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Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, falls this year on 10-11 September.

‘Today the world is at birth.’

After each set of horn blasts on Rosh Hashanah, Jews recite these words. Unlike most Jewish festivals, Rosh Hashanah does not commemorate any events from Jewish history or particular to the Jewish people. Instead, it marks the anniversary of the world’s creation, and the beginning of humanity.

The account of creation in Genesis contains one puzzling line:

‘And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all his work that God created to make.’ [Genesis 2:3]

While normally translated as ‘the work that God had done’, the original Hebrew does not use the past tense. Instead, it uses the word ‘to make’, an ongoing action. Some commentators explain this by saying that the process of creation is unfinished.[1] On Rosh Hashanah in particular, we remember that the world is still being created, that the world is at birth on this very day.

If creation is ongoing, and yet God ceased from the work, who is responsible for completing it? We are. As human beings, we are God’s partners in creation. We have a duty to build the world together, to repair it and to staunch suffering. As children of Adam, we must respect our differences while recognising our common humanity.

There are many customs associated with Rosh Hashanah, with symbolic foods eaten and special prayers said in the synagogue. However, there is only one Biblical commandment for the day. One must hear the shofar, the ram’s horn that is sounded one hundred times over Rosh Hashanah. In Jewish tradition, the notes of the shofar come from the sobbing of the Biblical enemy Sisera’s mother over the death of her son.[2]

At this time of creation, when Jews come together to reflect on the year, we recognise the humanity of our enemies, our friends, and the strangers among us. We remember those who are sobbing. The shofar calls us to reflect, to repent, and to return to God’s presence. This year, let us commit ourselves to understanding the other, and return together to the act of creating the world.

Wishing all those celebrating a happy and sweet new year.

Jessica Spencer

Programme Manager

[1] Radak on Genesis, 2:3:3

[2] Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 33b.