On the first day of the seventh biblical month, the Torah commands us to celebrate Yom HaTeruah, as it says in Leviticus 23:24, "Speak to the children of Israel and say, In the seventh month on the first of the month shall be for you a day of rest, a remembrance through noise-making (zikaron teruah), a holy convocation." This commandment is reiterated in Numbers 29:1.
Yom HaTeruah is meant to be a day of calling out to heaven with loud noises (teruah) on the silver trumpets of the Cohanim, on the shofar (animal horn), on other musical instruments, with our voices, and by any other means at our disposal. By calling out to heaven on this day, we attempt to make Yehowah remember us and thereby grant us atonement ten days later when we formally petition him for it on Yom HaKippurim (The Day of Atonement). 1
The Rabbis, however, claim that Yom HaTeruah has the additional meaning of the Jewish New Year, and it is this aspect of the holiday that they have emphasized to the point that they call it Rosh HaShana (The New Year) instead of Yom HaTeruah. It is this idea that I would like to thoroughly refute here.
The Rabbinical idea that Yom HaTeruah is the Jewish New Year dates back to at least the time of the Mishnah. 2 Tractate Rosh HaShana, Chapter 1, Mishna 1 states: "Four New Years are there: on the first of Nissan is the New Year for kings and holidays, on the first of Elul is the New Year for animal tithes, ... on the first of Tishrei is the New Year for years, shemita 3, Jubilee, planting and vegetables. On the first of Shevat is the New Year for trees ..." 4
Thus, the Mishnah speaks of not one, but four different New Years, and states that "the first of Tishrei (the seventh biblical month) is the New Year for years...", i.e. the primary New Year of the Rabbinical calendar. This is the precise source for the idea of Rosh HaShana.
We immediately note that this is in complete (actually, 180 degree) contrast with the text of the Torah. Exodus 12:2, in speaking about the month of the Passover offering, says: "This month shall be for you the head of the months, it is the first for you among the months of the year." Thus, the Torah commands us explicitly that our primary New Year must fall out not in the seventh biblical month ("Tishrei"), but in the first biblical month ("Nissan").
How do the Rabbis respond to such an apparent contradiction? Over the years I have posed the question to many Rabbis, some considered lesser and some considered greater. The answer I have consistently gotten is the following: "The Mishnah mentions not just one New Year, but four New Years, and one of them (the New Year for kings and holidays) does indeed fall out on the first of Nissan, so there really is no contradiction. Furthermore, even in modern days, societies generally have more than one year; for instance, in the United States there is the fiscal year which begins on July 1, and the school year which begins around September 1. So it is entirely possible that both the first of Nissan and the first of Tishrei are New Years."
At first glance, this may seem like an adequate answer, but does it really hold up to scrutiny? After all, the first of Tishrei is not just another among a bunch of New Years mentioned in the Mishnah: it is the primary New Year in the Rabbinical calendar; it is, as the Mishnah says, "the New Year for years." By analogy, the primary New Year in the United States is January 1. If one were to walk up to any American and ask him when the New Year is celebrated in the United States, the answer he would receive, with almost one hundred per-cent certainly, is "January 1". Americans may know of such things as fiscal and school years, but they will certainly not think to give their dates when asked about the New Year. Likewise, if you ask any religious (or, for that matter, even non-religious) Rabbinical Jew when the Jewish New Year is, the answer you will get, with almost one hundred per-cent certainty, is "Rosh HaShana", i.e the first of Tishrei. The Mishna may speak of four New Years, but nary a Rabbinical Jew will think to give another date; for a Rabbinical Jew, the New Year is, and only is, the first of Tishrei.
Thus, the correct question to ask a Rabbi, when confronting him with this contradiction to the text of the Torah, is, "Why does the Mishnah say that the New Year for years falls on the first of Tishrei, while the Torah says that it must fall on the first of "Nissan"? For this, the Rabbis have no answer.
Besides the source from the Mishnah, the Rabbis have a barrage of supposed proof texts from the Tanach to support their idea that Rosh HaShana occurs in the fall. I would now like to go through these texts, one by one.
We start with what is perhaps the most common one, Ezekiel (Yehezqel) 40:1. The verse reads, "In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth of the month, ... the hand of Yehowah was upon me ..." The reason that this verse is considered a Rabbinical proof text for the holiday of Rosh HaShana is that the Hebrew words used in the verse for "the beginning of the year" are "rosh ha-shana". Thus, say the Rabbis, the phrase "rosh ha-shana", (which appears nowhere else in the entire Tanach 5), is (a) proof of the existence of the holiday and (b) proof of its occurrence in Tishrei.
The second part of the claim is quickly seen to be absurd. Yehezqel 40:1 never pinpoints the date or even the season of this "beginning of the year". In fact, there is no reason to assume that it is anything other than the month of the Passover offering ("Nissan"), as stated in Exodus 12:2. By analogy, this would be like trying to prove that Columbus Day falls on the 14th of October by bringing a proof text, "and then the people celebrated Columbus Day that year." As for Yehezqel 40:1 being proof of the existence of a holiday named Rosh HaShana, once again, there is absolutely no indication here. The day is never referred to as a holiday by the text, and Yehezqel doesn't do or say anything that would indicate that it was. (Rather, it is much more likely that from this verse the Rabbis came up with the name of their holiday.) The verse is merely following the formula used countless times throughout the Tanach for describing the time at which a prophetic vision occurred: "In the such-and-such year, in the such-and-such month, on the such-and-such day of the month ...", as we see, for example, only eight chapters earlier in Yehezqel 32:1, "And it was, in the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first day of the month, that the word of Yehowah was upon me, saying ..."
A further so-called proof that the Rabbis bring is that the vision of Yehezqel mentioned here occurred on the "tenth day" of the first month, i.e., the tenth day after the beginning of the year, or "rosh ha-shana". The Rabbis see this as a veiled reference to Yom HaKippurim, which occurs on the tenth day after Rosh HaShana. Again, the problem here is that there is no evidence whatsoever that Yehezqel's vision takes place on Yom HaKippurim. In fact, the vision, which is extremely long and elaborate — describing in detail a future Beit HaMiqdash (Holy Temple) — is entered into immediately after the statement of its date, and continues straight through to the end of the book of Yehezqel with no further reference whatsoever to the time and place outside of Yehezqel's dream-world.
Finally, say the Rabbis, one last proof that the vision of Yehezqel 40:1 takes place on Yom HaKippurim is that the verse uses the phrase, "in that selfsame day" (בעצם היום הזה), which happens to be the same phrase used to describe Yom HaKippurim in Leviticus 23:28. The only problem with this argument is that this phrase appears many times throughout the Tanach (eighteen to be exact), and refers to such days as: the seventeenth day of the second month when Noah boards the ark (Genesis 7:11-13), the day Abraham has all of his household circumcised after he is told that he will have a son named Yitzhak (Genesis 17:23), the first day of Hag HaMatzoth (Genesis 12:17), and the tenth day of the tenth month (Yehezqel 24:2). The phrase is simply meant to give emphasis to a particular day and state that certain events happened precisely on that day.
Another proof often brought by the Rabbis that Yom HaTeruah is actually Rosh HaShana are the phrases "the going out of the year" (צאת השנה) and "the turning of the year" (תקופת השנה), found in Exodus 23:16 and Exodus 34:22, respectively. Exodus 23:16 says, "... And the Festival of Ingathering (Sukkoth), at the going out of the year, when you gather the fruits of your labor in from the field." Say the Rabbis, since the "going out of the year" occurs in the fall, this is proof that the New Year begins on Rosh HaShana. The first obvious thing to notice about this argument is that the holiday being referred to here is not Yom HaTeruah at all, but rather Sukkoth.
The second thing to notice is that both verses are referring specifically to the end of the period of the three pilgrimage holidays, which begins with Hag HaMatzoth, is followed by Hag HaShavuoth and then ends with Hag HaSukkoth, as it says one verse later in Exodus 23:17, "Three times per year shall each of your males appear before the Master, Yehowah." That the period of the pilgrimage holidays is being spoken about, and nothing else, can be easily discerned by reading the above verses in context from Exodus 23:14 and Exodus 34:18, respectively. Thus, the phrases "the going out of the year" and "the turning of the year" can best be translated as "the going out / turning of [the period of] the year [which encompasses the three pilgrimage festivals]," and nothing more than this is implied.
A final proof which the Rabbis often bring to support their idea of Rosh HaShana is the fact that the declaration of the Jubilee (יובל) year takes place in the fall, on Yom HaKippurim, as it says in Leviticus 25:9-10, "And you shall circulate the loud blast of the shofar in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month, on Yom HaKippurim; you shall circulate the [sound of the] shofar throughout your entire land." Therefore, reason the Rabbis, this is proof that the fiftieth (Jubilee) year and, by extension, all years, begin in the fall. Again, the first suspicious thing to notice about this claim is that the declaration of the Jubilee takes place on Yom HaKippurim, which is, by the Rabbis' reasoning, already ten days into the beginning of the Jubilee year!
But there is a far more serious problem: The Rabbis have assumed that this day represents the beginning of the Jubilee year, whereas the merely mentions that it is the day of the declaration of the Jubilee year (which, in actuality, begins the following "Nissan", at the commencement of the fiftieth year), as it says in Leviticus 25:10, "And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom throughout the land and to all its inhabitants; this will be the Jubilee year for you ..." In fact, the Torah says explicitly that the Jubilee year is declared in the forty-ninth, not the fiftieth, year: "And you shall count to yourselves seven Sabbath years — seven years, seven times — and so it shall be for you, these days of the seven Sabbath years, forty-nine years. And you shall circulate the loud blast of the shofar in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month (i.e. of the forty-ninth year) ..." [Leviticus 25:8-9].
So why would the Jubilee year be declared six months prior to its actual beginning? The answer is obvious if one understands a bit about the agriculture of ancient Israel. Starting from the beginning of the biblical year, the agricultural year in ancient Israel went as follows: It began with the barley harvest around the time of Hag HaMazoth, continued with the wheat harvest around the time of Hag HaShavuoth; then there was a break (kayitz - from the word ketz, meaning "end") during which the barley and wheat were processed (threshed, winnowed and ground). After the kayitz were the fruit harvests, beginning with the grapes and followed by the dates, figs, pomegranates and finally the olives, ending around the time of Hag HaSukkoth. After this, the rainy season began, and when it did, the fields were plowed and then planted for the next year's produce.
Taking this into account, it is obvious why the Jubilee year would need to be declared around the time of Yom HaKippurim: the declaration must go out before the beginning of the rainy season of the forty-ninth year, so that the farmers would know not to plant their fields for the next (fiftieth) year. In ancient Israel, there was no internet and no telephone, so the only formal declaration of this important event was the sound of the shofar throughout the land. 6 In addition, since the beginning of the Jubilee year next spring would be the time at which many land transfers took place (since all landed reverted to its original owners in the Jubilee year; see, for example, Leviticus 25:10), time was needed to prepare all these transactions.
This clear understanding of the Jubilee year sheds light on a verse which never made sense to me when I learned it in Rabbinical yeshivas: Leviticus 25:22 says, pre-emptively responding to Israel's concerns about what they will eat during the shemita (Sabbath) year, "And you will plant in the eighth year and you will eat from the old produce until the ninth year, until the arrival of its produce, you shall eat the old." The complicated Rabbinical explanations all assumed that this verse was referring to Israel's fears over the Jubilee year, which extends the shemita year by one year, and that this is the reason that the eighth and ninth years are mentioned. But this is clearly not the case, since it says two verses earlier in Leviticus 25:20-21, "And if you shall say, What will we eat in the seventh year, seeing as our produce has not been planted and not gathered in?" When viewed from the correct perspective, the explanation of this verse is clear and straightforward: Since the shemita year beings in the spring — at the beginning of the seventh year — and lasts an entire year, the next time that any agricultural work is allowed to be done is in the spring of the eighth year. But planting does not occur in the spring, it occurs in the fall, and therefore, the next time that planting can be done is in the fall of the eighth year, and the produce from that planting would not be ready until the spring of the ninth year. Seen in this light, the verse makes perfect sense.
If there is a New Year in the fall, then I end with this New Year's prayer:
Please Yehowah, save your nation Israel from the disease of Rabbinical Judaism, a mass hypnosis and a mass-casualty mental disorder no less horrible than cancer, a two-thousand year-old product of the stubbornness of your nation, Israel, who do not truly want to get close to you and follow your Torah, so they have chosen for themselves leaders who will give them exactly what they want, who substitute superstition and petty ritual in place of your true Torah, in place of doing the much harder task of being kind and considerate to each other and loving each other as brothers. Is it no wonder, Yehowah, that they do not pray for the return of prophecy in their main prayer, the Shmonah-Esrei? The last thing they want is the return of prophecy, for if prophecy returns, they may have to actually hear you and listen to what you desire from them instead of listening to their Rabbis who, themselves quasi-idol worshipers, give the people exactly what they want but make it look like hard work by adding endless unnecessary petty laws and ritual. (What is the proper bracha over a banana?); then they may have to find out that the way they have chosen, though cleverly designed to give the impression of keeping your Torah, is actually very far from your Torah. Is it no wonder that they have banned your name from the world? Yehowah, can you imagine a world where it is forbidden for your own people to call out to you by name? Yet this is the world we live in, and deep down, your people know that calling out to you by name will bring them closer to you than just about any other action, and this is exactly why they have chosen leaders who have forbidden it, because the people don't really want to be close to you: it is too much responsibility, and their Rabbinical leaders play along because they are more than happy to retain their power and control over the people rather than giving it to you, Yehowah. Bless your land, Israel, Yehowah, and bless those who are loyal to you, and do not let your good name be disgraced throughout the world any more by those who claim to speak in your name. Return, Yehowah, to your loyal ones, and establish truth and justice throughout the land, and judge us, through a prophet and through leaders of your choosing.
2The succinct compendium of Pharisaic law compiled at around 200CE.
3The Sabbatical seventh year in which the fields lie fallow; see Leviticus 25.
4ארבעה ראשי שנים הם: באחד בניסן, ראש השנה למלכים ולרגלים. באחד באלול, ראש השנה למעשר בהמה; רבי אלעזר ורבי שמעון אומרין, באחד בתשרי. באחד בתשרי, ראש השנה לשנים לשמיטים וליובלות, ולנטיעה ולירקות. באחד בשבט, ראש השנה לאילן, כדברי בית שמאי; בית הלל אומרין, בחמישה עשר בו
5A phenomenon known in scholarly circles as hapax legomenon, its significance is that such a phrase's definition may easily be distorted, as it was in this case by the Rabbis, since there are no other occurrences to cross-reference its meaning.
6In other years, there was absolutely no obligation to blow the shofar on Yom HaKippurim, unlike what the Rabbis do today, whereby they signal the end of Yom HaKippurim with a blast on the shofar.
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