Ever since I first began studying Judaism seriously as a young man, I have felt that there is something not quite right about Rosh Hashanah. In particular, there seems to be a complete disconnect between the holiday described in the Torah and the holiday as understood by most Jews. I had been taught that Rosh Hashanah was the Jewish New Year, the anniversary of the creation of the world, and a day of judgment. But the Torah itself mentions none of those three reasons for celebrating the holiday—and does not even call it Rosh Hashanah. Still more perplexing, in contrast to the other seasonal holidays on the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah seems to commemorate no important moment in the national history of the Jewish people. Rabbi Nathan Laufer
Today on the Jewish calendar is the holiday called Rosh Hashanah–literally “the head of the year.” Jews wish one another “a sweet, peaceful, and prosperous” New Year and even the non-Jewish world has caught onto the day as the “Jewish New Year.”
In contrast Christians (and thus our “secular culture”) begin the New Year in the dead of winter–as the long dark winter days finally grow longer (marked by December 21st and the Winter Solstice). Ancient Hebrews, as reflected in Exodus 12:1-2, reflecting the ancient Babylonian practice, began the year in the Spring (March/April), which was the “turning of the year,” with the arrival of new life in the Spring (marked by March 20th and the Vernal Equinox). Of course these seasons only make sense in the Northern Hemisphere.
So what is the meaning of Rosh Hashanah? Rabbi Nathan Laufer has a very perceptive piece on the subject titled “Remembrance of Trumpets Past,” in Mosaic on-line magazine, exploring its potential meaning in our oldest texts of the Torah, where this day is called both the “day of the blast,” most likely referring to the sound of the Shofar or ram’s horn, as well as a “a day of remembrance”–but the question is–remembering what? You can read his complete in-depth treatment here. I highly recommend it. It is the most intelligent piece I think I have ever come across on Rosh Hashanah.