Some Jewish High Holiday Customs

Jewish High Holiday traditions vary somewhat with geography and the degree of orthodoxy involved, but two customs are widely observed by the Jewish community during this season.

Greeting Cards

Jewish people send New Year’s greetings throughout the holiday month. Cards expressing wishes for a successful and happy year bear the Hebrew message L’shanah Tovah Tikatevu (may you be inscribed for a good year). This greeting is based on a portion of the second-century writings of the Tannaim:

All are judged on Rosh Hashanah and their fate is sealed on Yom Kippur. Three books are opened. . . . One is for the out-and-out wicked; a second for the truly righteous; and a third for those in between. The righteous are at once inscribed and sealed for life; the wicked for death; judgment on the middle group is suspended till Yom Kippur. Should one of that group attain merit during those days, then he is inscribed for life; otherwise for death. (Rosh Hashanah 16 a-b)

Sweet Foods

It is customary to eat something sweet and to avoid eating anything sour on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, at sundown after the Yom Kippur fast and during meals at Sukkot. Honey or syrup is spread on the first piece of bread eaten at mealtime, or slices of apple are dipped in honey and eaten. In general, many of the foods on the holiday table are somewhat sweet to the taste. This custom symbolizes the hope for a good (sweet) year to come.

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