The New Moons
The moon of the seventh month, or Tishri, was quite distinct from the other new moons because it was more sacred. This was partly on account of the symbolical meaning of the seventh or sabbatical month, in which the great feasts of the Day of Atonement and Tabernacles occurred. It also marked the commencement of the civil year, which dated from the time of Moses.
In scripture this feast is designated as the ‘memorial blowing’, or ‘the day of blowing’. This was because on that day of the new moon, the trumpets, or horns, were blown all day long in Jerusalem. It was to be observed as a Sabbath and no work was to be done on that day. There were extra burnt offerings that were given in addition to the ordinary morning and evening sacrifices.
The Mishnah on New Year’s Day
The Mishnah devotes a special section to this feast. It remarks that a year may be arranged according to four different periods:
1. began with the 1st of Nisan, and it was for ‘kings’ to compute taxation and for computing the feasts
2. began on the 1st of Elul, or the sixth month, and was for tithing flocks and herds, and any animal born after the tithe was given the previous year
3. began on the 1st of Tishri, or the seventh month, for the Civil, the Sabbatical, and the Jubilee year, also for trees and herbs
4. began on the 1st of Shebat, or the eleventh month, for all fruits of trees
The Mishnah also says that there were four seasons when judgment would be pronounced upon the world:
at the Passover, in regard to the harvest
at Pentecost, in regard to the fruits of trees
on the Feast of Tabernacles, in regard to the dispensation of rain
then on New Year’s Day all the children of men would pass before God like lambs when they were counted for the tithing
The Talmud on the New Year
According to the Talmud, three books were opened on New Year’s Day:
that of life, for those whose works had been good
another of death, for those who had been thoroughly evil
the third was intermediate, for those whose case was to be decided on the Day of Atonement, which was ten days after New Year
This delay was granted for repentance after which their names would be finally entered either into the book of life, or in that of death. By these terms, however, eternal life or death are not necessarily meant. It is more talking about earthly well-being and the temporal life.
The Rabbis had very deep feelings on this matter, and by universal consent regarded the ten days between the New Year and the Day of Atonement as ‘days of repentance.’
A similar superstition attached to every new moon, with the day preceding it being kept rigidly by the Jews as one of fasting and repentance, and called the ‘Lesser Day of Atonement.’
The Rabbis hold that the blowing of the trumpets was intended to bring Israel into remembrance before the Lord, and also to be done as a means to confuse Satan, who they thought appeared on that day especially to accuse Israel. Lastly, the trumpets were to call Israel to repentance and wake them from their sleep of sin.
New Year’s Day in Jerusalem
On this day, trumpets and horns were blown in Jerusalem from morning to evening. This was also done on the inside of the Temple, even if it fell on a Sabbath.
Since the destruction of Jerusalem, this has been changed to a horn being blown in every synagogue.
The Mishnah held that any kind of horn could be blown except those of oxen or calves, in order not to remind God of the sin of the golden calf. It specially mentions the straight horn of the antelope and the bent horn of the ram, though. The ram horn has special significance as it represents the sacrifice in substitution of Isaac.
The mouthpieces of the horns for New Year’s Day were fitted with gold, with those used on fast days fitted with silver. Also, those who blew the horns were placed between others who blew the trumpets, and the sound of the horn was prolonged beyond that of the trumpets.
On fast days, though, the sound of the trumpets were delayed longer than the sound of the horns.
The New Year’s Blessings
The Mishnah also mentions benedictions as having been repeated on New Year’s Day. The Rabbis agree that these benedictions in their present form could not have been used in the Temple. In fact, they themselves differ as to their exact amount and contents, and the special direction the prayer had taken. They finally satisfied themselves in indicating that the titles of these benedictions were rather intended as headings to show their contents, and just the direction the prayer had taken.
One set of the prayers bore on ‘the kingdom’ of God, and is called Malchiyoth; another referred to the various kinds of ‘remembrance’ on the part of God, and is called the Sichronoth; a third consisted of benedictions connected with the ‘blowing of the horn’, and is called Shopharoth.
It is said, though, that any one who simply repeated ten passages from Scripture that bore on ‘the kingdom of God’, ‘the remembrance of God,’ and ‘the blowing of horns,’ had fulfilled his duty in regard to these benedictions.
The First Day of the Seventh Moon
We know from Scripture that the first day of the seventh month was observed with much solemnity at the time of Ezra. The Bible also tells of how deeply the people were moved by the public reading and explanation of the law. For many of them, it was their first time ever having heard it read, and it deeply convicted them that their lives were far from what God wanted them to be.
In the New Testament, there is no reference that Jesus ever attended a feast of the New Moon in Jerusalem. It was not really necessary, since by that time it would have been celebrated in all the synagogues of Israel.
There does seem to be some allusion to the blowing of the horn in the writings of Paul also. We have already stated that one of the main purposes for blowing the horn was to rouse people to repentance before God.
One writer in the Maimonides uses the following words to denote the meaning of the blowing of trumpets:
‘Rouse ye, rouse ye from your slumber; awake, awake from your sleep, you who mind vanity, for slumber most heavy has fallen upon you. Take it to heart, before Whom you are to give an account in the judgment.’
Some such formula such as this may also have been used in the synagogue, and this might have been what Paul was thinking of when he wrote Ephesians 5:14 – ‘Wherefore it is said, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light!’