friends and family for Rosh Hashanah. With the rise of modern manufacturing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, greeting cards were produced commercially.

European greeting cards frequently depicted various romantic scenes, often with pop-up paper cuts that included Jewish scenes or figures in the foreground, such as this one from Germany. Expressing themes of renewal and hope—as well as depicting realities like immigration, family celebrations, and inspirational biblical stories—the cards reflected the changing world of a Jewish culture adapting to modernity and opportunity, while still attempting to retain its essential values and beliefs.

New Year Greeting, Unknown Artist/Maker, early 20th century, From the collection of: The Jewish Museum, New York
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New Year Greeting (1910) by Happy Jack (born Angokwazhuk)The Jewish Museum, New York

An unusual Rosh Hashanah greeting in the Jewish Museum collection comes from Nome, Alaska, combining the Jewish custom of sending New Year cards with the centuries-old Inuit craft of walrus-tusk carving. 

The couple depicted on the tusk may have run a store in Nome. The greeting, carved by a prominent artist known as Happy Jack, features the traditional Hebrew expression “May you be inscribed for a good year” within a flower garland, and the year in the Jewish calendar—[5]671 = 1

Burial Plaque (3rd-4th century CE) by Unknown Artist/MakerThe Jewish Museum, New York

The pomegranate, a “new fruit” (fruits that have not been eaten in a long time), are typically eaten on Rosh Hashanah. Pomegranates are also (apocryphally) said to have exactly 613 seeds, connecting it to the 613 commandments of the Torah. 

Burial Plaque (3rd-4th century CE) by Unknown Artist/MakerThe Jewish Museum, New York

This burial plaque emphasizes the long history of pomegranates' religious significance in Jewish culture. The plaque, from 3rd–4th century C.E. Rome, features symbols that represent offerings brought to the Temple: the pomegranate for first fruits and the ram animal sacrifice.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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