Click here to learn more!
The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
In the earliest times the Hebrew year began in autumn with the opening of the economic year. There followed in regular succession the seasons of seed-sowing, growth and ripening of the corn under the influence of the former and the latter rains, harvest and ingathering of the fruits. In harmony with this was the order of the great agricultural festivals, according to the oldest legislation, namely, the feast of unleavened bread at the beginning of the barley harvest, in the month of Abib; the feast of harvest, seven weeks later; and the feast of ingathering at the going out or turn of the year (; see Exodus 23:14-17; 34:18,22-23; Deuteronomy 16:1-16).
This system of dating the New-Year is that which was adopted by the Semites generally, while other peoples, as the Greeks and Persians, began the year in spring, both methods of reckoning being primarily agricultural and based on the seasons of seed-time and harvest.
The Regnal Year.
The regnal year was evidently reckoned in the same way as late as the end of the seventh century B.C. This is evident from the account of the eighteenth year of King Josiah, in which only by such a reckoning can sufficient time be allowed for the events of that year which precede the celebration of the Passover, assuming, of course, that the Passover was celebrated at the usual time in the spring (2 Kings 22:3, 23:21-23). Only in the same way can the fourth year of Jehoiakim be made to synchronize with the twenty-first year of Nabopolassar, in which the battle of Carchemish was fought, and also with the first year of Nebuchadrezzar, the Babylonian year having been reckoned from the spring (Jeremiah 25:1, 46:2). The second half of the Hebrew year would thus correspond to the first half of the Babylonian year. In Ezek. 1 the prophet has his vision at the beginning of the year, apparently in the month of Tishri. The Levitical law places the beginning of the Sabbatical year in the autumn, on the tenth day of the seventh month, according to the later reckoning (Leviticus 25:9). It has been pointed out also that the story of the Flood places the beginning of the deluge on the seventeenth day of the second month, which would, on an autumn reckoning, coincide with the beginning of the rainy season (Genesis 7:11; Josephus, "Ant." 1:3, § 3).
Possibly Two Modes of Reckoning.
There is much difference of opinion as to whether or not there was in preexilic times a second mode of reckoning from the vernal equinox. This inference has been drawn from such passages as 2 Samuel 11:1, 1 Kings 20:22,26, and 2 Chronicles 36:10. The expression used here, "at the return of the year," is, however, sufficiently explained as "the time when kings go out"; that is to say, the usual time for opening a military campaign. Of course if the law of the Passover (Exodus 12:1; Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 9:1-5, 28:16-17) is pre-exilic, the question admits of no further argument. It seems, however, to be now very generally accepted that this law in its present form is not earlier than the sixth century and that it represents post-exilic practise. According to this legislation, which henceforth prevailed, the month Abib, or Nisan (March-April), became the first of the year. It is possible that this change was due, in part at least, to the influence of the Babylonian sacred year, which likewise began with the month Nisan. It appears, however, that the festival of the New-Year continued to be observed in the autumn, perhaps originally on the tenth, and later on the first day of the seventh month, Tishri. Josephus asserts (c. 1:3, § 3) that while Moses appointed Nisan to be the first month for the sacred festivals and other solemnities, he preserved the original order of the months for buying and selling and for the transaction of other business. The Seleucidan calendar, from 312 B.C., placed the beginning of the year in the autumn; but it appears that the Palestinian Jews still reckoned from the spring and dated the Seleucidan era according to that reckoning (see Schürer, "The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ," 2d ed., Eng. transl., I. i 36-46, on the dates in the Books of Maccabees; comp. Esther 3:7).
It is altogether probable that the beginning of the year was celebrated from ancient times in some special way, like the New Moon festival. The earliest reference, however, to such a custom is, probably, in the account of the vision of Ezekiel (Ezek. 1) which, as stated above, took place at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month (Tishri ?). On the same day the beginning of the year of jubilee was to be proclaimed by the blowing of trumpets (Leviticus 25:9). According to the Septuagint rendering of Ezekiel 45:20, special sacrifices were to be offered on the first day of the seventh month as well as on the first day of the first month. This first day of the seventh month was appointed by the Law to be "a day of blowing of trumpets" (). There was to be a holy convocation; no servile work was to be done; and special sacrifices were to be offered (Leviticus 23:23-25; Numbers 29:1-6; comp. ib. 10:1-10). This day was not expressly called New-Year's Day, but it was evidently so regarded by the Jews at a very early period (see R. H. 1:1).
- Hastings, Dict. Bibl. s. Time;
- Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl. s. Year and New Year;
- Benzinger, Arch.;
- Dillmann, Monatsberichte, Societas Regia Scientiarum, Berlin, 1881.
—In Rabbinical Literature:
The Rabbis recognize four beginnings of the year from different standpoints: (1) the 1st of Nisan for regnal dating; it was based on the Exodus (comp. 1 Kings 6:1); (2) the 1st of Tishri, as, agricultural New-Year the beginning of the harvest (Exodus 23:16, 34:22); (3) the 1st of Elul for reckoning tithes of cattle (R. Eleazer, however, would reckon these from the 1st of Tishri); and (4) the 1st, or, according to Bet Hillel, the 15th of Shebaṭ, the See see NEW-YEAR FOR TREES.
According to the Talmud, servants were formally freed on the 1st of Tishri, but were allowed to remain on the homesteads of their former masters and to enjoy themselves for ten days, until Yom Kippur, when the trumpet was blown (Leviticus 25:9) as a signal for their departure, and for the restoration of the fields to their original owners (R. H. 8b). This is cited to explain the passage in Ezek. 1; "the beginning of the year in the tenth day of the month," which refers to the jubilee year that occurred on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Exile ('Ar. 12a).
The observance of the 1st of Tishri as Rosh ha-Shanah, the most solemn day next to Yom Kippur, is based principally on the traditional law to which the mention of "Zikkaron" (= "memorial day"; Leviticus 23:24) and the reference of Ezra to the day as one "holy to the Lord" (Nehemiah 8:9) seem to point. The passage in Psalms (81:5) referring to the solemn feast which is held on New Moon Day, when the shofar is sounded, as a day of "mishpaṭ" (judgment) of "the God of Jacob" is taken to indicate the character of Rosh ha-Shanah. Rosh ha-Shanah is the most important judgment-day, on which all the inhabitants of the world pass for judgment before the Creator, as sheep pass for examination before the shepherd (R. H. 1:2; DAY OF JUDGMENT). Three books of account are opened on Rosh ha-Shanah wherein the fate of the wicked, the righteous, and those of an intermediate class (not utterly wicked) are recorded. The names of the righteous are immediately inscribed, and they are sealed "to live." The middle class are allowed a respite of ten days till Yom Kippur, to repent and become righteous (R. H. 16b); the wicked are "blotted out of the book of the living" (Psalms 69:28).
The zodiac sign of the balance for Tishri is claimed to indicate the scales of judgment, balancing the meritorious against the wicked acts of the person judged. The taking of an annual inventory of accounts on Rosh ha-Shanah is adduced by R. Naḥman b. Isaac from the passage in Deuteronomy 11:12, which says that the care of God is directed from "the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year" (R. H. 8a). The 1st of Tishri was considered by the best authorities as the beginning of Creation; e.g., by R. Eliezer, against the opinion of R. Joshua, however, who held the 1st of Nisan as the first day of Creation (R. H. 11a; Targ. Jonathan on Genesis 7:11, counts the second month as Marḥeshwan). On Rosh ha-Shanah the means of sustenance of every person are apportioned for the ensuing year (B. B. 10a); so also are his destined losses. The indications of the weather prognostications, according to R. Zebid, may likewise be ascertained on Rosh ha-Shanah: If the day be warm, it indicates a warm year; if cold, it foretells generally a cold year (ib. 147a).
Omens of Good Luck.
As an omen of good luck for the New-Year, Abaye said one should eat on Rosh ha-Shanah pumpkins, fenugreeks, leeks, beets, and dates (Hor. 12a), because they all grow quickly and because, it is declared, their names in Aramaic mean "plentiful" or "forgiveness." Ezra told the people on Rosh ha-Shanah (the first of the seventh month) to "eat the fat, and drink the sweet" (Nehemiah 8:10). The prevailing custom was to partake of some specially palatable meal on New-Year's eve. "In France in the twelfth century the custom was to supply the table with red apples; in Provence, with grapes, figs, and a calf's head, or anything new, easily digested, and tasty, as an omen of good luck to all Israel" (Maḥzor Vitry, p. 362). R. Jacob Mölln (14th cent.) in his "Maharil" mentions the custom of eating apples with honey and a deer's head in remembrance of the 'Aḳedah incident. Another reason for eating an animal's head is to presage that the consumer will be "ahead" and not backward in his undertakings during the ensuing year. But one may not eat nuts on Rosh ha-Shanah, as the numerical value of the letters in the Hebrew term for nut, , is equivalent to that of the letters = "sin" ("ḥet, minus the vowel א = 17), and also for the more plausible reason that nuts stimulate saliva and consequently distract one's mind from his prayers on the solemn day.
In modern times the table is served with grapes, other fruits, and honey. After the benediction of "Ha-Moẓeh" the bread is dipped in the honey, when the following benediction is recited: "May it please the Lord our God and God of our fathers to renew for us a good and sweet year." The feasting is in anticipation that the prayers will be acceptable, and in reliance on the goodness of God. In ancient times the Jews on Rosh ha-Shanah were dressed in white. "Unlike the accused who is dressed in black before the tribunal, the Jews are dressed in white on the Day of Judgment" (Yer. R. H. 1:3).
The idea of a good omen probably introduced the custom in the Middle Ages of greeting one another on New-Year's eve with "Le shanah ṭobah tikkateb" = "Mayest thou be inscribed for a good year," with reference to the book of life of the righteous.
The Second Day.
Only the 1st of Tishri was celebrated as New-Year's Day in Palestine prior to the time of R. Johanan b. Zakkai; but ever since, Palestine, like other countries, observes Rosh ha-Shanah for two days (Palestine, Laws Relating to). The Zohar lays stress on the universal observance of two days, and claims that the two passages in Job (1:6 and 2:1), "when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord," refer to the first and second days of Rosh ha-Shanah, observed by the Heavenly Court before the Almighty (Zohar, Pineḥas, p. 231a).
For the services on Rosh ha-Shanah, see PRAYER; for the ceremony and significance of the shofar-calls, see SHOFAR; and for the ceremony of "tashlik" on the first day of Rosh ha-Shanah, see TASHLIK; see, also, Day of Judgment; GREETING, FORMS OF; MONTH; Seliḥot.
- Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 581-603;
- Carl Rehfuss, Sermon for Rosh ha-Shanah, 1839, in Kayserling, Bibliothek Jüdischer Kanzelredner, pp. 359-368, Addresses to Young Children, 22:202-212, London, 1858;
- Schwab, Contribution to the History of Reform of the Jewish Ritual, , St. Joseph, Mo., 1904;
- idem, in Jewish Messenger, Oct. 3, 10, 1902;
- Some New Year's Cards, in Jew. Chron. Sept. 18, 1903.
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'New-Year'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/n/new-year.html. 1901.