Prepared for Torah Foundations of the Faith
It does say that. The first of Aviv/Nissan is the start of the religious year, commemorating the birth of the Jewish nation upon our deliverance from Egypt in 1446/7 BCE. In fact, Torah tells us to mark the beginning of the year from that spring date.
Exodus 12:2 (Schocken Bible translation*):
“Let this New-Moon be for you a beginning of New-Moons,
the beginning-one let it be for you of the New-Moons of the year.”
Deuteronomy 16:1 echoes the same instruction.
So… where do we get off marking the transition from one year to the next in the fall then? Tradition of man maybe? The convocation is found in Scripture as well, though not designated as the new year. We first encounter it right where we would expect to find a Torah feast… Wayyiqra (or Leviticus), chapter 23. But, it isn’t called Rosh Hashanah in our Bibles. It’s called Yom Teruah, which means “Day of Shouting” or “Day of Shofar Blasts.” The word “teruah” actually refers to a specific pattern played on the shofar… similar to how the military would use bugle calls.
Wayyiqra/Leviticus 23:23-25 (SBT):
“YHWH spoke to Moshe, saying,
‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying:
On the seventh New-Moon, on (day) one of the New Moon,
you are to have Sabbath-ceasing, a reminder by (horn-)blasting,
a proclamation of holiness.
Any-kind of servile work you are not to do;
you are to bring-near a fire-offering to YHWH.
B/midbar/Numbers 29:1-6 expand on the offering details:
And in the seventh New-Moon, on (day) one of the New-Moon,
a proclamation of holiness there is to be for you,
any-kind of servile work you are not to do.
A day of (horn-)blasts it is for you.
You are to sacrifice an offering-up, as a soothing savor for YHWH:
one bull, a young of the herd,
lambs a year in age seven, wholly-sound,
and their grain-gift, flour mixed with oil:
three tenth-measures per bull,
two tenth-measures per ram,
one tenth-measure per (each) one lamb,
for the seven lambs,
and one hairy goat for a hattat-offering, to effect-purgation for you,
aside from the New-Moon offering-up and its grain-gift,
and the regular offer-up and its grain-gift
and their poured-offerings, according to their regulation,
as a soothing savor, fire-offering for YHWH.
Note that this is the only moed that begins on a new moon. We’re not told why… just an observation. A few things are actually left unexplained if we handicap ourselves with a strict Sola Scriptura approach. This Yom haZikuron (commemoration day) seems left open for interpretation to some degree, since we are not told what it commemorates. At least not in the Scripture itself… but the Talmud does have some suggestions. Yom Teruah is considered the “civil new year,” i.e. the birthdate of civilization. It is said that on day seven, HaShem completed His creation and breathed life into the nostrils of Adam… and Adam’s first full day was the first day of the seventh month of our present calendar — Tishrei… so this would mark the first Sabbath.
On the Biblical calendar, we count the 6 days of Creation as Year 1… a short year, but a very significant one. Day Seven of the Creation week is day 1 of year 2. Year 5774 is where we currently are in that calendation, and 5775 will be upon us Wednesday night at sunset… or by Biblical reckoning, as soon as we nightbreak into Thursday.
Tradition dictates that we are to be within earshot of a shofar on Yom Teruah. A minimum of one hundred blasts of the shofar are to be sounded during the course of Yom Teruah. There are four different types of shofar notes: tekiah, a three-second sustained note; shevarim, three one-second notes rising in tone, teruah, a series of nine short, staccato notes extending over a period of about three seconds; and tekiah gedolah (literally “big tekiah”), the final blast in a set, which lasts as long as the player can hold the note (ten seconds minimum). The Bible gives no specific reason for this practice.
This is a two day celebration. The shofar blasts are meant to inspire fear and move the hearer to teshuvah (repentance). The use of the ram’s horn shofar is also reminiscent of the Aqedat Yitzchak, when HaShem provided the substitutionary sacrifice, i.e. the ram to be slain in his place. In fact, that passage, Genesis 21:1-22:24, is a traditional reading for this moed.
Yom Teruah is also the “launch party” for the Yomim Noraim (Days of Awe), a period of cheshbon ha nefesh (self-examination). The first ten days of the civil year are spent restoring civilization by righting any wrongs we have committed against others over the past year and forgiving any wrongs committed against us, a process called mechillah… in preparation for Yom Kippur. Thus, Yom Teruah is really focused on Teshuvah. An associated ritual is the tashlich tradition. The word tashlich, meaning “cast off,” comes from the phrase from Micah 7:19:
“Yashuv yerachameinu yikbosh ngawonoteinu w’tashlich bimtzulot yam kol-hatotam.”
He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
In keeping with this verse, we symbolically cast all our sins into some flowing body of water, such as a stream or river. This is done on the first day of Yom Teruah, generally in the afternoon.
On the second day, it is traditional to recite the Shehechiyanu prayer, taken from Berachot 54a, Pesakhim 7b, Sukkah 46a, etc., Babylonian Talmud.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam she-hecḥiyanu ve’qi’eh’manu ve’higiy’anu laz’man hazeh.
Blessed are You, O L-rd Our G-d, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
This ties into a food tradition. Of course, we can’t speak of a moed and not make some mention of food! Passover has the seder elements,Chanukah has its latkes and jelly donuts, and Yom Teruah has its food traditions as well. Where the Shehechianu prayer connects to that is in the second day tradition. A “new fruit” is traditional for the second day of Yom Teruah. The new fruit is usually a pomegranate, due to the tradition that it has 613 seeds (one for each of the mitzvot of the Torah).
On both days, apples and honey are eaten to symbolize the sweetness of the emerging new year… the new civil year that is. We’re already halfway through the religious year at this point… but the apples and honey are a tradition all the same. Other honey-based sweets are popular additions as well, including honey cake, pollen sticks, and tayglach (a Jewish honey-nut pastry). A “new fruit” is traditional for the second day of Yom Teruah. The new fruit is usually a pomegranate, due to the tradition that it has 613 seeds (one for each of the mitzvot of the Torah). There is also an adaptation to the challah. Instead of the normal oblong braid, Yom Teruah challah is fashioned into a circular coil.
I couldn’t call myself a Messianic if I were to neglect the Messianic significance. I believe the Fall feast sequence to relate to future fulfillment events, corresponding with the second coming of Messiah. The sound of the shofar is always bad news for haSatan. This sound marks the beginning of his end. The sequence starts with Yom Teruah, slightly overlapping with the start of the Yomim Noraim, then Yom Kippur, and finally Sukkot. Yom Teruah has been said to relate to the trumpet blast of the Rapture in some circles, but I have to push back on that a little. I don’t see the rapture being illustrated by Yom Teruah. I do see a “catching up” (harvest of the wheat) in Scripture (post-sorrows/pre-wrath), but I don’t see this particular feast depicting it. What I do see there is a call to repentance, as teshuvah is what immediately follows the shofar blasts with the Yomim Noraim. Are we to think that repentance is unnecessary for believers?
I see the Yomim Noraim as making preparations for Yom Kippur, or the “great and terrible Day of the L-rd.” The Day of the L-rd is great for those whose names are inscribed in the Book of Life… but terrible for those whose names are not found there. We who make those preparations are like the 5 virgins who had adequate oil, while those who fail to make preparations are like the 5 who ran out. And then, after the judgment of Yom Kippur, we have Yeshua coming to permanently tabernacle among us with Sukkot. So, the shofar tells us to get our house in order… and tells haSatan that his house is coming down.
On the subject of the new year… these two new years dates — Aviv/Nissan 1 and Tishrei 1 — are not the only ones we find in Judaism. The others, however, are extra-Tanakhical… i.e. we don’t find them in our Hebrew Bibles.
- 1st of Elul: The second “new year” is on the 1st of Elul, the sixth month of the Hebrew calendar which usually falls in the late summer (August). According to the Mishnah this was the new year for animal tithes. It was used to determine the start date for the animal tithe to the priestly class in ancient Israel, similar to how we use April 15th in the US as tax day. Generally this new year is no longer observed, although the month of Elul does mark the beginning of preparations for Yom Teruah.
- 15th of Shvat, aka Tu B’Shvat: considered the new year for trees, usually falling between January and February. According to the Torah fruits cannot be consumed from trees less than three years old, Tu B’Shvat was used as the starting date for determining the age of the trees.
Where do these come from? The main textual origin for the four new years comes from the Talmud Bavli Mishnah, Seder Moed, Tractate Rosh Hashanah 1:1.
On the first of Nisan, the new year for the kings and for the festivals;
On the first of Elul, the new year for the tithing of animals;
Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shimon say, in the first of Tishrei.
On the first of Tishrei, the new year for years,
for the Sabbatical years and for the Jubilee years and for the planting and for the vegetables.
On the first of Shevat, the new year for the trees, these are the words of the House of Shammai;
The House of Hillel says, on the fifteenth thereof.
These last two are considered minor, but are celebrated by most Jews.
Also on the topic of New Year’s… let me just cover one more. Yes, a fifth New Year’s date. This one is called in Israel Yom Sylvester. You might not recognize the name, but this is actually the one with which every American (and every European) is probably most familiar. It is a day of particular disgust, however, for Jews.
There is a rather ugly chapter of history wherein on a particular calendar date, every locatable Jew would be rounded up and forced to attend a proselytization sermon. The year was 1577, and the perpetrator was Pope Gregory XIII. The date for the decreed Jew round-up was December 25. The Jews of Rome were then given until January 1 to announce their acceptance of the Catholic faith, and any who failed to make such a profession were executed on January 1, which on the Gregorian calendar marked Messiah’s circumcision day.
In 1581, Pope Gregory decreed that any Jews who had not converted by January 1, 1577 and had somehow escaped execution should have all of their sacred writings confiscated and those resisting, which numbered in the thousands, were to be executed on January 1, 1582.
Also on that same date, Pope Gregory XIII decreed that the Julian calendar was sufficiently flawed enough to warrant the need for a new calendar system and ordered a new calendar restoring the old Roman Jewish Slaughter Festival (January 1), now also the anniversary of his mass slaughter of unconverted Jews from the 1577 massacre, as the date for New Year’s Day, effective in 1582 throughout the domain of the Catholicized world.
The Jewish name for that date takes us back to a man called Sylvester I, the Roman church patriarch under Constantine (whose office was still at that time co-equal in authority with the other six Orthodox patriarchs). In 325 CE, preceding the Council of Nicaea, Sylvester authored a decree banning any of the at least 18 bishops who were ethnically Hebrew from attending the so called “ecumenical” (but actually Gentile-supremacist) council. During the course of that council, Sylvester presented and passed numerous vicious anti-Jewish measures, which became binding upon the entire western church. He had previously decreed that all Jews be expelled and banished from holy Jerusalem. When Sylvester was canonized as a saint by the Roman patriarchate, December 31 (his burial date) was designated “St. Sylvester’s Day.” This is the festival date for the evening leading up to the slaughter celebration… a day which honors and celebrates a rabid anti-Semite’s successes in limiting Jewish influences on Constantinian “orthodoxy.”
We can trace this back even further than 325. There was pre-Yeshua massacre of Jews that occurred on January 1st as well. On that date in 46 BCE, Julius Caesar conducted a mass slaughter of Jews in the Galilee region in order to honor the Roman deity from whom that month derives its name. It was this Roman “god of door and gates” whom Julius Caesar credited for opening the gates allowing his mass slaughter of Galilean Jews to be successful. Eyewitness accounts report that the streets of Galilee flowed with the blood of Jews that day. This Roman celebration which ensued took the form of an orgy, i.e. a celebration of wanton hedonism… not too unlike the modern practice.
In 1066, William the Conqueror saw fit to move the date of the British New Year’s celebration from the long-established March 25th date to make it coincide with the old Roman Jewish Slaughter Festival, January 1. So the triad of December 25, December 31, and January 1 are celebrations of proto-holocausts.
This particular New Year’s date is one that most Jews choose not to celebrate. Can you imagine why? Early Messianics (both Jewish and Gentile) refused to participate in this morbid celebration and continued to follow the Biblical command that the religious New Year be recognized in Spring, on the 1st of Aviv/Nissan, and that the civil New Year (marking the birth of civilization at the first Sabbath of the Creation Week) be recognized in Fall (Yom Teruah).
Certainly we can all see and agree that it is much more laudable to celebrate the birth of civilization than to celebrate the events associated with January 1st. Finish your introspection, get ready to mend your relationships, and rejoice that our first full day on this earth was a Sabbath, designated for mutual rest… for us and our G-d to be in community together.
Thank you for tuning in, and – in anticipation of Yom Teruah – allow me to bid you all an early Chag Sameach, Shalom, uBrachot! And L’shana tovah tiqvateivu v’ tehatemu! May you all be inscribed and sealed for a good year.
*Schocken Bible translation (abbreviated SBT) = Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses (The Schocken Bible; New York: Schocken Books, 1995; orig. 1983).