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Dates for assembly

Rosh Hashanah

This festival, on the first day of the Jewish month of Tishri, marks the start of the Jewish New Year - the coming year being 5764.

Passage to read out to pupils

When is New Year's Day? Most people would answer January 1 - a date settled by the Romans more than 100 years before Jesus was born. But for almost all schools and colleges, the new year starts in September. This custom goes back to medieval times when university students - many of whom came from quite poor families - had to return home to help with harvesting. Once harvest was over, they could return to their studies.

This is also the start of the Jewish New Year, but it is not a time for parties and celebrations. The festival begins on the Sabbath eve (Friday evening) with the mother of the family lighting candles in the home and, during the meal, everyone eats pieces of apple dipped in honey in the hope that the new year will be sweet and prosperous.

There is a tradition that, on this day, God opens the "Book of Life", in which are written everyone's names along with their good and bad deeds, and decides how they should be punished or rewarded. So Rosh Hashanah is a solemn time for thinking about "judgment" or "new beginnings".

The word Rosh means head or beginning and hashanah means the year. In synagogues, a horn (or shofar) is blown to start a 10-day period known as the High Holy Days, the most religious time of the year. The traditional Jewish prayer-book says this is also the anniversary of the day the Earth was created in 3760BC. To calculate a Jewish year number (up to September), 3,760 must therefore be added to the Western year. Although all Jews use this numbering, not all believe the world is only 5,763 years old.

Follow-up

Jewish months normally have 29 or 30 days, making the year 354 days long.

In order to keep the festivals in step with the seasons, a leap month is added some years. Divide the Jewish year number by 19. If the remainder is 3, 6, 8, 11, 14 or 17 or if there is no remainder, it is a leap year. When are the next two leap years?

Invite a member of a Jewish community to talk about the High Holy Days.

Further information about Rosh Hashanah can be found at www.factmonster.comspotroshhashanah1 and www.holidays.nethighholydays

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