Rosh HaShanah: The Truth About the Real Scriptural New Year
“This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.” (Exodus 12.2; see also Exodus 12.18; Joshua 4.19; 2 Chronicles 35.1)
The passage above seems to refer to the day known in the Jewish calendar as Rosh HaShanah (i.e., New Year’s Day). However, YAHUAH actually said it as He was preparing His final judgment upon Egypt, seven months before the date Rosh HaShanah is now celebrated. He even declared the command twice to make sure there was no misunderstanding as to when the new year begins.
Yet today the Jewish people (and many Gentiles) celebrate the beginning of the new year on the first day of the seventh month. But how did the new year end up being celebrated on the first day of the seventh month?
Was the commandment concerning the beginning of the new year later changed by YAHUAH to a different date? Or perhaps there’s something lost in the translation from Hebrew to English?
Although this may seem trivial, YAHUAH thought it was important enough to point it out to Moses and Aaron as He was preparing to strike down the first-born of Egypt before delivering His people from bondage. In addition, the timing of the calendar was a part of creation (Genesis 1.14-18) used to serve as signs for His fixed [or set, appointed] times. In order to make sure we properly understand what has happened here we will examine the Scriptures to see if YAHUAH did indeed make changes to the Torah at a later date with respect to the fixed times in the Scriptural calendar.
The Fixed Times of YAHUAH
“ELOHIYM said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate day from night; they shall serve as signs for the set times—the days and the years; and they shall serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth.’ And it was so. ELOHIYM made the two great lights, the greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the night, and the stars. And ELOHIYM set them in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth, to dominate the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And ELOHIYM saw that this was good.” (Genesis 1.14-18)
These verses show two things, with respect to our present topic:
The lights in the sky are signs for counting time, that we may know the fixed (or set) times of YAHUAH as decreed in the Torah — the best summary of these being in Leviticus 23; and,
That, contrary to popular belief both then and now, these heavenly bodies are not real elohiyms (gods).
“YAHUAH spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to the Yisraelite people and say to them: “These are My fixed times, the fixed times of YAHUAH, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions.”‘” (Leviticus 23.1-2)
The Sabbath, celebrated weekly, is the first of YAHUAH’s fixed times listed in the Torah (Leviticus 23.3), with the rest of them being celebrated once a year. Passover (Leviticus 23.5) is the first of the yearly fixed times, celebrated at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month of the year, followed immediately by the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23.6-8). Hebrew defines “twilight” as “between the evenings”, e.g., at the end of the fourteenth day and at the beginning of the fifteenth day. In the Scriptural calendar each day begins at sundown the preceding day and ends when the sun sets on the current day (Genesis 1.5). Each month begins at the start of a new month; the Hebrew word for “new month” (chodesh) is the word translated as “month”.
The passage in Leviticus 23 goes on to say that “… In the seventh month, on the first day of the month you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts.” (Leviticus 23.24). The first day of the seventh month is known in Hebrew as Yom Teruah (“a day of shouting”).
It’s also known as Trumpets. Most people, however, know the first day of the seventh month by the name of Rosh HaShanah, which means “head of the year”, i.e., the new year: rosh means “head”, ha means “the”, and shana means “year” — the head of the year.
In order to have a better understanding, let’s take a look at the real meaning of a few of the Hebrew words in Exodus 12.2:
“This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.” (Exodus 12.2)
beginning; Hebrew: rosh
Head or the beginning, such as of a designated period of time, e.g., the head of the year. Strong’s No: 7218; AHLB No: 1458-D(N)
month; Hebrew: chodesh
first; Hebrew: rishon beginning, such as of a designated period of time. Strong’s No: 7223; AHLB No: 1458-D(ej)
year; Hebrew: shanah Year, as in the sense of repeating, as a revolution of time. Strong’s No: 8141; AHLB No: 1474-A(N1)
So, as stated in the passage above, that particular month (chodesh) is the beginning (rosh) of the months, making it “the head of the year”, i.e., the real Rosh HaShanah. This leaves no doubt that the Scriptural Rosh HaShanah — the beginning of the year, i.e., New Year’s Day — is fourteen days before Passover and not the first day of the seventh month.
It’s important to note, however, that YAHUAH never designated the first day of the year as any type of celebration, even as “Rosh HaShanah” or “New Year’s Day”. In fact, the literal term Rosh HaShanah does not actually appear in the Tanakh except for in Ezekiel 40:1: “beginning of the year”.
There it is not used to describe one of the fixed times of YAHUAH but rather just the first day of the new year. So how then did the Jewish people end up celebrating a non-scriptural holiday (i.e., New Year’s Day) on the first day of the seventh month? (Although the first day of the seventh month is one of YAHUAH’s fixed times, it is not designated as the beginning of the year.)
The Meaning of Yom Teruah
Let’s stop for a moment and take a look at the fixed time known as Yom Teruah, the first day of the seventh month. This day has been a puzzlement for many people because it’s the only holy day whose real purpose is not revealed in the Torah, which states:
“Speak to the Yisraelite people thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts. You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall bring an offering by fire to YAHUAH.” (Leviticus 23.24-25).
The only other mention of the celebration appears in Numbers 29.1-6, in reference to the offerings for the day. This fixed time is usually associated with blasts from the trumpet but the Hebrew word teruah means to make a loud noise, as in a great shout of alarm, of war, or of rejoicing (the Hebrew word yom means day). The same word is also used in Joshua 6.5, where it is generally translated as “shout”. There is also the loud blast of the ram’s horn when the people of Yisrael gathered at the base of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19.13,16,19; 20.15). So while the word teruah can mean a loud noise such as that made by a trumpet or a shofar, it can also mean a loud noise made by a shouting of a gathering of people. And although Torah does not give a clear meaning of the real purpose of the day, it does tell us what we are to do on that day. We don’t need to know YAHUAH’s reasons for everything. And it’s definitely not up to us to assign our own meaning to it. (The concept of attempting to know the meaning of all things comes from a Greek mindset and not from a Hebraic one.)
We then should celebrate the fixed times as YAHUAH commanded; in the case of Yom Teruah, as a day of complete rest commemorated with loud shouting — perhaps of praise and worship to YAHUAH — or the blowing of trumpets or of ram’s horns, or maybe even both.
The Roots of Rosh HaShanah
But that still doesn’t answer why the first day of the seventh month became known as New Year’s Day.
We do know, however, how it became New Year’s Day. It seems the rabbis living in the Diaspora after the Jewish people went into captivity in Babylon, are the ones who changed the beginning of the year to the day of Yom Teruah. (The literal term Rosh HaShanah shows up for the first time in the Mishna, a Jewish code of law compiled in 200 ce) Yet several times YAHUAH commanded that the Torah never be changed in any way:
“You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, but keep the commandments of YAHUAH your ELOHIYM that I enjoin upon you.” (Deuteronomy 4.2)
“My rules alone shall you observe, and faithfully follow My laws: I YAHUAH am your ELOHIYM.” (Leviticus 18.4; See also Deuteronomy 13.1; Deuteronomy 28.14; Joshua 1:7)
It was also in the Diaspora that other changes to the Scriptural calendar were made. One such change was identifying the months using names taken from the Babylonian calendar. This took place during the time of Ezra, when some of the Jewish people returned to the Land from the Babylonian exile.
The rabbis have made no effort to hide where the calendar names came from: “The names of the months came up with them from Babylonia” (Jerusalem Talmud, Rosh Hashanana 1.2 56d). And although the months in the Jewish calendar now have names, Scripture uses numbers to identify the months7: “In the first month” (Genesis 8.13; Leviticus 23.5); “the second month” (1 Chronicles 27:4); “of the fifth month” (2 Kings 25.8); and “In the seventh month” (Numbers 29.1). In the Scriptural calendar the days do not have names either; they too use numbers: “a first day” (Genesis 1.5), “a fifth day” (Genesis 1.23) and “the seventh day” (Genesis 2.2; Exodus 12.15; Leviticus 13.34).
Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (“Nahmanides”,”the Ramban”), a thirteenth century Jewish scholar from Spain, wrote a commentary on Exodus 12.2, explaining why they took the names of the months of the Babylonian calendar and added them to the one given by YAHUAH. Rabbi Nachman agreed that the reference in the verse in Exodus was to the literal first month, and that all months are to be counted from there. His reasoning was that by doing this they would remember what he calls “the Great Miracle”, referring to YAHUAH’s deliverance of Yisrael from Egypt. But he then states that the rabbis said the names of the months came back with them from Babylonia so they would remember they had been there (in Babylonia) and that YAHUAH took them out and brought them back to the Land, with reference to, he said, the prophecy of Jeremiah 16.14-15:
“Assuredly, a time is coming—declares YAHUAH—when it shall no more be said, ‘As YAHUAH lives who brought the Yisraelites out of the land of Egypt,’ but rather, ‘As YAHUAH lives who brought the Yisraelites out of the northland, and out of all the lands to which He had banished them.’ For I will bring them back to their land, which I gave to their fathers.”
Rabbi Nachman’s reasoning here is that by changing the names of the months from numbers — as given to them by YAHUAH — to the names of pagan deities worshiped in the nations where YAHUAH sent them when they turned from Him (Jeremiah 16.11), they would be honoring His delivering them from Babylon, much like when He delivered them from Egypt.
But while YAHUAH’s deliverance of Yisrael from “the northland, and out of all the lands to which He had banished them” is surely a mighty deed, the reasoning is quite different than of His deliverance from Egypt. In Egypt, the Yisraelites were slaves through no fault of their own.
However, they were in Babylon and other places because YAHUAH had “hurled them out of the land” because they deserted Him “and followed other elohiyms (gods) and served them and worshiped them” (Jeremiah 16.10-13).
And although YAHUAH said His redemption of Yisrael from other lands would be recognized as a greater deed than the exodus, He didn’t, at anytime, tell Yisrael to do anything special to remember it. And why would He? It was a time of shame for Yisrael. YAHUAH repeats the verses above, almost verbatim (Jeremiah 23.7-8), except here the preceding verses express His strong disapproval of YIsrael’s “shepherds”:
“… concerning the shepherds who should tend My people: It is you who let My flock scatter and go astray. You gave no thought to them, but I am going to give thought to you, for your wicked acts—declares YAHUAH.” (Jeremiah 23.1-4)
The act of sending Yisrael into the Diaspora was a punishment, with a promise of their eventual return. They were to return after seventy years (Jeremiah 29.10-14), but many chose instead to remain in the Diaspora, including many of the “shepherds”.
Let’s take a look at a few of the names of the months that “came up with them from Babylonia” with which they chose to rename the months of the Scriptural calendar:
Sivan: Taken from the moon god Sin.
Tammuz: Taken directly from the pagan deity Tammuz, the consort of the goddess Ishtar. Each year he allegedly died and was then resurrected by Ishtar. YAHUAH called the worship of Tammuz “a terrible abomination”; the women in Yisrael worshiped this deity at the entrance to the north gate of the holy Temple before being driven from the Land (Ezekiel 8.13-14).
Elul: The Babylonian goddess of this month was Ishtar, also called Asherah (2 Kings 23:13) who was one of the pagan gods worshiped by King Solomon, and was part of the reason the kingdom was split and taken from Solomon and given to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:5,29-39). Ishtar is also known as the “Queen of Heaven” (Jeremiah 7.18; 44:15-19). Elijah stood against the prophets of Asherah “who eat at Jezebel’s table” (1 Kings 18.19).
Tishrei: The Babylonian god for this month was Shamash, the sun god in the Babylonian pantheon and the god of justice in Babylonia.
Cheshvan: The Babylonian god for this month was Marduk, associated with water, vegetation, judgment, and magic. He was King Nebuchadnezzar’s favorite god, even naming his son after him: Evil-Merodach (“Avel-Marduk” in Babylonian, meaning “man of Marduk”.) (2 Kings 25.27).
Kislev: The Babylonian god for this month was Nergal, mentioned in 2 Kings 17.30.
Let’s take a last look at our original questions:
• Did YAHUAH later changed the date of the new year?
No, it’s quite clear these changes were made by men and not YAHUAH.
• Was something lost when the Hebrew was translated to English?
No, the Hebrew to English translation, at least with respect to Exodus 12.2, was just fine.
In conclusion, Scripturally there is no special day known as Rosh HaShanah, especially on the first day of the seventh month. The first day of the Scriptural year, as given to Yisrael by YAHUAH, is in the first month, fourteen days before the fixed time of Passover (Pesach). While technically that day is “New Year’s Day”, it was never designated as such by YAHUAH.