Rosh HaShanah in Bible Times

The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah)  in biblical times was celebrated in a far more festive fashion than it is today (Amos 8:5).

Although this is a two-day holiday, preparations for this feast begin a full month in advance.


On the Jewish calendar is a forty-day season called Teshuvah (return or repentance). It begins on Elul 1 and ends on the Day of Atonement (Tishri 10).

Days of Awe

This forty-day season is a time for one to annually examine his life and restore relationships between God and man. The first thirty days of this season are the thirty days of the month of Elul. The last ten days of this forty-day season are the Feast of Trumpets and Day of Atonement or the ten High Holy Days (Days of Awe).

This holiday is one of mixed emotions. It is considered both a happy, joyous occasion and a somber occasion: joyous because it is celebration of the new year and somber because custom has it as a “Day of Judgment” in that it is a day of looking back and taking stock of one’s life over the past year. No work is allowed on the Feast of Trumpets.

This festival has three expressions:

  1. A day of “solemn rest” to be observed on the first of the seventh month. (Cooking is permissible.)
  2. A memorial proclaimed with the blast of the horn (Zikhron Teru’ah).
  3. A day of blowing the horn (Yom Teru’ah) which indicates its chief observance, namely, the sounding of the shofar (ram’s horn) (Num. 29:1).

One Day or Two?

The Feast of Trumpets occurs at the time of the new moon. The entire Jewish calendar revolves around the moon, so it was very important to get the date of the new moon correct. In Bible times, as it is today, this feast is celebrated for two days instead of one. The Talmudic tradition maintains the second day was added during the time of the prophets (see Appendix C for more on the new moon).

The Blessing

A special blessing was said for the new moon:

“Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, whose word created the heavens, whose breath created all that they contain. Statutes and seasons He set for them, that they should not deviate from their assigned task. Happily, gladly they do the will of their Creator, whose work is dependable. To the moon He spoke: renew yourself, crown of glory for those who were borne in the womb, who also are destined to be renewed and to extol their Creator for His glorious sovereignty. Blessed are You, Lord who renews the months.”

Notice that Ezra observed this feast for two days: And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.

And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law. 13And on the second day were gathered together the chief of the fathers of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, unto Ezra the scribe, even to understand the words of the law (Neh. 8:2-3,13).

A Psalm is Devoted to this Feast Day

{To the chief Musician upon Gittith, A Psalm of Asaph.} Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob. Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery. Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day. For this was a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob. This he ordained in Joseph for a testimony, when he went out through the land of Egypt: where I heard a language that I understood not. I removed his shoulder from the burden: his hands were delivered from the pots.

Thou calledst in trouble, and I delivered thee; I answered thee in the secret place of thunder: I proved thee at the waters of Meribah. Selah. Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me; There shall no strange god be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange god. I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels. Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries. The haters of the LORD should have submitted themselves unto him: but their time should have endured for ever. He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee (Ps. 81).

The ceremony of the blowing of the shofar was a magnificent sight. The priest chosen to blow the shofar was trained from childhood. On the first day of this feast, the priest blowing the shofar stood outside the Temple with two trumpeters. The shofar represents, among other things, a call to awaken the conscience.

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