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Rosh Ha-Shanah

ROSH HA-SHANAH (Heb. רֹאשׁ הָשּׁנָה; "New Year"), eighth tractate in the order of Mo'ed; in some earlier Mishnah and Talmud editions it is seventh, and in current Talmud editions it is placed fifth. Although Rosh Ha-Shanah is the rabbinic designation for one of the major festivals of the Jewish calendar, that which falls in "the seventh month, on the first day of the month" (Lev. 23:24), the tractate does not deal exclusively with this New Year. It opens with the statement that there are four days of the calendar, each of which is a New Year for its own specific purpose. Thus the first of Nisan is the New Year for kings and for festivals, and the 15th of Shevat (or the first) the New Year for trees. However, the first day of Tishri, the "New Year for years," i.e., the beginning of the calendar year, became known as the New Year par excellence, and the bulk of the tractate's discussion is elaboration of the laws concerning it, its religious significance, and the details of the sounding of the shofar. In mishnaic times, though the authorities were familiar with astronomical calculations, the New Moon was fixed on the basis of observation, which meant that, as a rule, the bet din formally proclaimed the New Month only after it had heard evidence of witnesses who had actually seen the new moon.

The tractate is divided into four chapters. Chapter 1 speaks of the various New Years and indicates Rosh Ha-Shanah as the day of judgment for all mankind. It then deals with regulations concerning the fixing of the New Moon, and especially with the qualification of the witnesses to it. Chapter 2 continues with the subject of the determination of the New Moon, and concludes with the dramatic account of how Rabban *Gamaliel asserted his patriarchal authority to make R. *Joshua yield to his ruling. Chapter 3 deals mainly with particulars of the shofar. The chapter includes a profound homily explaining that it is not the actual sound of the horn but its devotional effect which is important. Chapter 4 first discusses whether the shofar is blown on the Sabbath when Rosh Ha-Shanah falls on that day. Ordinances enacted by Johanan b. Zakkai concerning various subjects are recorded. It then deals with the order of benedictions for Rosh Ha-Shanah, which are arranged in the Musaf service. The tractate has Tosefta and Gemara in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. In the Babylonian Gemara, there is a discussion as to whether the world was created in Nisan or in Tishri (10b–12a); the latter view seems to have been accepted in later amoraic times, as reflected in the Rosh Ha-Shanah prayers of those days. Of particular interest is the elaboration on the idea of Rosh Ha-Shanah being the day of judgment for every individual as well as for mankind (16a–18a).

Tractate Rosh Ha-Shanah is characterized particularly by two topics. The first is the intercalation of the year and how and when and for what reasons intercalation is effected, and what are the considerations which normally influence the determination of the yearly *calendar. The second is a systematic, philosophical, speculative discussion on everything concerning providence, and reward and punishment in this world and in the next. These topics are much better arranged and edited than others and more systematically than in all other tractates. The talmudic tractate was translated into English by Maurice Simon in the Soncino edition (1938).


Epstein, Tanna'im, 363–72; Ḥ. Albeck, Shishah Sidrei Mishnah, 2 (1958), 305–9.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.