What's In A Name?

Within our modern Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashonah begins the Jewish Days of Awe--Yomim Noroim. The term rosh means “head” and ha-shonah means “the year.” It is literally the “head of the year.” This blessed celebration occurs at the beginning of the Jewish month of Tishri (7th month of the Jewish calendar) that generally falls in September.[1]

Our New Year’s Eve is not celebrated as other cultures with partying and revelry. Many Jews believe that the book of life is opened on Rosh Hashonah. God then begins going over His checklist. In many ways Rosh Hashonah has been celebrated with little change since the first century of the common era following the Roman destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE. Do these traditional practices mirror more ancient original practices? NO!

Many people fail to realize that in biblical times, prior to the destruction of the Temple, Rosh Hashonah was quite different. Biblical Judaism had an entirely different view of Rosh Hashonah. “Throughout the entire Bible there is no reference to that day as Rosh Hashonah.”[2] The prophet Ezekiel mentions the name referring to the tenth day (not the first) of the Hebrew month of Tishri (Ezek. 40:1).
     Rosh Hashonah --

Another term used to describe this celebration is Yom ha-Zikkaron—the Day of Remembering. Perhaps the closest biblical name for the holiday is the one which describes the event. It is the
Day of Sounding the Shofar--Yom Teruah

Considering the importance placed upon the holiday by modern Jews, the Bible is comparatively silent about this festival. The basic reference to the holiday is from Leviticus 23:24.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation. Ye shall do no manner of servile work; and ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto the LORD.[3]

The only other primary reference to this holiday is found in Numbers 29:1. In this parallel text, the specific sacrifices of the festival are explained. Apart from these two verses, this very important High Holy Day is not mentioned in Scripture. This holiday “was not called Rosh ha-Shanah—the New Year—until Talmudic times”[4] (approx. 200-500 CE). Although this might be shocking to some, according to one Jewish scholar, “Jews, in the days of old, before the Babylonian Exile, observed neither Rosh Hashonah nor Yom Kippur.”[5] The holiest days of the modern Jewish calendar were originally celebrated quite differently. Modern Jews must accept that current practices surrounding our holiest days are a later tradition.

What Do Ancient Historians Say?

None of the Apocryphal literature, nor any of the respected ancient Jewish historians such as Philo or Josephus specifically mention the holiday. This is of particular significance since Josephus would have had personal firsthand knowledge of the practice. Josephus was a priest! It is from his ancient historical accounts that many of the extant details about the Temple have been preserved.[6] Philo considered it to be an introduction to the month of festivals.[7] Then, only one fall festival was observed--the Festival of the Ingathering, at the end of the year when the harvest is gathered.

And the feast of harvest, the first-fruits of thy labours, which thou sowest in the field; and the feast of ingathering, at the end of the year, when thou gatherest in thy labours out of the field (Exodus 23:16).

After the Exile, this holiday season was divided into three parts that included Succoth.[8] This leads to an interesting question.

What Holiday Did God Celebrate?

*    What is the Holiest Day?

*    Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah?

One of these important celebrations would seem to be the most important day. However, Sabbath is perhaps the more sacred time. Sabbath is the only “holiday” that God “celebrated.” Even God rested on the seventh day according to the second chapter of Genesis. The special Sabbath of the High Holiday season may rise above others Sabbaths and many still view Yom Kippur as the “holiest day” of the year. This sacred time will be addressed later in this work.