During the First Temple era, Rosh Hashana likely was not much of a holiday – if it even was a holiday at all. How did it likely become what we now know as the Jewish new year celebration? What purpose did it serve before that? Read on.
Did Rosh Hashana Really Exist? Maybe Not.
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
According an article in Ha’aretz, Rosh Hashana – now the Jewish new year which falls in September as the beginning of the High Holiday season – had little meaning and likely was not celebrated in any significant way during First Temple times other than a modest increase in the number of animals sacrificed in the Jerusalem Temple.
And, most interestingly, its actual purpose might have been as a two-week warning similar to a two-minute warning in a football game, giving Israelites notice that Sukkot – which was a major festival – would begin in two weeks and the Israelites, most of whom lived miles away from Jerusalem, had only that very brief amount of time to gather their tithes, choose their sacrificial animals and get them to Jerusalem for the upcoming holiday.
In fact, Israel’s Canaanite neighbors didn’t really celebrate with a big new year festival or holiday, either.
But the Babylonians did have a major New Year festival every year, and we can see a change in the importance of our Rosh Hashana gradually after the return from Babylon.
(Remember, many Israelites were not exiled and only a few of the exiles returned, and gradually making a Babylonian style Rosh Hashana may just be another in a long line of changes made, many gradually, by Ezra the Scribe and others who returned from the Babylonian exile. And many of those changes took decades or even centuries to stick.)
A hint to this may be that almost all of the names of our ‘Hebrew’ months are really Babylonian names used in the Babylonian calendar.
The first time a Rosh Hashana similar to the Rosh Hashana we now celebrate is mentioned is in the Mishnah and the Tosefta circa 200 CE. In other words, it is likely the rabbinic narrative of Jewish history, the holidays, etc. was then taking hold, but when the Temple still stood, Rosh Hashana was still a relatively minor holiday – something that is unimaginable to most Jews today.