Rosh Hashanah in the Bible

Shana tova! Not having been raised Jewish, but living in a Jewish household, some of the customs can be downright puzzling to me. Today is the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. (As with most holidays, Rosh Hashanah is one day long in Israel and two days long everywhere else. This has to do with the early Jews wanting to be VERY CERTAIN that they did the holiday on the right day, since communication to and from Jerusalem may have been spotty.) This holiday is marked by eating of apples and honey and the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn.

Today happens to also be the one year anniversary of my first real post to this blog. So, today marks a very real beginning of a “new year” for this site. As such, I’ve made a few light changes here and there: added an “about” box on the side, changed the tag to reflect the “religion geek” attitude the site has been adopting, and a few other things.

Enough bellybutton gazing! Let’s talk Rosh Hashanah!

One thing that I have yet to truly understand is that Rosh Hashanah is one of four (or five?) “new years days” in Judaism. This is the new year for people, animals, and contracts. The “New Year of Trees”, or Tu B’Shevat, is generally in January or February. (Feb 8, 2012 is the next one). After that “New Year of Kings” (March 24, 2012), then “New Year of Animal Titles” (August 19, 2012). You might also consider Simchat Torah, which essentially marks the beginning of the liturgical year. The next one of those is October 21, 2011.

Unlike some holidays I could mention, Rosh Hashanah is mentioned (more or less) in the bible itself. For example, in Leviticus 23:

And the LORD spoke 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. (Leviticus 23:23-25)

The seventh month, presumably, is Tishri. Of course, since it’s the “new year” then it must be the first month also (and the year number changes today, so how could it not be?)… but it is the seventh if you measure from Nisan, the “New Year of Kings”.

Numbers 29 also gives a more detailed depiction of the holy day:

And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have a holy convocation: ye shall do no manner of servile work; it is a day of blowing the horn unto you. And ye shall prepare a burnt-offering for a sweet savor unto the LORD: one young bullock, one ram, seven he-lambs of the first year without blemish; and their meal-offering, fine flour mingled with oil, three tenth parts for the bullock, two tenth parts for the ram, and one tenth part for every lamb of the seven lambs; and one he-goat for a sin-offering, to make atonement for you; beside the burnt-offering of the new moon, and the meal-offering thereof, and the continual burnt-offering and the meal-offering thereof, and their drink-offerings, according unto their ordinance, for a sweet savor, an offering made by fire unto the LORD. (Numbers 29:1-6)

Obviously, the modern ceremony involves less slaughter of innocent animals and more metaphor. I’m fairly certain that God doesn’t mind, but I guess it’s hard to know for sure.

The Mishna has an entire tractate on Rosh Hashanah, but I admit that without further study I don’t quite understand it. The corresponding Talmud portion is perhaps even worse. Well… something to look forward to posting about NEXT year… Shana Tova!

Coming Up: A Brand New Year of Blogging! (And maybe I’ll even be consistent…)

4 thoughts on “Rosh Hashanah in the Bible”

  1. Perhaps the animal offerings were discontinued when people gave up trying to divide the flour and oil mixture (which sounds to me like an early form of breading or batter-dipping) into twelve tenths?

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