How important is it for us to use the terms God uses for biblical celebrations?

Take for instance “Rosh Hashana.” Sunday night at sundown is the beginning of Rosh Hashana, otherwise known as the Jewish New Year. (Rosh = Head; Hashana = the year; i.e., the head of the year, or New Year.)

But look all you can, and you still won’t find “Rosh Hashana” anywhere in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible, or Genesis through Malachi in the Christian Bible).

How come?

Here’s just a wee bit of background: In Exodus 12:2, the Lord told Moses and Aaron that the month they fled Egypt (Passover) would be “the beginning of months … the first month of the year to you.”

This first month corresponds to March or April. The name given for this first month of the Hebrew calendar is Abib, meaning “spring.”

If you’re confused, hang in there! Just bear with me a bit longer.

In ancient times this was perfectly clear until tragedy struck Israel. God allowed the Babylonians to conquer the Jews. In a succession of invasions beginning in 597 B.C., most of the elite and many other Jews were deported to Babylon — in large part as a consequence of worshipping pagan gods. (See II Kings 23, for example.)

So, wham! All of a sudden, the Jews were thrust into a new culture, new language, new customs. But, conveniently, one custom was the same! The Babylonians had the same calendar the Jews had! There were only a couple of significant differences. 1) The Babylonians started their year in the sixth month of the Hebrew calendar (corresponding to September or October for us). 2) The names of the months were different.

Since the basic pattern was the same, the Jews just simply adopted the Babylonian names.

And the Jews also quickly adopted the first day of the sixth month as their New Year’s Day, too. They replaced the biblical name, Yom Teruah, with the new custom, Rosh Hashana. From there it was only logical to celebrate along with the rest of society. No harm, no foul. Right?

But there was harm. Many Jews went on to embrace the pagan religion around them. Instead of celebrating their deliverance by God’s hand out of Egypt, they joined right into “weeping for Tammuz” with the rest of Babylon. (See Ezekiel 8:14 ff)

Note that the Bible calls this Holy Day “Yom Teruah,” meaning a massive shout or great noise. We translate it to the “Day of Trumpets.” It has meaning!

Hmmm, what future event is related to a trumpet blast? Well, we’ll save that for another article. Meanwhile, Chag Sameach! Have a joyful (and pure) Day of Trumpets!

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Susan Fiedler has served as co-pastor of congregation Beth Shalom. She can be emailed at

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