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Rosh Hashanah customs from all countries around the world

A world tour of Rosh Hashanah customs

By Laly Derai

Fish head or sheep head? Apple in honey or sugar? 30 or 100 blasts of the Shofar? For or against nuts? It is during the holidays that the diversity of the Jewish people is most palpable and Rosh Hashanah is not to be outdone: each community and its customs, each family and its habits, each country and its customs. Hamodia went in search of minhagim to offer you a file as sweet as honey…

Alsace and Western Europe:

On Rosh Hashanah, Alsatian Jews put on their white “sargueness”, which is in fact the funeral clothing that they will wear at 120 years old. Fans of black humor claim that the word “sargueness” comes from the German “Sarj” which means coffin. According to a slightly less distressing explanation, “sargueness” comes rather from the French word “serge”, which designates the fabric with which this garment is made. Newlyweds and mourners do not wear sargueness, the former so as not to attract mourning while they are in the joy of the first year of marriage and the latter so as not to attract unhappiness while they have already experienced it this year.

However, the white yarmulke is required for everyone. Some also have the habit of wearing a completely white Tallit during the two days of Rosh Hashanah.
Just after the Arvit service, the community sings the piyut of Yigdal to a tune particular to the Yamim Noraïm. The Rosh Hashanah prayer is extremely solemn and this gravity reaches its peak at the time of the “tätchen”, the sounding of the Shofar. The expression “tätchen” was coined from the initials of the three traditional notes, Tékia, Téroua and Chevarim.

The Ashkenazi Seder is not very long since it consists of apple in honey or apfelkrapfe (the Alsatian apple turnover) and sheep’s head. The custom is that we do not eat nuts throughout the Tishrei holiday period because the word Egoz (nut in Hebrew) has the same numerical value as the word ‘Het (sin).
The reading of the Torah takes place according to the particular melody of the Yamim Noraïm. Three people are required to go up to the Torah: the Baal Tokea (the one who blows the Shofar), the one who indicates the blows and the officiant. However, if the officiant is paid to recite the prayer, he is not obligated to go up to the Torah.

Since Rosh Chodesh Elul and until the eve of Yom Kippur, young and old get up around 2:30 a.m. every night for the “Achmorot”. Women are also required to stand and some have taken to preparing coffee for men at the synagogue.
On the day of Rosh Hashanah, a very old custom is to sound thirty blasts of Shofar even before Alot Hasha’har (rising of dawn) in order to “precede Evil before it precedes you”.
The Baal Tokea ascends to the Torah on the fifth ascent. Just before the sale of the Haftara, the ‘hazan blesses the faithful and wishes them to be inscribed in the book of Life and Remembrance. The faithful respond in chorus: “You too, be inscribed in the book of Life and Remembrance”.
The Mussaf prayer is read aloud by the ‘hazan in order to clear up those who cannot read. During Moussaf, only ten blasts of the Shofar are sounded and at the end, the Baal Tokea sounds a large Terua.
Before the Mincha prayer, the book of Tehilim is read, the first half being read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and the second on the second day.
The Tachli’h is not part of the “Ti’hlal”, the Yemeni Sidur, but the community has gotten into the habit of joining the other Édot during this ceremony.
Some have the minhag of slaughtering a sheep or a calf on the morning of Rosh Hashanah to enjoy the “freshest” meat possible.

The Prouchim of Eretz Israel:
Before the celebration, the Aron Hakodech and the lectern are covered with white fabrics while the Sifré Torah are covered with their white covers.
Motsi bread is dipped in salt and honey. Then, the Rosh Hashanah Seder begins, during which apples dipped in honey, dates, pomegranates, fish and ram’s head meat are eaten. When eating the fish, the Prouchim wish themselves not to be affected by the evil eye.
Following the minhag of the Vilna Gaon, some people have the habit of not eating grapes or fatty meat during Rosh Hashanah. Here too, nuts are banned from the menu.
During the Amidah of Musaf on Rosh Hashanah, the custom is not to blow the Shofar. The thirty “missing” ringings are completed just before Alénou Léchabéa’h.
According to the Vilna Gaon, it is forbidden to cry during Rosh Hashanah.

The custom among the Kurdish Jewish community is to fast the day before Rosh Hashanah, before beginning the Day of Judgment in solemnity. Just after the Sha’harit prayer on the eve of the holiday, families go to the market to do their shopping and buy the freshest fruit possible. These purchases are called “Zouanit Toumaï”.
Mincha on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, which is the last Tfila of the year, is recited with great fervor. It is followed by the piyut “A’hot Kétana”, which is read in Hebrew and Kurdish.
Arriving home, the head of the family recites several verses from the Torah, the Prophets and Ketuvim twelve times before starting Kiddush. The Motsi is soaked in sugar and not in honey which is, according to Kabbala, associated with Din, if necessary.
During the two days of Rosh Hashanah, everyone who is not used to going to the synagogue during the year is brought up to the Torah. The Piyut “Ète Chaaré Ratson” is also read in Hebrew and Kurdish.
Kurdish Jews have the habit of reading the book of Tehillim twice during the morning of Rosh Hashanah. After the reading, we taste fruits for the elevation of the souls of the deceased.
It is forbidden to sleep during Rosh Hashanah so that “the Mazal (luck) does not also sleep”.

Morocco and Algeria
The Jews of Morocco, separated men and women, have the custom of carrying out the ceremony of Hatarat Nédarim (the annulment of vows) four times: the first takes place on the 20th of Av, the second Rosh Chodesh Eloul, the third on eve of Rosh Hashanah and finally the eve of Yom Kippur.
Before Rosh Hashanah, the hostess cleans her interior with almost the same energy as at Passover.
The minhag of fasting the day before the festival was scrupulously respected by older generations, but this custom has fallen into disuse among new generations.
Moroccan Jews do not wear new clothes on Rosh Hashanah



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