The primary activity on both of these holidays is prayer. Jews spend most of these days in synagogues, reciting ancient liturgy. The mood on both holidays is solemn, but Rosh HaShanah has a lighter tone and feel.
Festive meals are eaten on Rosh HaShanah, usually including foods that are symbolic of hopes for the new year. For example, apples are dipped in honey to symbolize sweetness and round challot (breads) are eaten to symbolize the cycle of the year.
Yom Kippur is a 25-hour fast, beginning at sundown on the eve of the day, and continuing, without food or water, for the whole of the holy day. The fast is intended to assist the worshipper in focusing on repentance for the sins committed in the previous year.
Themes of the Holidays
The themes of repentance, prayer, and charity are emphasized on both holidays. A primary image is of the Book of Life being opened on Rosh HaShanah and closed on Yom Kippur. During the holy days, repentance, prayer, and charity assist in determining the judgment laid upon each person. Will they be inscribed in the Book of Life as it opens and closes? This question is a large part of the liturgical nature of the holidays.
There is a very personal as well as a communal aspect to the holidays. Individuals are encouraged to make personal repentance and ask forgiveness of those they have wronged. As well, many of the confessions are said in the second-person plural, as the whole community asks forgiveness for shared wrongdoing.
It is customary to wish a “Shana tova,” a good year, on Rosh HaShanah.
Greetings on Yom Kippur vary. Some choose to wish each other a “Tzom Kal,” an easy fast. Other say, “Chatima tova” or “G’mar chatima tova” – may you be inscribed for good in the upcoming year.