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A Prayer of the Third Century, AD
If any special prayers were said in the Temple on New Moons' Days, tradition has not preserved them, the only formula dating from that period being that used on first seeing the moon-- 'Blessed be He who reneweth the months.' To this the synagogue, towards the close of the third century, added the following: 'Blessed be He by whose word the heavens were created, and by the breath of whose mouth all the hosts thereof were formed! He appointed them a law and time, that they should not overstep their course. They rejoice and are glad to perform the will of their Creator, Author of truth; their operations are truth! He spoke to the moon, Be thou renewed, and be the beautiful diadem (i.e. the hope) of man (i.e. Israel), who shall one day be quickened again like the moon (i.e. at the coming of Messiah), and praise their Creator for His glorious kingdom. Blessed be He who reneweth the moons.' At a yet much later period, a very superstitious prayer was next inserted, its repetition being accompanied by leaping towards the moon! New Moon's Day, though apparently observed in the time of Amos as a day of rest (Amos 8:5), is not so kept by the Jews in our days, nor, indeed, was abstinence from work enjoined in the Divine Law. *
* The Talmud has this curious story in explanation of the custom that women abstain from work on New Moons-- that the women had refused to give their earrings for the golden calf, while the men gave theirs, whereas, on the other hand, the Jewish females contributed their ornaments for the Tabernacle.
The Moon of the Seventh Month
Quite distinct from the other new moons, and more sacred than they, was that of the seventh month, or Tishri, partly on account of the symbolical meaning of the seventh or sabbatical month, in which the great feasts of the Day of Atonement and of Tabernacles occurred, and partly, perhaps, because it also marked the commencement of the civil year, always supposing that, as Josephus and most Jewish writers maintain, the distinction between the sacred and civil year dates from the time of Moses. *
* In another place we have adopted the common, modern view, that this distinction only dates from the return from Babylon. But it must be admitted that the weight of authority is all on the other side. The Jews hold that the world was created in the month Tishri.
In Scripture this feast is designated as the 'memorial blowing' (Lev 23:24), or 'the day of blowing' (Num 29:1), because on that day the trumpets, or rather, as we shall see, the horns were blown all day long in Jerusalem. It was to be observed as 'a Sabbath,' and 'a holy convocation,' in which 'no servile work' might be done. The prescribed offerings for the day consisted, besides the ordinary morning and evening sacrifices, first, of the burnt- offerings, but not the sin-offering, of ordinary new moons, with their meat- and drink-offerings, and after that, of another festive burnt-offering of one young bullock, one ram, and seven lambs, with their appropriate meat- and drink-offerings, together with 'one kid of the goats for a sin-offering, to make an atonement for you.' While the drink-offering of the festive sacrifice was poured out, the priests and Levites chanted Psalm 81, and if the feast fell on a Thursday, for which that Psalm was, at any rate, prescribed, it was sung twice, beginning the second time at verse 7 in the Hebrew text, or verse 6 of our Authorised Version. At the evening sacrifice Psalm 29 was sung. For reasons previously explained (chiefly to prevent possible mistakes), it became early common to observe the New Year's Feast on two successive days, and the practice may have been introduced in Temple times.
The Mishnah on New Year's Day
The Mishnah, which devotes a special tractate to this feast, remarks that a year may be arranged according to four different periods; the first, beginning with the 1st of Nisan, being for 'kings' (to compute taxation) and for computing the feasts; the second, on the 1st of Elul (the sixth month), for tithing flocks and herds, any animal born after that not being reckoned within the previous year; the third, on the 1st of Tishri (the seventh month), for the Civil, the Sabbatical, and the Jubilee year, also for trees and herbs; and lastly, that on the 1st of Shebat (the eleventh month), for all fruits of trees. Similarly, continues the Mishnah, there are four seasons when judgment is 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; while on 'New Year's Day all the children of men pass before Him like lambs (when they are counted for the tithing), as it is written (Psa 33:15), "He fashioneth their hearts alike; He considereth all their works."'
The Talmud on the New Year
To this we may add, as a comment of the Talmud, that on New Year's Day three books were opened--that of life, for those whose works had been good; another of death, for those who had been thoroughly evil; and a third, intermediate, for those whose case was to be decided on the Day of Atonement (ten days after New Year), the delay being granted for repentance, or otherwise, after which their names would be finally entered, either in the book of life, or in that of death. By these terms, however, eternal life or death are not necessarily meant; rather earthly well-being, and, perhaps, temporal life, or the opposite. It is not necessary to explain at length on what Scriptural passages this curious view about the three books is supposed to rest. *
* The two principal passages are Psalm 69:28, and Exodus 32:32; the former is thus explained: 'Let them be blotted out of the book,' which means the book of the wicked, while the expression 'of the living' refers to that of the righteous, so that the next clause, 'and not be written with the righteous,' is supposed to indicate the existence of a third or intermediate book!
But so deep and earnest are the feelings of the Rabbis on this matter, that by universal consent the ten days intervening between New Year and the Day of Atonement are regarded as 'days of repentance.' Indeed, from a misunderstanding of a passage in the Mishnah (Sheb. i. 4, 5), a similar superstition attaches to every new moon, the day preceding it being kept by rigid Jews as one of fasting and repentance, and called the 'Lesser Day of Atonement.' In accordance with this, the Rabbis hold that the blowing of the trumpets is intended, first, to bring Israel, or rather the merits of the patriarchs and God's covenant with them, in remembrance before the Lord; secondly, to be a means of confounding Satan, who appears on that day specially to accuse Israel; and, lastly, as a call to repentance--as it were, a blast to wake men from their sleep of sin (Maimonides, Moreh Nev. iii. 43). *