How many days is Rosh Hashana? It seems the simplest of questions, since all around the world, no matter where you may be, Rosh Hashana is celebrated for two days (as opposed to the first and last days of Passover, Shavuot, the first days of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret - all of which are observed as one day in Israel and two days elsewhere).
The Torah commandment to observe Yom Teruah (the Day of the Sounding [of the shofar]) states that the holiday is to be observed on the first day of the seventh month.* It is the only holiday that occurs on the first day of a month. The Jewish calendar is lunar based and, until approximately 350 C.E., the declaration of the new month was dependent on two witnesses reporting the appearance of the new moon to the Sanhedrin. If the new month was declared late in the day, word still needed to reach those who did not live close to Jerusalem.
Wanting to prevent any possible desecration of the holiness of the day, the rabbi declared that the New Year be celebrated as a Yoma Arichta (Aramaic for one long day), meaning that the one day was spread over two days. In other words, while Rosh Hashana is observed on the first and second of Tishrei, the two days are thought of as a single day.
One of the more interesting effects of this transformation of two days into one is the question of whether or not a person recites the Sheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing during candle-lighting (for women) or kiddush (for men) on the second night on Rosh Hashana. On all the other holidays, the second day is treated the same as the first. Since sheh’heh’cheh’yanu is also recited over a new possession or a food that one has not tasted in over a year, it has therefore become the custom to include a new fruit at the beginning of the second night meal of Rosh Hashana and have the new items in mind when reciting the sheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing.
*Rosh Hashana is the new year of the counting of years, but Nissan is considered the first month in the counting of months.
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