Hebrew Roots/New Moon
The Scriptual Precedent
"God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate day from night; they shall serve as signs for the set times - the days and the years; and they shall serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth.' And it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the night, and the stars." Gen.1:14-16
These two great lights are the sun, and the moon, respectively. The word for 'set times' here is moedim (appointed times) which is the very word that Yahweh chooses to use to describe His festivals. One more passage that speaks of these two lights is found in Psalms 104:19: "He made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows when to set."
This passage clearly sets the moon apart as the main marker of the seasons, while the sun is to mark the day. The moon that reflects the light of the Sun confirms throughout the month as it waxes and wanes that the created order is not chaotic. Its visible rebirth each month is very orderly and precise, but not absolutely predictable. Therefore, each month has a degree of expectancy about it.
The Ordination of the New Moon
The months in the Sacred calendar are established as lunar months. Therefore the sighting of the new moon was ordained to establish the beginning of the monthly cycle and therefore the first day of the month. The moon's full cycle of illumination averages 29.53059 days. Thus we have our biblical months of either 29 or 30 days.
The New Moon is a precise astronomical event and can occur on different days because of the rotation of the earth. The determination of the New Moon, therefore, must be determined from the time in which it occurs in Jerusalem to ensure the uniformity of religious worship throughout the world, given increased communication.
This is based upon scripture which places Jerusalem as the throne of Yahweh (Jeremiah 3:17), the centre-point of the law which will be given under Messiah (Isaiah 2: 3) through the waters of the Spirit (Zechariah 8:22; 14:8-21). God has placed His name there for ever (2 Chronicles 33: 4) Before the time of modern calendars, the new moon was vitally important as it was the official announcement of when the new month had begun. Because Yahweh gave commandment to observe the feasts and festivals in their given times it was vital to keep accurate count of when the new month began to celebrate the festivals correctly.
“Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: Yahweh’s appointed festivals that you are to designate as holy convocations — these are My appointed festivals.” (Leviticus 23:1-2) “These are the appointed festivals of Yahweh, the holy convocations, which you shall designate in their appropriate time.” (Leviticus 23:4).
God is very clear that the festivals are to be celebrated not because they are for man but because they are His appointed times. These festivals are holy not because man makes them so, but because Yahweh Himself declares them holy. Since Yahweh is the One who instituted them, it is a reasonable act of worship and obedience to observe them when He designated.
The Sanhedrin, which was the council of elders in Israel, would confirm the sighting of the new moon based upon reliable witnesses and shofars were blown in accordance with the scripture to announce the beginning of the month. Today, the rabbinical calendar is based on calculations set up by Rabbi Hillel the second in the mid fourth century. Around this time, the Sanhedrin (the high court of ancient Israel) ceased to exist. Hillel felt that the New Moon could not be declared visually without a Sanhedrin to affirm its sighting, so he decided it must be calculated. Rabbis now know that Hillel's calculations were/are off, sometimes as much as two days, which means the festivals are not celebrated on the correct day. But they have decided to wait until a Sanhedrin is established again to change it.
The Ordination of the New Year
The annual calendar is set by the alignment of both the monthly lunar cycle and the annual solar cycle. The lunar cycle sets the seasons based on the solar equinoctal cycle. The moon and sun together are governing signs. God’s Sacred Year begins with Aviv or Nisan (Exodus 12:1-2; Deuteronomy 16:1).
"And Yahweh spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month [Abib] shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you". (KJV)
This is determined from the New Moon nearest to the spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, which begins the summer season,(Not all scholars within the Hebrew Roots believe this statement is totally correct. Herb Solinski who has researched this quite indepth says this should be the new moon crescent on or after the vernal equinox , www.biblicalcalendar.org . At this website you will find his sources quoted in 300 plus pages of documentation) at which time the barley crop will be "in the green" ready for harvest at Passover. This month Abib or Nisan was to be the first of months and, hence, its determination would set the start and finish of the year and, hence, the calendar. The autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere begins the winter season. These are the two seasons mentioned by the Bible which are used to determine the beginning of the year to coincide with the festival harvests. (Genesis 8:22; Psalm 74:17) Although it is never expressly commanded in the Pentateuch, some even believe the day of the New Year is to be kept as a solemn feast day. A record of the festival of the New Moon is found in the Temple Scroll (11Q19-20). In column 14 we see that the sacrifices for the first day of the month, that is the New Moon, are listed, as are the special instructions for the New Year of the first day of the First Month. Thus, the Dead Sea Scrolls quite clearly identify the New Moon of the First Month (Nisan) as the New Year and as a day of solemn assembly and sacrifice. These ordinances are followed by the requirements for the seven-day purification of the priesthood, which the Temple Scroll treats as annual, though the corresponding chapters of the Bible (Exodus 29:1-35; Leviticus 8-10) do not specify that periodicity. This is what column 14 says of the New Year of Nisan: "On the first day of the [first] month falls the beginning of months; for you it is the beginning of the months] of the year. [You are to do] no work, [You shall offer .. .. .."
Judaism changed the New Year from Nisan to Tishri, which is the seventh month, based on a man-made system derived from the rabbinical determinations introduced from Babylon in 344 CE and sanctioned by Rabbi Hillel II in 358 CE. The Dead Sea Scrolls, the LXX and modern scholarship have exposed this change which was made. However, even rabbinical scholars such as Rabbi Kohn, the Chief Rabbi of Budapest writing in 1894, state categorically that the New Year of Rosh haShanah in Tishri is a late third century post-Temple period innovation (Sabbatarians in Transylvania, CCG Publishing, 1998, p. v et. seq). The Temple Scroll records that at least some Jews kept a Feast of Nisan (New Year's Day).
Sighting the New Moon
Various factors such as atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity along the light path, altitude, latitude and longitude, fog, cloud/dust cover, glare etc. can all affect a first sighting. No one can infallibly predict the moment when the new moon will become visible to the naked eye. The general consensus of authoritative opinion is that a first sighting of the new moon could occur any time between about 15 and 48 hours after a conjunction. The conjunction being when the earth is between the sun and the moon in perfect alignment. The first sighting of the moon will be after the moon has moved out of this alignment.
In sighting the New Moon, one faces the western sky at sunset, drawing an imaginary line from the zenith overhead toward the setting sun, seeking the thin scimitar of light on either side of this imaginary line. The sun sets in the west slightly right of where the new moon will be seen. As the sky darkens the first star is seen which is actually the planet Venus. Gradually the crescent appears as a sliver just above the horizon. The faint New Moon will bulge out to the right, with the horns pointing toward the left. However, in early spring (autumn in southern hemisphere) the “Passover moon” will appear much like a saucer with both horns pointing upward. Variations of this New Moon may be seen in springtime. Biblical months are either 29 or 30 alternating days in length; at times two consecutive 30-day months may occur. Only on the new moon will the moon be invisible until the sun sets. It is as if Yahweh is concealing it so we will intentionally have to look for His sign in the sky.
~ [T]he new moon began when the thin crescent of the new moon was first visible at sunset. (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol 1, p. 266)
~ The ancient [pagan] Greeks recognized the visible new moon as the beginning of the month when they celebrated the “sickle of the new moon” with offerings and meals. This was also the case with the ancient Babylonians who worshipped the new moon as the goddess Isis, and had her wearing a horns, which resembled the new moon.” (TDNT, vol. 4, p. 639.)
~ The new moon festival maintained its importance in the Jewish cultus up to NT times. The time was not set by astronomical calculations but by observation….[Jewish law] demanded that…as many witnesses as possible should report the appearance of the sickle to the appropriate authorities.” (TDNT, vol. 4, p. 640.)
~ [T]he ancient Jewish calendar depended not on mathematical calculations and arrangements, but was set from month to month according to the physical appearance of the new moon. Witnesses who had seen the first sign of the crescent on the horizon after sunset were expected to report the fact to the authorities, who thereupon published throughout the country the fact that the new month had begun. (The Pharisees, by Louis Finkelstein, p. 601, Jewish Publication Society, 1938, Philadelphia., based on talmudic literature)
~ Until Hillel II instituted a permanent calendar based on calculations (ca. 360), the fixing of the new moon was determined by observation and the evidence of witnesses. During the earlier period, the practice of adding a second day to festivals … was introduced for communities lying at a distance from Palestine, because it was doubtful on precisely which of the two days the new moon occurred.” (Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion, p. 78; Massada-P.E.C. Press Ltd, 1965., based on talmudic tradition)
~ In old Israel the new moon—the day after the crescent was first sighted in the sky—was celebrated by sacrifices and feasting…” (Judaism, by George Foot Moore, professor of the history of religion, Harvard, vol 2, p. 22, based on talmudic literature)
~ [T]he ancient Jewish calendar depended not on mathematical calculations and arrangements, but was set from month to month according the physical appearance of the new moon. Witnesses who had seen the first sign of the crescent on the horizon after sunset were expected to report the fact to the authorities, who there upon published throughout the country the fact that a new month had begun. The year consisted of 12 months whose limits were determined by these observations. But, since the lunar year consists of only 354 days, eleven less than the solar year, it was necessary from time to time to “intercalate” a thirteenth month before the Passover, to prevent its being moved back into the winter. This intercalary month was a “second Adar” and was added whenever a consideration of the sun’s position in the heavens, the state of the crops, or the newborn lambs, made it appear necessary.” (The Pharisees, pp. 601–602, by Louis Finkelstein, professor of theology at Jewish Theological Seminary of America; Jewish Publication Society of America, 1938., based on talmudic literature)
~ “The phases of the moon could easily be recognized by everybody. The new moon indicated the beginning of the month.… Though the ‘new moon’ could be observed by every individual, to prevent any mistake or doubt the duty of fixing the new month was assigned to a rabbinical council in Jerusalem. Their decision was subject to the testimony of two reliable witnesses. As soon as their reports have been received and checked by astronomical calculation, an official message was sent out by chains of fire signals” (The Judaic Heritage, by Rabbi Dr. R. Brasch, pp. 22, 24, based on talmudic literature)
~ “Rosh Chodesh [is the] Hebrew term meaning ‘the beginning of a month’ applied to the religious half-holiday observed in connection with the appearance of the New Moon; that is, the beginning of each new month of the Hebrew calendar.” (The New Jewish Encyclopedia, p. 409, Behrman House Publishers, 1976, based on talmudic literature)
Specific Quotes from Talmud:
~ “The Sanhedrin was assembled in the courtyard (“bet ya’azek”) of Jerusalem on the 30th of each month from morning to evening, waiting for the reports of those appointed to observe the new moon; and after the examination of these reports the president of the Sanhedrin, in the presence of at least three members, called out: “The New Moon is consecrated”; whereupon the whole assembly of people twice repeated the words: “It is consecrated” (R. H. ii. 5-7; Sanh. 102)
• “In the times of the Second Temple it appears from the Mishnah (R. H. i. 7) that the priests had a court to which witnesses came and reported. This function was afterward taken over by the civil court (see B. Zuckermann, “Materialien zur Entwicklung der Altjüdischen Zeitrechnung im Talmud, “Breslau, 1882). The fixing of the lengths of the months and the intercalation of months was the prerogative of the Sanhedrin, at whose head there was a patriarch or THÑb. The entire Sanhedrin was not called upon to act in this matter, the decision being left to a special court of three. The Sanhedrin met on the 29th of each month to await the report of the witnesses.
• On the evening before the announcement of the intercalation the patriarch assembled certain scholars who assisted in the decision. It was then announced to the various Jewish communities by letters. To this epistle was added the reason for the intercalation. A copy of such a letter of Rabban Gamaliel is preserved in the Talmud (Sanh. xi. 2).
The new moon was reckoned by actual personal observation, not by astronomical calculation…. So important was it deemed to have faithful witnesses, that they were even allowed, in order to reach Jerusalem in time, to travel on the Sabbath, and, if necessary, to make use of horse or mule (Mishnah Rosh ha Shana, i. 9; iii 2). While strict rules determined who were not to be admitted as witnesses (Mishnah Rosh ha Shana, i. 8), every encouragement was given to trustworthy persons, and the Sanhedrin provided for them a banquet in a large building specially destined for that purpose and known as the Beth Yaazek (Mishnah Rosh ha Shana, ii. 5).
In the Mishnah, the book containing the late second century record of Jewish legal rulings and other religious records, we find recorded that the Jews’ religious leaders established rigorous protocols and rituals for determining when the new moon had been sighted. The following quotes are from the Mishanah.
“A father and son who saw the new moon…” (Rosh Hash 1:1a) “Tobiah, the physician, saw the new moon in Jerusalem…” (Rosh Hash 1:7e) “He who saw the new moon…” (Rosh Hash 1:9a)
The Mishnah then goes on to discuss how to examine those who claimed to have been eye witnesses of the new moon to determine if their testimony was accurate or not (Rosh Hash 2:6ff). One of the questions the religious leaders in Jerusalem would ask of the Jewish witnesses was, “How did you see the moon?” (Rosh. Hash 2:6c). The Jewish leader, Gamaliel [of Acts 5:34] actually showed pictures of the shapes of the moon to the witnesses to help ascertain the accuracy of the witnesses’ testimony (Rosh Hash 2:8).
Determining the New Year
The New Year is determined by the New Moon which falls nearest the equinox, which ensures that the Full Moon falls after the equinox, while the sun stands in the sign of Aries. In the Gregorian system the equinox can fall on 21-23 March. The earliest date for the New Year has to be 14 days before 21 March, so that Passover will be at the full moon – i.e. 8 April. This was the earliest date for 1 Nisan. The latest date is determined by 15 Nisan and the sun in Aries. The sun leaves Aries on 19 April. Thus, the day 19/20 April is the last day in which Passover can begin. The 15th Nisan cannot be later than 20/21 April. According to the ancient rules of the Hebrews, 1 Nisan, or the start of the sacred year, was not earlier than 8 March and not later than the Hebrew day on 8/9 April (Gregorian) in the case of a thirty day month falling with an equinox on 23 March. It is impossible, therefore, for there to be a Passover earlier than the vernal equinox (21 March) or one later than 20/21 April.
Philo, the Jewish historian and contemporary of Yeshua the Messiah and the apostles, says that Moses established the moon of the vernal equinox as the first month of the year (The Works of Philo, On the Life of Moses II, chapter XLI, Part 222 and 224) Josephus the Jewish historian also confirms this and defines it as "when the sun was in Aries" (Josephus, Ant. 3.201; III.x.5].
Because harvests are governed by the seasons, which are controlled by the movements of the heavenly bodies, the maturity of the barley crop in Israel will coincide with these calculations and is the necessary factor for establishing the new year so that there is the required grain to be offered at Firstfruits.
Historical Observance of the Feast
Psalm 81 tells us that Joseph instituted the Rosh Chodesh during his tenure as the viceroy of Egypt. Joseph had the power to declare the decree and the people of Egypt, principally the sons of Israel, were delighted to make the recognition of the new moon as a joyful feast. The testimony was to honor Joseph for what he did as a righteous deliverer, who in many ways prefigured the coming Messiah of Israel and the redemption that He would ultimately bring. All of Yahweh's feasts are a role play of eternal truths in His eternal purposes and keep His redemptive plan before us. What Joseph set in place as a testimony, has been established as a "statute for Israel, a law of the God of Jacob" (Psalm 81: 3-4)
In numbers 10:10 it is recorded that the trumpet is to be blown to sanctify the new Moon as a feast day. "At the beginnings of your months you shall offer a burnt offering to Yahweh: .. .. this is the burnt offering of each month throughout the months of the year .. .. it shall be offered besides the continual burnt offering and its drink offering. (Numbers 28:11-15 RSV) Moses called the people to assembly on the new moon and spoke to them according to the commandments he had been given by Yahweh, exhorting them to faith and obedience. (Deuteronomy 1: 3) It is also recorded that Yahweh chose this sabbatical day to speak to Moses and give him instructions for Israel. Numbers 1: 1-5
Moses commanded the keeping of the new Moons. 2 Chronicles 8:12-13 Solomon said that it, as well as the other feasts, were "an ordinance forever to Israel" 2 Chronicles 2: 3-4
The kings of Israel kept the feast of the new moon with its stipulated temple procedure. 1 Chron. 23:31; 2 Chron. 31: 3
We find a record that Saul held feasts on the new moon, according to the law. When Saul turned against David and he fled and hid in the country, David gave instructions to explain his absence from the feast, indicating that this was a day when David would be missed, if he did not attend the King’s table on the New Moon. (1 Samuel 20:4-18, 24)
It was usual during the Temple period to seek guidance from the prophets on the New Moons. ( 2 Kings 4:23)
In the restoration of the law under Nehemiah the New Moons were re-instituted and kept from that time through to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Josephus records that they were kept during the entire Temple period and the High Priest attended in the Temple on the New Moons and Sabbaths.
The New Testament church also understood them, hence the reference in Colossians chapter 2 when the Gnostics were criticising them for their festivities, contrary to their ascetic practices. "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath". (Colossians 2:16 RSV)
The Church of God kept it for centuries. We know that at the Reformation the true followers of Messiah were still keeping the entire sacred calendar intact, as it was in the Temple period.
During the Millennium, the Sabbaths and New Moons will be kept. Isaiah tells us the entire world will be honoring the New Moons and the Sabbaths as they worship Yahweh in the coming Kingdom. "From new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says Yahweh". (Isaiah 66:23 RSV) - see Zech. 14:16-19
Also in Ezekiel 45:17 - the aspect of temple service for the new moons in the millennium
- 46: 1,3 - enforcement of the New Moon as a sabbath and for worship
As sincere followers of Yahweh’s word, we should be observing them now and preparing ourselves as His Bride, fully adorned in all righteousness.
The Significance of the New Moon Celebration
The word used for New Moon in Hebrew is 'Rosh Chodesh' literally means “beginning, head, or renewal” and thus. the beginning or head of the month. It is a time of spiritual renewal.
All through the scriptural record, the New Moon was a day when the prophets heard from Yahweh, being a day designated for waiting upon Yahweh, for discerning His purposes and for prophetic revelation. Ezekiel 26:1; 29:17; Haggai 1:1.
They were days of assembly and God dealt with Israel at these times, speaking through His servants, the Prophets.
We are also told in the New Testament these days are prophetic and foreshadow future events. (Colossians 2:16-17) The celebration of the new moon has great prophetic significance for Israel as the Bride of Yahweh and it was/is an appointed time of His choosing to give prophetic revelation to His people of His purposes for them.
The New Moon and the Sabbath were closely linked as both were holy, set-apart days unto Yahweh Himself and the celebration of the new moon is placed in importance in the scriptures alongside keeping the Sabbath. It is not cited in the Torah until Numbers chapter 10 because it is a celebration based upon the testimony of Yahweh's corporate people being established as His luminary in the world. Yahweh called Israel to be a light to the Gentiles, a holy, set-apart nation which reflected His glorious light (Exodus 19: ; 1 Peter 2: 4-5). At the beginning of each month they were called to come aside from their normal functions for existence in this world, to reflect upon their ordained purpose of reflecting His presence in the world and revitalizing their spiritual lives in Him.
Joseph was given a dream of the sun, moon and stars as it related to their initial household of faith (Gen. 37: 9). This is carried through into its fulfillment in Revelation 12 with the woman (God's corporate people) arrayed with the glory of the sun (representing the glory of the Father), with her feet standing upon the moon (the reflected light of the sun), and the deputation of the twelve stars of His government assigned to her. This portrays that the woman (Yahweh's Bride) in the end days will have come into the glory of the Father in her witness and testimony as the light-bearer of the Son (sun) in her earthly commission (standing upon the moon - i.e. established in her testimony as being THE light to this world).
As His Bride keeps this feast of her appointment with Yahweh and comes into alignment with Him, she will reflect His light in ever increasing degrees of magnitude, until she actually shines with the glory of the Son of righteousness. "But we all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of Yahweh." 2 Corinthians 3:18
Celebrating the New Moon
The beginning of the month is determined by the first visible sighting after the conjunction of the moon and for it's commencement the shofar is blown in one long blast. Numbers 10:10 states that the trumpets should be blown at all New Moons to sanctify the day and the offerings. The new month is announced and brethren commence to fellowship. After the blessing is said, greetings of peace are given to one another. A traditional greeting of peace is Shalom Alechem! (peace be with you) The response is Alechem Shalom! (upon you peace)
It is a time of fresh dedication of ourselves to Yahweh and of blessing Him and seeking His direction for the new month ahead. We also take this time to ask His blessings on the planned endeavors for the coming month.
These days are sanctified or set apart as days of sacrifice, for worship, for assembly and for us to make our spiritual offerings to Yahweh. (2 Chronicles 2:4; Nehemiah 10:33; Ezekiel 44:24; 45:17)
It is now a spiritual act in a spiritual Temple, which makes it more powerful and just as important, as now we see its real significance in preparing us for the kingdom to come.
Traditionally there is singing and dancing in celebration of the occasion, and the partaking of a festive meal together with suggested scripture reading of Deuteronomy 4: 7-9; Psalm 104; and Psalm 81
They were days of festivity, as Psalm 81 portrays -- To the chief Musician upon Gittith, (guitar) A Psalm of Asaph. "Sing for joy to God our strength! Shout to the God of Ya`akov! Start the music! Beat the drum! Play the sweet lyre and the lute! Sound the shofar at Rosh-Hodesh and at full moon for the pilgrim feast, because this is a law for Isra'el, a ruling of the God of Ya`akov." Ps. 81:1-4 [As the Hebrew word kece' means 'to cover' it is twice incorrectly translated as 'full moon'. A more literal rendering from the original language would be "Cover our feast day with the sound of the shofar!"]
They were a "joyous occasion" (Numbers 10:10), so much so that Yahweh threatened to take away these festive times, in punishment for their disobedience (Hosea 2:13).
The New Moon of Trumpets (Yom Teruah) was also a day of restoration (or reading) of the Law of God. (Nehemiah 8: 2)
A cleansing process began in the physical temple with the commencement of the new year and this points towards the spiritual cleansing of the spiritual Temple. We are that spiritual Temple and the process of cleansing begins with us on the First New Moon of each year as a preparation for the coming Passover season. It then is repeated throughout the year from New Moon to New Moon as we each come before Yahweh and renew our life in Him. (Ezekiel 45:18; Numbers 28:11) This will continue in the 1000 year reign of Yeshua. (Isaiah 66:22-23)
The New Moons of the other months of the year are similar to Sabbath days in which no trade or unnecessary work is done. (Amos 8:5; Nehemiah 10:31) [work which has to be done is allowed on the new moon]
Yahweh keeps His appointments with those who choose to meet with Him at His designated times and He enters His assembly at these times on these holy days of the Sabbaths and the New Moons to fulfill the spiritual reality of these feasts in the lives of His people. (Ezekiel 46: 1-6)