Rosh Hashanah Survival Guide–Updated for 2017/5778

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I first wrote the checklist below ten years ago. I’m republishing it as a new post, for the third time. I’ve also set up a page with the best posts about Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. Some of the tips below only apply when Rosh Hashanah is on Shabbat or leads into Shabbat. Don’t hesitate to ask if you have questions. You can also post on the Mother in Israel Facebook page.

On my Cooking Manager site, I have Rosh Hashanah recipe and menu ideas.

Those of us in Israel aren’t used to a three-day Yom Tov (two days of Rosh Hashanah followed by Shabbat). Wherever you are, here are some tips to keep you sane if you are panicking about now.

  1. Check out Carolyn’s lists on Juggling Frogs. They are long, and many items may not be relevant for you, but you don’t want to overlook anything critical.
  2. Remember that you can cook on Rosh Hashanah for that day, and on Friday for Shabbat. Of course we don’t want to spend all Yom Tov in the kitchen! But if you are behind, first worry about the Wednesday night meal and any dishes that you make using an electric appliance. I always remember that if I use up more food than expected, I can always take meat out of the freezer on the second night (Thursday) to cook Friday. I’ve never had to do it, though. (If Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, this would be Saturday night for Sunday lunch.)
  3. How many cakes and kugels can you eat anyway? Keep the menu simple. Plain vegetables with herbs are healthier anyway, and can be cooked quickly on Yom Tov.
  4. Don’t cook faster than you can clean up. Take the time to clear a cluttered workspace, and you’ll be more efficient.
  5. Making decisions can take more time than cooking. Plan what you are serving for each meal, how you will heat up the food, and which utensils you will use. Be sure to defrost everything early, preferably in the refrigerator.
  6. Set up and test any timers, including for the air-conditioner, early in the day on Wednesday, then turn them on before candle-lighting.
  7. Don’t forget the Eruv Tavshilin! This involves setting aside food from before the holiday that allows one to prepare on Friday for Shabbat, including lighting candles.
  8. Keep your family safe. Keep toddlers away from the stove, defrost and heat up stored food completely (for soup, that means boiling), and put away leftovers promptly.
  9. What are you doing on the computer? Get back to work! (Unless you’re nursing the baby.)

A word about halacha: One may not prepare for the second night of Rosh Hashanah before tzet hacochavim (the appearance of stars) So candle-lighting (from an existing flame), table-setting, and dishwashing must wait until that point. Our rabbi said, however, that one may warm up the food for the nighttime meal as long as it would be ready to eat while it is still daytime Thursday. I’m just quoting.

Another useful halacha for Yom Tov is found in the book Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchatah. While you can’t turn on an electric timer, you can push the thingamajigs in or out to make the appliance stay on for less or more time. So let’s say that I want to make cholent on Friday for Shabbat (this must also be done early in the day). Before Yom Tov, I’ll set the timer of the crockpot to go on only for 15 minutes each day, the minimumtime  my device allow. On Friday, when I have the food in the pot, I’ll add extra time on the timer in either direction. I’ll be careful adjust it so that it will not go on or off while I am adjusting it. If it’s on already, I can make it stay on longer or start earlier. If it’s set to be on for too long, I can adjust it to start later and end earlier. If it’s not on at the moment, you can set it to go off completely. Just be careful not to disconnect the clock.

A hagaz, a manual timer that turns off gas automatically according to the interval you set, is a lifesaver for Rosh Hashanah. If you can find a 48-hour candle you are all set.

On Shabbat, we light candles, cover our eyes and then say the blessing. Once we say the blessing we have accepted Shabbat, so we can’t light them afterward. On Yom Tov, when lighting candles from an existing flame is permissible, we can say the blessings first (including shehecheyanu) and then light the candles. Many Sephardim (Jews of north African origin) don’t say a blessing on Yom Tov candles at all.

And one word for the mothers of young children out there: It’s hard to miss most or all of shul on Rosh Hashanah while caring for your kids on your own (I hope you can find a friend in the same situation). Keep in mind that Rosh Hashanah will come around again, but this season of your baby’s life happens only once.

Wishing all of you a Ketivah ve-Chatimah Tovah. May you and your families be inscribed for a good year.


More recipes:


  1. From the person who said she’s not making “anything” (don’t believe me):
    (1) Pre cut foil which you may need for reheating;
    (2) Write down everything that you prepared, including stuff in the freezer so that your family doesn’t go hungry because you forgot to serve one dish or another.
    (3) Pray to G-d that they are hungry so that they actually eat all that food you planned for, shopped for, shlepped and prepared and that there is no waste, because that can be very annoying.
    Shanna Tova.

  2. Excellent suggestions- shana tova!!

  3. Nursing break here.
    This year I’m making the simanim part of the menu. Cuts down on waste. 🙂

  4. Great rundown! K’tiva V’Chatima Tovah!

  5. Simanim plus soup is the meal for the first night. Learned my lesson last year: after wine, challa and simanim, soup (with all the chicken and veggies inside) is a perfect meal. I will BBQ a few pieces of chick in case anyone acts hungry. In the States I never heard of simanim, nor did I hear of that growing up in Israel. Currently here in Israel it seems that everyone does it! There are so many great options for the simanim veggies.

  6. anonymous mom says

    i am still cooking. i like what you said about the children with regards to davening on rosh hashana. i feel that lately, women seem to forget this. anyway, shana tova and on to the gefilte fish!!!

  7. Regular Anonymous says

    Excellent and useful recap. I’ll go do the eruv tavshilin right now before I forget.
    Shana Tova.

  8. Shana Tova!

  9. All well and good, also remember to get a good psak on showers.

  10. You know, I don’t think I every tried nursing while being on the computer, though I did read books.
    So you had your one three day yom tov, but we have 2 more to go! It’s a lot of meals to prepare in advance.

  11. We bought a chagaz…I love IT!
    Will probably blog about it — it’s that good 🙂

  12. Tamiri, so true about the waste. That’s why I don’t like to cook and freeze in advance, because it doesn’t last as long and is harder to refreeze. We are doing pretty well with the leftovers and are just about finished. The key was having enough pareve side dishes, but a few potatoes with meat gravy may have to go.
    RR, SL, RM, AM, RA, ME, thanks and shana tova!
    TD–Shana tova and I hope we will meet for coffee this year.
    Ariella–I just sent my FIL home with as many 48-hour candles as he could carry! Good luck with the rest.
    Jameel, thanks for saving me the trouble. I have to write a post defending nursing in shul!

  13. Juggling Frogs says

    Jameel, what’s a “chagaz”?
    I’m glad you made it through okay! Thank you for linking to my lists. I hope they were helpful.
    I had planned to post something in response to your request, but had to take go “cold turkey” from the computer if the *real* turkey was going to be available on RH!!
    For years, we made eruv tavshillin with an egg and a piece of matzah, kept on top of the refrigerator.
    It wasn’t until about seven years ago that we learned that we were supposed to EAT it on Shabbat!
    So, we’d make sure to eat a piece of
    the matzah on Shabbat afternoon. It was a scene like at Pesach with the afikomen.
    THIS YEAR, my husband suggested we just use one of the challot that we planned to serve on Shabbat for the matza. In a similar flash of inspiration, I then suggested we use some of the gefilte fish instead of the egg.
    What a concept! We set aside the foods we really intended to eat, and ate them!! No waste, no weird legal loopholes…. !!!
    It only took us 20 years of marriage and both of our brains to come full circle and figure this out.
    Wishing everyone a gmar chatima tova!

  14. Juggling Frogs says

    Jameel, nevermind. I just reread the post and saw that “chagaz” = “hagaz”. I was slow on the uptake.