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Rosh Hashanah in the Bible: a sample of notes and footnotes

September 27, 2011

Rosh Hashanah in the Bible
Considering the magnitude of Rosh Hashanah in the spiritual cycle of the Jewish people, one might suspect that it would warrant frenquent mention in the Bible.  On the contrary, Rosh Hashanah is scarcely mentioned and it is not even referred to by a specific name.

Paul Steinberg with Janet Greenstein Potter, Celebrating the Jewish Year: The Fall Holidays / Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, page 24

Here, then, is how some translators have helped readers read Rosh Hashanah in the Bible:


–“Table of Scriptural Readings”, The Jewish Bible: Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures — The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text: Torah * Nevi’im * Kethuvim, page xii

 

The preface to the first edition of The Torah was dated September 25, 1962, Ereve Rosh Ha-Shanah 5723.

— JPS, “On the Making of the New Translation,” PREFACE, The Jewish Bible: Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures — The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text: Torah * Nevi’im * Kethuvim, page xix

In the Hebrew calendar, the civil year begins in the fall, with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. However the ritual year begins in the spring, at the vernal equinox. Several commentators have noted how significant it is for Israel’s birth to coincide with “nature’s new year.”

— Craig Smith’s footnote on Exodus 12:2, The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, page 36

This chapter describes each of the seven sacred festivals in turn: the Sabbath; the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread; the feast of the Firstfruits; the feast of Weeks, also called Shavuot or Pentecost; the feast of Trumpets, which became Rosh Hashanah, the civil new year, and is celebrated even today with the blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn; Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement; and the feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot.

— Craig Smith’s footnote on Leviticus 23, The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, page 69

Originally called the Feast of Trumpets, this is now known as Rosh Hashanah, the civil new year in the fall, which is still celebrated in synagogues with the blowing of the shofar. It is the first of the “Days of Awe,” which culminate with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, ten days later.

— Craig Smith’s footnote on Numbers 29:1, The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, page 92

in the seventh month on the first of the month.  In the postbiblical period, this sacred assembly would be designated Rosh Hashanah, New Year.  The month in which it occurs, approximately equivalent to September, figures as the seventh month in biblical calculation because the agriculturally based calendar begins in the early spring.

A day of trumpeting.  The Hebrew teru’ah in all likelihood refers to the sounding of the ram’s horn, the shofar.  Blasts on the ram’s horn were used in coronation ceremonies, and as Moshe Winfeld plausibly argues, this festival was probably linked with other ancient Near Eastern festivals that enacted an annual coronation of the principal deity.  it is quite possible that as the biblical faith, evolving toward the form it took in rabbinic Judaism, became more monotheistically theological and less centered on agriculture, this theme of God’s kingship led to the adoption of the first day of the seventh month as the beginning of the year — the time when God’s majestic rule is ceremonially acknowledged and humanity vows fealty and submits itself (there are ancient Near Eastern precedents) to divine judgment.

— Robert Alter’s footnote on Numbers 29:1, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary,  page 834

LEVITICUS // Holy Days (23):  . . . . As laid out in Leviticus, the sacred days of the seventh month follow a conventional ancient pattern described by Gaster (1961):  the dying of the old year (“mortification” and “purgation,” as expressed in Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur), followed by the birth of the new year (“invigoration” and “jubilation,” as expressed in Sukkot).

–Everett Fox’s note, The Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (The Schocken Bible, Volume 1), page 616

a reminder by (horn-)blasting:  This became the Jewish festival of Rosh Ha-Shanah, the “head of the (New) Year,” at which a shofar (ram’s horn) is still blown in synagogue.  The reason here is probably a combination of proclamation (as before a king) and driving out demons (who, it should be noted, do not like loud noises).

–Everett Fox’s footnote on Leviticus 23:24, The Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (The Schocken Bible, Volume 1), page 621

a day of (horn-)blasts:  Observed by Jews as Rosh Ha-Shanah, the “Head of the Year” (New Year) in the fall, and accompanied in synagogue by blasts on the shofar.

–Everett Fox’s footnote on Numbers 29:1, The Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (The Schocken Bible, Volume 1), page 804

Hebrew On the first day of the seventh month. This day in the ancient Hebrew lunar calendar occurred in September or October. This festival is celebrated today as Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

— Tyndale House editors’ footnote on Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 29:1, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, pages 99, 131

At some point in Israelite tradition, the first day of the first month (which occurs in the spring, two weeks before Passover) must have served as New Year’s Day.  In rabbinic law, it is listed, in fact, as one of four New Year’s Days, the most familiar being the autumnal holiday known today as Rosh Ha-Shanah (m. Rosh Hash., 1.1)….

— Jon D. Levenson’s footnote on Genesis 8:13, The Jewish Study Bible: featuring The Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation, page 24

The promise to Sarah fulfilled at last. . . . A midrash reports that it was on Rosh Ha-Shanah that The LORD took note of Sarah (b. Rosh Hash. 11a); Gen. ch 21 is thus the Torah reading for the first day of Rosh Ha-Shanah

— Jon D. Levenson’s footnote on Genesis 21:1-8, The Jewish Study Bible: featuring The Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation, page 44

What Rachel does with the mandrakes she buys is strangely unreported.  One expects them to play a role in her overcoming her infertility, but it is God alone who is given credit for that His remembering her underscores her favored status (cf. 8.1).  On the basis of a word for “remembering” in Lev. 23.24 (translated “commemorated”), the Talmud dates Rachel’s conceiving (as well as Sarah’s [see 21.1 – 8 n.] and Hannah’s) to Rosh Ha-Shanah (b. Rosh Hash., 11a).  The matriarchs thus play a prominent role in the traditional Rosh Ha-Shanah liturgy.

— Jon D. Levenson’s footnote on Genesis 30:22, The Jewish Study Bible: featuring The Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation, page 62

(One should be aware that footnotes and other notes on Rosh Ha-Shanah run throughout the entire edition of The Jewish Study Bible: featuring The Jewish Publication Society TANAKH TranslationLevenson’s, above, are three of more than twenty informative notes on the biblical significances of  ראש השנה.)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 27, 2011 8:43 pm

    Kurk — fascinating post. Perhaps you will find some spiritual nuggets from this feminist take on Rosh Hashanah

  2. September 28, 2011 1:31 pm

    The take you share here, Theophrastus, is also an egalitarian one:

    “In this reading, Rebecca and Isaac pray simultaneously from a place of deep respect and mutuality. In their case, the experience of akarut drew them together as a couple, united in their gaze towards God.”

    But I was moved by Ms. Jacobowitz’s examples and explanations in many ways, yes, spiritual ways included. Thank you!

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