Rosh Hashanah, literally “the head (or beginning) of the year,” is the postbiblical name for the fall Jewish new year festival. This festival became especially important in the rabbinic period, when it was closely connected to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a week and a half later.
When was the new year celebrated in ancient Israel?
We mark different beginnings of the year: the school year begins in the late summer, the calendar year begins on January 1, and some businesses that have a fiscal year begin on some other date. Ancient Israel as well celebrated different new years. The agricultural year ended in the early fall, when the final crops (the olives) ripened, right before the start of the six-month rainy season; this is illustrated by the tenth century Gezer Calendar. Some biblical texts recognize this fall beginning of the year;
This spring new year matches the religious calendar of the Babylonians who began the religious year in the spring, although they too also celebrated an agricultural new year in the fall. Rabbinic Judaism had even more new years: one for kings and festivals (in the spring), another for tithing cattle (in the late summer), a third—what we call Rosh Hashanah—“for the reckoning of years, for Sabbatical years, and for Jubilees, for planting [trees] and for vegetables,” and a fourth, in the spring, for trees (M. Rosh Hashanah 1:1). In later Judaism, Rosh Hashanah was celebrated for two days, a custom that continues in many Jewish communities.
How and why was the biblical Rosh Hashanah celebrated?
Rosh Hashanah was not a major biblical festival—it is not mentioned in several of the biblical festival calendars; its disregard in