A New Look at the Feast of Trumpets!
How Should We Celebrate
The months of God's sacred calendar all begin with the sighting of the
New Moon at
the “Day of Blowing” falls upon the New Moon. How can we know in
advance which day we should celebrate? Why do the Jewish people keep
TWO DAYS for the Feast of Trumpets, which they call “Rosh Hashanah”?
What does the Bible say about this? What does Jewish history during the
most people have ever imagined. Here are vital keys to understand the
proper way to celebrate Yom Teruah and the New Moons!
William F. Dankenbring
God has revealed that the modern
fixed calendar is not of Him, nor does it follow His written Word, as the Jews
themselves will admit. They acknowledge
that the calendar of God was CHANGED BY RABBIS in the fourth century after
Christ and the
Nevertheless, God is now revealing clearly that His original calendar – the calendar of OBSERVATION of the New Moons – is Scriptural, and His calendar begins in the SPRING, not in the fall of the year (Exodus 12:1-2). The Jews themselves admit that a new month begins with a New Moon, and try to make this happen even with the fixed calendar, although they are not always successful.
Since according to God's calendar,
New Moons -- the first visible crescent of the New Moon -- is the beginning of
a new Biblical month, and must be sighted from Jerusalem, this poses a dilemma
-- at least on the surface -- for people who live around the world – but
especially for those living eastward from Jerusalem as far as the Mid-Pacific
Ocean. This would include people from
Since the New Moon sighting must be
done by God's people, from
But the problem is not theirs alone. The rest of us around the world are also dependent upon getting the word FROM Jerusalem IN TIME to properly observe the New Moons, especially Yom Teruah, the Holy Day that falls on the New Moon of the seventh month (Tishri)! How can we possibly get the word IN TIME, so that we can PLAN for the Holy Day?
A perplexing paradox indeed!
How did the Jewish people resolve
this obvious dilemma for all of those living away from
A "fixed" calendar, of course, does not face this problem. But a "fixed" calendar does not depend on New Moons, but only on mathematical rules and equations. God's sacred calendar was to be governed by the HEAVENLY BODIES! God plainly said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years" (Gen.1:14). The sun rules the day, the moon rules the night. The sun rules the tropical (solar) year, and the moon rules the lunar month, which may be either 29 or 30 days, and therefore must be sighted by knowledgeable observers who are properly instructed and who live in the proper region.
This arrangement caused problems
which had to be solved even in the time of the
What IS the "International Date Line"?
First, let’s look at the International Date Line itself. This is an imaginary line on the earth extending from the north pole to the south pole, where the nations have decided that a new calendar day begins. Thus, the calendar date to the west of the line is one day later (newer) than the date to the east of the line. For example, it would be Monday to the west of the line, but Sunday to the east of the line, at the same moment.
The international Date Line follows
the 1800 meridian
for the most part, but zig zags occasionally.
The meridian is half way around the world from the
As the sun seems to travel over 150 of the earth's surface each hour, for each 150 west of Greenwich meridian, the time is set back one hour; for each 150 one travels eastward, the clock is advanced one hour. Therefore, if two travelers -- one going east and one going west -- meet at the 1800 meridian (the International Date Line), the one going west will have passed through 12 time zones and lost 12 hours, whereas the person going east will have passed through 12 time zones and gained 12 hours. At the Date Line, if one stood on one side and the other on the other side, the one on the east side will be 24 hours ahead of the person on the west side!
A new date begins on the west side of the date line. As the earth rotates on its axis, this new date sweeps westward across the globe, and covers the entire earth in 24 hours. As the earth is approximately 24,000 miles in circumference, this means in one hour the sun will sweep over about 1,000 miles -- thus each time zone is about 1,000 miles wide.
According to this arrangement,
January 1 occurs first just to the west of the date line. As a result, people in
How did the International Date Line
originate? The location of the date line
was established by agreement among the world's larger nations, to facilitate
international commerce and trade, and international relations. When created by the nations, it was decided
to make the date line zig zag in order to prevent the line from falling within
single nations. Thus although the
northeastern corner of
Obviously, when the International Date Line was established, it was done without any regard to the Scriptures, or the Word of God. The Biblical calendar was considered of no significance to the nations involved. It was done as part of the "commercial system" of modern "Babylon the Great" -- the world system which originated in ancient Babylon!
How does this convention affect Biblical days and time keeping?
What the Scriptures Reveal
We read that when the Messiah returns, "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David" (Luke 1:32). The throne of David was in Jerusalem! In fact, the Messiah will rule over ALL the nations FROM His royal city of JERUSALEM!
Isaiah the prophet tells us:
"Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD's
house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted
above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and
say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the
God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths.' For
out of ZION shall go forth the LAW, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem"
Micah the prophet also records a very similar prophecy:
"Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD's house
shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it. Many nations shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go
up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us
His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Micah 4:1-2).
Notice! God's LAW and His WORD shall go forth FROM ZION -- from the city of JERUSALEM! God's Law and His Word includes His sacred CALENDAR, and the proclamation of every NEW MOON, every NEW MONTH, every annual HOLY DAY, and every WEEKLY SABBATH DAY! Judging by this Biblical criteria, then, it would certainly appear that in God's great Plan everything should begin with His people Israel -- Mount Zion -- and His headquarters city, JERUSALEM! -- and it WILL, in the Kingdom of God!
It would seem that God's system of day and time keeping would cause the new day, weekly Sabbath, and Holy Days to arrive FIRST AT JERUSALEM, and then be proclaimed there, and THEN follow the sun and moon around the globe of the earth, westward, until all the earth then observes that very same day, as it arrives at their location.
Will Christ allow things to continue the way the modern nations have placed the International Date Line, in His soon-coming Kingdom? I don't think so!
In God's system, time -- and the DAY itself -- will most likely first BEGIN in Jerusalem, in the land of modern Israel. The first "time zone" on the planet would most likely begin in the Middle East, with the area stretching a thousand miles east to west, from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean Sea -- the land God promised to His people Israel.
God told the children of Judah, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, upon the conquest of Canaan, that their inheritance in the "Promised Land" stretched as far as "the brook of Egypt and the Great Sea with its coastline" on the west (Joshua 15:47). "The west border was the coastline of the Great Sea" -- the Mediterranean (v.12).
But the inheritance of the 12 tribes was far greater. God told Joshua:
"From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river
EUPHRATES, all the land of the Hittites, and to the GREAT SEA toward
the going down of the sun [in the west], SHALL BE YOUR TERRITORY"
This vast stretch of land in the Middle East was promised to ISRAEL! And, in the coming reign of the Messiah, it will belong to them -- all twelve tribes!
Jerusalem, of course, is Israel's capital. Jerusalem is mentioned more than any other city in the Bible -- 666 times in the Old Testament, and 144 times in the New Testament! Why this strange number of occurrences? "666" is the number of the Beast of Revelation. Jerusalem, at the present time, has rejected the Messiah, and He was even crucified there. Therefore, in its human, carnal form, Jerusalem represents the evil city," which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where our Lord was crucified" (Rev.11:8). Old Testament Jerusalem was a filthy, lewd, idolatrous city, condemned by the prophets, and judged by God, sent into captivity, and punishment. It is the symbol of rebellion, sin, lawlessness, and death!
But Jerusalem is mentioned 144 times in the NEW Testament -- showing it will be TRANSFORMED into God's own spiritual headquarters city, the capital of the New Messianic Reign on earth! The number "144" has special significance -- it is 12 X 12, the number "12" being the number of organizational beginnings, foundations, and strength. The "New Jerusalem" will have 12 foundations, according to the 12 apostles of Christ -- and 12 gates or entrances, according to the 12 sons of Jacob (see Rev.21:12-14). 12 X 12 X 1000 also gives us the number of the 144,000 -- 12,000 out of each of the tribes of Israel, who will become a leadership corps of the Kingdom of God, during the beginning of the Millennium (see Rev.7:1-8). For a fuller explanation of the 144,000, write for our article, "Who Are the 144,000 of Revelation?" Also, write for our article, “Shemini Atzaret – the Mystery of the Eighth Day.”
It is certainly true that the central focus of Almighty God is the city of Jerusalem -- much more so than any other city on earth! Revelation 21 speaks of the New Jerusalem "coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev.21:2).
Jerusalem has a great destiny in God's eyes. God says to her:
"Awake, awake! Put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city! For the uncircumcised and the unclean shall no longer
come to you. Shake yourself from the dust, arise; sit down, O Jerusalem! Loose
yourself from the bonds of your neck, O captive daughter of Zion!" (Isa.52:1-2).
"Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem! For the LORD
has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has made bare
His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God" (Isa.52:9-10).
"For Zion's sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that
burns. The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory. You
shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD will name. You
shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the
hand of your God. You will no longer be termed Forsaken, nor shall your land
any more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called Hephzibah [literally, "My
delight is in her"], and your land Beulah [literally, "married"]; for the LORD
delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a
virgin, so shall your sons marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you" (Isaiah 62:1-5).
These Scriptures apply in a dual sense as well: They show that God will redeem His people, and His land, and the city of Jerusalem; but they also show that He will redeem His Church, the "bride of Christ," when He returns (I Cor.11:3; Eph.5:23-27; Rev.19:6-9).
Jerusalem and the Calendar
Jerusalem will soon be the capital city of the entire world. Jesus Christ -- Yeshua the Messiah -- will make it so. At that time, all things will be restored. Peter declared of the coming of the Messiah, to the Jews at the Temple,
"Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times
of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus
Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until THE TIMES
OF RESTORATION OF ALL THINGS, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His
holy prophets since the world [or, "time"] began" (Acts 3:19-21).
Will this "restoration of ALL THINGS" not include GOD'S TRUE CALENDAR? Will it not also include God's true "International Date Line"? Exactly how and where Christ will rule the International Date Line will be placed, we can surmise, guess, and speculate -- but nevertheless, that is knowledge only He has at this time.
However, we do know that in ancient times, God's calendar was based on sighting the New Moons at Jerusalem, having them verified and sanctioned by the supreme court of the land, the Sanhedrin, and then proclaimed to all the surrounding nations where there were Jews. This proclamation was made also to the Jews living in nations east of Jerusalem. Jews in nations far removed from Jerusalem, which could not receive the messages sent, probably had to observe the New Moons locally and simply do the best they could.
In the old days, notification of the New Moons was done by lighting bonfires or signal fires on the tops of mountains or hills, thus the New Moons were announced. But after the Samaritans began lighting their own fires, causing confusion and chaos, the method of proclamation had to be changed, and riders were sent out on horseback, much like the "Pony Express," in the early United States, carrying the mail to the western territories.
New Moon Sightings Today
Today, of course, we have the computer, the internet, e-mail, the telephone, and many ways in which we can communicate virtually instantaneously around the world.
Every month, modern Karaites – Jews who follow the ancient traditions of the Sadducees – who live at Jerusalem are performing the ancient sightings of the monthly New Moons, and proclaiming the New Moons, and posting each sighting on their website on the internet, and also sending out e-mail messages to all those who are on their mailing list. Their monthly New Moon sightings may be found on the Internet, at their website address: karaite-korner.org
Thus once again, at least to this extent, the "LAW" IS GOING FORTH FROM JERUSALEM! We try to post the updated New Moon reports also on our Triumph website, at our web address: triumphpro.com
However, even now we must understand that the news of the New Moon sightings still is not put on the internet website until a day or two later – and sometimes three or four days later! This does not help us very much if the New Moon has already begun, or is past, by the time we receive the information! What should we do about this problem?
Since there is at least some delay before we receive the news of the New Moon sightings, how does this reliance upon the Karaites in Jerusalem to sight the New Moon officially and proclaim it each month affect those of us in Europe, Africa, America, Canada, and the Western Hemisphere? Although the moon's crescent becomes visible in Jerusalem many hours before it would in the western hemisphere, we still may not get the announcement in enough time to observe the New Moons properly – especially the Holy Day of Yom Teruah!
How can we keep God’s Holy Day holy if we don’t know in advance precisely which day it is? What is the answer to this perplexing question?
Under this present system, all of us have to begin to keep a day as the "new Moon," assuming it will be so declared in Jerusalem. In other words, the New Moon could be the day after "Elul 29" -- that is, the 30th of Elul would become the 1st of Tishri. However, if the New Moon is NOT sighted on the eve of Elul 30, then it will stay Elul 30, and the New Moon would be declared on the following day -- which would then become Tishri 1.
In other words, since each month must have either 29 or 30 days, if the New Moon crescent is not sighted on what would be the "30th," thus making it the "1st" of the next month, then the NEXT day would have to be the New Moon day, and made the 1st of the next month! This of course was a well known fact in Bible times. The fact is, this SAME PROBLEM had to be dealt with by the Jews during the time of the second Temple -- from the time of Ezra, about 520 B.C., till the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. How did they deal with the problem on not knowing the New Moon in advance, and notifying those Jews living in outlying regions?
In historical times, the Jews had to face the fact that the sighting of the New Moon in Jerusalem posed a problem for Jews who lived long distances from Jerusalem -- such as those in Persia, Babylon, and Asia Minor.
How The Problem was Solved
How did the ancient Jews solve this problem? Says Alfred Edersheim in The Temple: Its Ministry and Services:
And this brings up yet another difficulty. Jews calculated the month according to
the phase of the moon, each month consisting of either twenty nine or thirty days,
and beginning with the appearance of the new moon. But this opened a fresh field
of uncertainty. It is quite true that every one might observe for himself the appear-
ance of a new moon. But this would again partly depend on the state of the weather.
Besides, it left an authoritative declaration of the commencement of a month unsupplied.
And yet not only was the first of every month to be observed as 'New Moon's Day,'
but the feasts took place on the 10th, 15th, or other day of the month, which could
not be accurately determined without a certain knowledge of its beginning. To supply
this want the Sanhedrim sat in the 'Hall of Polished Stones' to receive the testimony
of credible witnesses that they had seen the new moon. To encourage as many as
possible to come forward on so important a testimony, these witnesses were
handsomely entertained at the public expense. If the new moon had appeared at
the commencement of the 30th day -- which would correspond to our evening of
the 29th, as the Jews reckoned the day from evening to evening -- the Sanhedrim
declared the previous month to have been one of twenty-nine days, or 'imperfect.'
Immediately thereon men were sent to a signal-station on the Mount of Olives, where
beacon-fires were lit and torches waved, till a kindling flame on a hill in the distance
indicated that the signal had been perceived. Thus the tidings, that this was the new
moon, would be carried from hill to hill, far beyond the boundaries of Palestine, to
those of the dispersion, 'beyond the river.' Again, if credible witnesses had not appeared
to testify to the appearance of the new moon on the evening of the 29th, the next evening,
or that of the 30th, according to our reckoning, was taken as the commencement of
the new month, in which case the previous month was declared to have been one of
thirty days, or 'full.' It was ruled that a year should neither have less than four nor more
than eight such full months of thirty days" (The Temple, pages 156-157).
All this is well and good. But the Jews ran into problems. Enemies tried to thwart their system of notification. Edersheim continues:
“THE SEVEN MESSENGERS OF THE NEW MOON”
“But these early fire-signals opened the way for serious inconvenience. The enemies
of the Jews lit beacons to deceive those at a distance, and it became necessary to send
special messengers to announce the new moon. These were, however, despatched only
seven times in the year, just in time for the various feasts -- in Nisan, for the Passover
on the 15th, and in the month following, Iyar, for the 'Second Passover,' kept by those
who had been debarred from the first (Num. 9:9-1 1); in Ab (the fifth month), for the
fast on the 9th, on account of the destruction of Jerusalem; in Elul (the sixth month),
on account of the approaching solemnities of Tishri; in Tishri (the seventh month), for
its festivals; in Kislev (the ninth month), for the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple;
and in Adar, for Purim” (p.157).
But what about the Feast of Trumpets -- the only annual Holy Day to fall on a New Moon? Obviously, this could constitute a problem for those far away from Jerusalem! Says Alfred Edersheim:
"Thus, practically, all difficulties were removed, except in reference to the month Elul,
since, as the new moon of the following month, or Tishri, was the 'Feast of Trumpets,'
it would be exceedingly important to know in time whether Elul had twenty-nine or thirty
days. But here the Rabbis ruled that Elul should be regarded as a month of twenty-
nine days, unless a message to the contrary were received -- that, indeed, since the days
of Ezra it had always been so, and that accordingly New Year's Day would be the
day after the 29th of Elul. To make, however, assurance doubly sure, it soon became
the practice to keep New Year's Day on two successive days, and this has since been
extended into a duplication of all the great feast days (of course, with the exception of
fasts), and that continues, although the calendar has long been fixed, and error is no
more possible" (p.157-158).
In other words, it was assumed that the day following the 29th of Elul was Tishri 1, and preparations were made accordingly to celebrate that day as the Feast of Trumpets. But if the New Moon did NOT appear that evening, then the following day was ALSO observed, because it then had to be the actual day of the New Moon!
The custom of keeping BOTH days soon became commonplace -- especially in regions and districts far removed from Jerusalem! This, of course, was during the times when the calendar was correctly observed, and the New Moons were correctly sighted, from Jerusalem, during the time of the second Temple -- and during the time of Christ!
Evidence from the Mishnah
The Mishnah also corroborates this fact. We read in the Mishnah, translated by Danby, in the section titled Menahoth:
“The Two Loaves were consumed never earlier than the second and never later than
the third day. Thus if they were baked on the eve of the Festival-day and consumed
on the Festival-day, that would be the second day. If the Festival-day fell on the day
after the Sabbath, they must be consumed on the third day. The shewbread was
consumed never earlier than the ninth and never later than the eleventh day. . . .
IF THE TWO FESTIVAL-DAYS OF THE NEW YEAR [fell before the Sabbath] it is
consumed on the eleventh day” (Menahoth 11:9).
Notice! The evidence shows that it was the established practice of the Jews of Christ’s time to observe TWO DAYS for YOM TERUAH each year! We also read in the Mishnah as follows:
“Beforetime they used to admit evidence about the new moon throughout the day. Once
the witnesses tarried so long in coming that the Levites were disordered in their singing;
so it was ordained that evidence could be admitted only until the afternoon offering. And
if witnesses came from the time of the afternoon offering onwards, THEN THIS DAY
WAS KEPT HOLY AND ALSO THE MORROW WAS KEPT HOLY” (Mishnah, Rosh
HaShanah, 4:4, page 192).
In a footnote to this passage, Danby explains:
“Of the New Year. After sunset on the night after the 29th of Elul they treated the coming
day as a Festival-day in case witnesses arrived the next day to report that the new moon
was visible the previous evening. If they did not come that day, the next day was made
a Festival-day, and the day before was counted as the 30th of Elul.”
How plain it should be that Yom Teruah, or the Feast of Trumpets -- because it fell on a New Moon -- was observed for TWO DAYS!
More Historical Evidence
Ronald H. Isaacs, in Every Person’s Guide To The High Holy Days, writes about this historical situation:
“In the Bible the festival lasts for one day only, the two-day festival arose out of the
difficulty of determining when the new moon actually appeared. Long ago, the beginning
of a new month was declared when two independent witnesses reported to the Sanhedrin
(rabbinical court) that the crescent of a new moon had appeared. The declaration was
relayed from city to city by lighting signal fires on the hill tops” (p.41).
This author declares that this holiday was “celebrated for TWO DAYS in Palestine since the days of the former prophets,” citing the Jerusalem Talmud (Eruvin, chapter 3) as evidence for this assertion (page 46).
In The Jewish Holidays, A Guide and Commentary, Michael Strassfeld states:
“Why Is Rosh haShanah Two Days? Unlike other festivals which are celebrated in the
Diaspora for two days because of uncertainty about the calendar, Rosh haShana is the
only holiday celebrated for two days in Israel. The reason is the same as with all the
other festivals – that is, the uncertainty involved in a calendar that depended on when
the new moon was promulgated by the rabbinic court in Jerusalem. The problem of Rosh
haShanah is heightened by the fact that it falls on Rosh Hodesh – the new moon itself;
therefore, even in Jerusalem, it would have been difficult to let everyone know in time
that the New Year had begun. To solve this problem, a TWO-DAY Rosh haShanah
was practiced even in Israel” (page 102, emphasis mine in latter part).
Mitch and Zhava Glaser, in The Fall Feasts of Israel, point out that, “In the time of Christ, as today, Rosh Hashanah was celebrated on NOT ONE DAY BUT TWO. One Talmudic tradition claims that the second day was added during the time of the early prophets and the monarchy” (page 32).
Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, in The Festivals in Halachah: An Analysis of the Development of the Festival Laws, gives us even more insight and understanding of the problem relating to Rosh Hashanah/Yom Teruah. He writes:
“Unlike the other Yamim-Tovim, Rosh Hashanah falls on the first day of the month, Rosh
Chodesh; and during the period when the proclamation of Rosh Chodesh was dependent
upon the testimony of witnesses who had observed the first appearance of the moon, the
beginning of Rosh Chodesh always remained in doubt pending events in the supreme
court, the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. Either witnesses would come and Rosh Chodesh would
be proclaimed based on their testimony; or no witnesses would come. Alternatively,
would-be witnesses might have their evidence rejected for one reason or another . . . with
the result that Rosh Chodesh would be proclaimed for the following day, the thirty-first
day since the previous Rosh Chodesh.
“This means of determining the date, however, gives rise to serious problems with regard
to Rosh Hashanah. Since its beginning remains in doubt, what effect has this on the halachic
requirements of the day – prohibition of labor, blowing the shofar, special prayers and
blessings, and sacrifices?” (page 68).
How was this problem solved in early times? Says Zevin:
“’Originally, testimony about the new moon was accepted all day long’ [Mishnah]. This
mishnah characterizes the first of the four eras of Rosh HaShanah. During this era – and
within the bounds of the city of Jerusalem – Rosh HaShanah was observed sometimes for
one day, and sometimes two. How so?
“Every year, with the onset of the evening which began the thirtieth of Elul, the people
would desist from labor and behave as though the sanctity of the festival had begun –
because there was a strong possibility that witnesses would testify the next day regarding
the new moon, and be accepted. Were that to occur, the preceding evening would turn
out to have been, indeed, Rosh HaShanah, the first of Tishri, and the following day, the
thirty-first from the previous Rosh Chodesh, would be chol, an ordinary day. Rosh
HaShanah would thus have been observed only one day. If, on the other hand, the thirtieth
day passed without the appearance of witnesses, this meant the month had been ‘full,’ that
is, thirty days and it was the thirty-first day that was Rosh HaShanah. In the latter case,
the residents of Jerusalem would have observed two days of Rosh HaShanah: the thirtieth,
because of doubt up to the very end of the day as to whether witnesses would come; and
the thirty-first, because of certainty that it was the Scriptural Rosh haShanah” (p.69).
This applied to residents inside the city of Jerusalem and nearby areas or towns. But what about observance of Yom Teruah OUTSIDE the city of Jerusalem, and in outlying regions and cities?
At one time, beacons being lit up on hillsides would provide evidence that the new moon had been seen and verified at Jerusalem. If no beacon fires were lit, that was prima facie evidence that the new moon had not been seen, meaning the Holy Day would have to be the following day (the thirty-first day since the previous Rosh Chodesh). However, when the Samaritans began to light false beacon fires, this could no longer be a viable means to determine the correct day.
The question arises, could the entire Diaspora be linked up in this way? Says Jeffrey M. Cohen:
“Definitely not. The Jewish diaspora at the time of the Second Temple encompassed large
communities in Egypt and Syria, in the important cities of Asia Minor, in Cyprus and Crete,
in Greece and Macedonia. Jews began arriving in Rome in the second century B.C.E., from
where they spread to other cities in Italy, and even to Rome’s western provinces of Gaul,
Spain, and Africa.
“Thus the reference in the Mishnah to ‘the entire diaspora’ being lit up [with bonfires] refers
exclusively to the Babylonian communities, about 600 miles east of the Holy Land. Babylon
was unique, after Palestine, for its autonomy and strong organization, under the supreme
authority of a hereditary Resh Galuta or Exilarch who claimed descent from the royal house
of David. Hence, the calendrical information flashed to Babylon by means of the fire signals
would be utilized promptly in order to regulate religious life there. This was not the situation,
however, in the other far-flung communities of the dispersion. Hence, the restricted direction
in which notice of the particular day of the new moon, or Rosh Hashanah, was communicated”
(1001 Questions and Answers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, page 12).
It would seem, on this basis, that the Jews living in other far-flung outposts of the world, throughout the Mediterranean, would have had to observe the New Moons locally, in order to observe God’s Festivals. This would have been necessary due to the fact they had no means to get the news from Jerusalem in time to be useful. Since these communities had no idea of which day the ecclesiastical court in Jerusalem had declared as sanctified, as the New Moon, each month, this was why they observed two days for the annual Holy Days instead of just one, including Yom Teruah/Rosh Hashanah.
In Celebrate! The Complete Jewish Holidays Handbook, we read about the Rosh Hashanah problem:
“Rosh Hashanah is the only holiday whose second day is celebrated in Israel as
well as in the Diaspora. . . [Rosh Hashanah] falls on the first day of the month.
If the witnesses to sighting of the new moon (which determined the beginning
of the month) failed to testify or did not show up until late in the afternoon of
the thirtieth day of Elul, it would have been too late for the people to observe
what should have been a sacred day” (page 169).
A One or Two Day Festival?
A fascinating discussion of the Yom Teruah/Rosh Hashanah problem is found in 1001 Questions and Answers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, by Jeffrey M. Cohen. In answer to the question of how many days Rosh Hashanah is celebrated, he answers:
“There is indeed evidence that Rosh Hashanah was observed in ancient Israel on
some years as a one-day festival, and on other years over two days. The Talmud
expressly refers to this difference between the respective practices of Babylon
and Israel on this matter, with the former always celebrating two days and the latter
frequently celebrating only one.
“Originally, the number of days of Rosh Hashanah was determined in the land
of Israel on the usual basis of whether or not witnesses appeared before the court
in Jerusalem to testify that they had seen the appearance of the new moon the
previous evening. The court at Jerusalem, charged with fixing and consecrating
the new moon (and, in the case of Rosh Hashanah, the festival itself, since it
corresponded with the appearance of the new moon of Tishri), always sat on the
thirtieth day of the month. The court would, in the case of Rosh Hashanah, always
declare that day (the thirtieth of Elul) as holy, and the sanctity of Rosh Hashanah
would commence from the previous evening. This was done in a precautionary
manner, in case witnesses appeared late on that thirtieth day, to testify that they had
seen the first appearance of the moon the previous night. The court would then
confirm and sanctify that very day as the first day of Tishri and Rosh Hashanah.
The following day would then be an ordinary working day, so that there would be
only one day of Rosh Hashanah that year. If the court had not declared the thirtieth
day as Rosh Hashanah, and the witnesses were delayed, and only appeared late in the
day, after the time for offering festival offerings had passed, then it would have
meant that the festival day would have passed without without being consecrated
by the special and proper offerings.
“However, if the witnesses failed to appear that day, then the court would declare
the previous month a ‘pregnant month’ (me’ubar), that is an extended month of
30 days, and they would consequently consecrate the following day as the first of
Tishri and Rosh Hashanah. In that situation, the Jerusalemites would have had
to observe two days as Rosh Hashanah, with the precautionary day turning out to
have been, with hindsight, unnecessary.
“Thus it is clear that originally there were times when Jerusalem celebrated only
one day of Rosh Hashanah, and other times – when witnesses did not appear in
time – when they celebrated two days” (pages 10-11).
Therefore, during the time when the beginning of the month was determined by witnesses, most of the Land of Israel observed Yom Teruah/Rosh Hashanah as two days of Yom Tov, since they did not know which day had been proclaimed by the Beit Din (court) as Rosh Chodesh. The custom in the Diaspora, lands distant from Jerusalem, was to always observe Yom Teruah/Rosh Hashanah as a TWO DAY festival.
Evidence from Nehemiah’s Time
In the days of Nehemiah, we read that on the first day of Tishri, Yom Teruah, Ezra the scribe mounted a podium, and read from the book of the Law to all the assembled people, “on the first day of the seventh month,” “from early morning until midday” (Neh.8:1-4, NRSV).
Verse 13 goes on, “On the SECOND DAY the heads of ancestral houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to the scribe Ezra in order to study the words of the law.” What is this? This would have been the SECOND DAY of Tishri – or, the SECOND day of the New Moon! Now, this verse does not absolutely prove the feast lasted two days – but consider! Why were they meeting together, to study the Scriptures, on the second day, if the Holy Day was over and finished? It would seem that they were indeed observing two days. This may have been their custom while in captivity in Babylon, and while living outside Jerusalem.
Here, then, is Biblical evidence that the Jews during the time of Ezra, observed on this occasion TWO days for the festival of the New Moon of Tishri – Yom Teruah!
Evidence from the Time of DAVID
However, we have more evidence that sometimes the Jews observed TWO DAYS for the monthly New Moon, as well. We have BIBLICAL EVIDENCE that two days were observed at times, undoubtedly due to the fact that the Jews often could not be sure exactly when the New Moon would be seen – but they knew it had to be one of two days – the day following the 29th day of the previous month – or the following day.
During the time of David, we read that Saul was plotting to kill him out of jealousy. David and Jonathan, Saul’s son, conceived a plan to determine whether or not Saul intended to do away with David. We read in I Samuel 20 as follows:
“David said to Jonathan, ‘TOMORROW IS THE NEW MOON, and I should not fail
to sit with the king at the meal; but let me go, so that I may hide in the field until the
THIRD EVENING’ . . .” (II Sam.20:5).
“Jonathan said to him, ‘TOMORROW IS THE NEW MOON, you will be missed,
because your place will be empty’. . .” (v.18).
“So David hid himself in the field. WHEN THE NEW MOON CAME, the king sat at the
FEAST to eat. The king sat upon his seat, as at other times, upon the seat by the wall.
Jonathan stood, while Abner sat by the king’s side; but David’s place was empty.
“Saul did not say anything THAT DAY, for he thought, something has befallen him; he
is not clean, surely, he is not clean. BUT ON THE SECOND DAY, the day after the new
moon, David’s place was empty. And Saul said to his son Jonathan, ‘Why has the son of
Jesse not come to the FEAST, EITHER YESTERDAY OR TODAY?’ . . .” (vs.24-27, NRSV).
“Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food on the SECOND DAY OF
THE MONTH . . .” (v.34).
Let’s understand this passage! The Interlinear Bible has I Samuel 20:27 rendered as follows: “. . . the new moon, second . . .”, or, that is, “THE SECOND NEW MOON [day] . . .” The original Hebrew is simply: Ha Chodesh Sheniy, which literally is, “the New Moon, second.” Most translations put this as “the second day of the month,” since chodesh can also refer to the month. However, it is obvious here that the king had a FEAST at the New Moon, and it lasted TWO DAYS.
In verse 34, the expression in Hebrew is B’Yom-HaChodesh Sheniy – “on the Day [of] the New Moon, Second,” or, that is, “on the SECOND DAY OF THE NEW MOON.”
Herb Solinsky in a scholarly research paper on the Calendar, points out:
“The Hebrew syntax of a phrase in I Sam.20:27, 34 is different from all others in the Bible.
The phrase is ha chosesh ha shaynee, which literally means ‘the new moon the second.’
Most translations render this ‘the second day of the month,’ but this is inconsistent with
other examples for expressing this in the Hebrew Bible. For example, in both Leviticus
23:32 and II Kings 25:3 the phrase b’teshah la chodesh occurs; it literally means, ‘on [the]
ninth [day] of [the] month.’ It should be expected that the unique phrase in I Sam.20:27,
34 might have significance” (page 29).
It is interesting to note that David and Jonathan KNEW in advance that a New Moon was coming the next day – and that they set aside TWO DAYS before they were to get back together on the THIRD DAY to counsel once again with each other (I Sam.20:5).
But what does this have to do with us, today?
What Should We Do?
This means that since the month of Elul may have either 29 or 30 days, with the following day being Tishri 1 or Yom Teruah, the Feast of Trumpets, the day after Elul 29 should be observed as the Feast of Trumpets. The following day should also be observed, since it could also be the day the New Moon is actually seen in Jerusalem, but we may not know about this until several days later!
Thus the observance of two days for a New Moon goes back to at least the time of David and king Saul! This fact suggests strongly that the custom of observing two days for Yom Teruah in some years, in Jerusalem, and in most if not all years, throughout the rest of the land of Israel, must go back to the very beginning of the observance of New Moons, in the liturgical calendar -- that is, back to the time of Moses and Joshua. The precedent would have been established when Israel came out of Egypt, and when they first settled the Holy Land, and began scanning the evening sky for the New Moon’s first appearance.
Why would they do this? Simply because of the difficulty in observing the New Moon’s first visible faint crescent, and then communicating that fact in a timely fashion after official approval and sanctification to all the out-lying areas, towns, and villages of the Israelites.
Thus in ancient Israel, TWO DAYS were often observed for the New Moon each month, and especially so for the New Moon of Tishri 1 – Yom Teruah! The custom of keeping BOTH days soon became commonplace -- especially in regions and districts far removed from Jerusalem! This, of course, was during the times when the original calendar was correctly observed, and the New Moons were correctly sighted, from Jerusalem, including the time of the second Temple -- and during the time of Christ!
We should follow the same custom, today!
The Mystery of Yom Teruah
This unusual situation, of course, brings many questions to mind. One question might be, why would God place a Holy Day on a New Moon? He obviously knew in advance the difficulties this would cause! Did He do this as a “test” to His people? And also to teach them a very important lesson in obedience and faith?
Interestingly, the Jews called Yom Teruah or Rosh Hashanah by other names as well. It is known as Yom HaDin (Day of Judgment), Yom HaDat Olam (Day of the Birth of the World, or the Ages), Yom Zikhron Teruah (Day of Memorial of Shouting, Blowing or Sounding the Ram’s Horn). But perhaps most interestingly, it is known as Yom HaKeseh (Day of Concealment)!
This last name alludes to the position of the new moon on the first of Tishri, as well as the limited about of information provided in the Torah or Word of God as to its nature and significance. It is also as if God said for us to learn, pray, meditate, and figure it out for ourselves! It is a Day of Mystery – a day involving judgment, repentance, creation, memorials, and beginnings (as it begins the civil year, for which it is New Year’s Day). As Solomon wrote in Proverbs, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (Prov.25:2, NRSV).
Philip Goodman, in The Rosh Hashanah Anthology, provides this insight into the meaning of this Holy Day:
“On the first day of Tishri is New Year for years.
“R. Nachman b. Isaac explained the Mishnah to refer to the Divine judgment,
as it is written, From the beginning of the year to the end of the year (Deuter-
onomy 11:12), which means, From the beginning of the year sentence is passed as
to what shall be up to the end of it. How do we know that this takes place in Tishri?
Because it is written, Blow the horn at the new moon, at the COVERED TIME
for our feastday (Psalms 81:4). Which is the feast on which the moon is COVERED
OVER? You must say that this is New Year; and it is written in this connection,
For it is a statute for Israel, an ordinance for the God of Jacob (v.5).
“Our Rabbis taught: For it is a statute for Israel, an ordinance for the God of Jacob
teaches that the heavenly court does not assemble for judgment until the court
on earth has sanctified the month” (Rosh Hashanah 8a-b, quoted on page 17).
Why does this passage refer to the moon as “COVERED” on the Feast Day? The King James has this, “Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day” (Psalm 81:3). The word “appointed” here is the Hebrew word keceh which means “fullness,” i.e., “festival, time appointed.” It is apparently from #3680, kacah, meaning “to plump,” “fill up hollows,” by implication, “to cover (for clothing or secrecy).” It is variously translated “clad, clothe, conceal, cover, hide, overwhelm.”
Since the verse says to blow the shofar on the New Moon, and calls it “the covered time,” this suggests that the the moon is covered over and concealed, and just beginning to emerge from darkness – that is, the first faint crescent. Light is just beginning to emerge from being completely concealed or “covered over.”
Why then would God place a holy day – count as holy time – a day which we cannot predict in advance – a day which invariably “sneaks up” on us? Why would He give us a holy day which we must observe “two days,” in order to be sure we have got the right day?
Of course, we could be like some, and only keep “one” day, based on the fixed modern Jewish calendar – but even the Jews do not do that. They observe TWO days, regardless! But if we did this, we would often be stuck with the wrong day – we would be leaving it to chance – we would not be ensuring that we observed the right day! Remember, God’s calendar is based on the first visual appearance of the New Moon – and this is especially important for Yom Teruah, the Day of Blowing Trumpets and Shouting!
What does the “concealment” of this day, to the very last moment, as it were, teach us?
In physics, there is a law known as Heisenberg’s ‘Uncertainty Principle.” In essence, it states that if you know the position of a subatomic particle, you cannot know its speed; or if you know its velocity, you cannot know at the same time it precise location. There is ‘uncertainty” involved in viewing what we refer to as the building blocks of matter.
Likewise, the ‘uncertainty” surrounding the day of Yom Teruah should teach us many lessons. First, we probably don’t know as much as we think we know! As Solomon wrote: “I have observed the business that God gave man to be concerned with: He brings everything to pass, precisely at its time; He also puts eternity in their mind, but without man ever guessing, from first to last, all the things that God brings to pass” (Eccl.3:11, Tanakh). Solomon added: “[The secret of] what happens is elusive and deep, deep down; who can discover it?” (Eccl.7:24).
There is so much meaning to the day of Yom Teruah, that it overwhelms us – it is a fountain of study, meditation, and an eternal source of knowledge – like a foundation stone of time itself. But the uncertainty principle seems most appropriate in understanding its nature. It is, in fact, a holy day which we literally must begin observing “IN FAITH,” for the day we begin observing could become the day announced as the holy day – or it could be the NEXT day! Either way, we cannot know in advance, so we must “cover our bases” – that is, we must do as the Jews do and observe BOTH days!
An old adage says, “Better be SAFE than sorry.” Thus, we had better observe “Elul 30,” just in case it really turns out to be “Tishri 1”! We certainly don’t want to take any foolish “chances,” and wind up not observing God’s Holy Day!!!
Therefore, the supreme lesson of FAITH is written all over this Holy Day! It’s “concealment” is very much like God Himself. Isaiah says of God, “Truly, you are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, the Saviour” (Isa.45:15, NRSV). The Tanakh has it, “You are indeed a God who concealed Himself, O God of Israel, who brings victory!”
The major lesson of God for man is the lesson of faith in God. Evolutionists, because they cannot see Him, deny His existence – foolishly so! For all Creation witnesses to His existence (Rom.1:18-22). Notice! Faith – even with uncertainty all around us – is the key building block of righteous character. God tells us in Hebrews:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction [evidence] of things
not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand
that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made
from things that are not visible. . . .
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him
must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah,
warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an
ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir
to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith” (Hebrews 11:1-7, NRSV).
Consider this fundamental principle of faith. It is so intimately tied up with the celebration of God’s Feast of Yom Teruah/Rosh Hashanah. The blowing of the trumpets or shofars on this day call us to repentance – to return to God and His ways, at the beginning of a “new year” (the fall or civil new year). As we search ourselves, and heed the call to repentance, we know by faith, faith in Christ’s shed blood, that our sins have been forgiven, and we have “peace with God” (Rom.5:1, 6-9). We know also that we have fellowship with God the Father and Christ the Son through the sacrifice of Christ, and through His being our High Priest in heaven who ever lives to make intercession for us! (I John 1:2-3; Heb.4:14-16).
Yom Teruah, then, symbolizes our entire Christian Messianic life – revealing the “way of faith.” As Paul wrote, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor.5:7). And as we also know, “The just shall live by faith” (Hab.2:4; Rom.1:17; Gal.3:11).
Observing the “Day of Concealment” in the proper manner requires FAITH and provides a foundational lesson in true faith and obedience to God! Since it also pictures the Day of Judgment, and God’s final warning call to repent, the uncertainty of the day itself reveals we cannot know in advance exactly when or what day judgment will come, or when Christ the Messiah will return to judge the world! As He Himself said so clearly, “But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matthew 24:36).
The lesson, then, is we must have faith – and diligently “WATCH” (Mark 13:37)!