The names of the month

The names of the month:[1]

A. The origin:

The Yerushalmi[2] states that the names of the Hebrew months, Nissan, Iyar, Sivan etc, were brought down from Bavel, during the first exile [approximately in the 3200’s or 500 BC]. This teaches us that the names of the Hebrew months are not Hebrew in origin but are of a foreign language that was spoken in Bavel, called Akkadian[3]. This was the language spoken by the Chaldeans/Casdians.[4] It is for this reason that we do not find any of these names mentioned in early scripture, prior to Zechariah, Ezra and Megillas Esther.[5] These names are used by the gentiles in Persia until today.[6] Despite the non-Hebrew origin, the Jewish people adopted these names as they contain a hidden inner holiness and meaning. They are not typical Babylonian names. These names represent the elevation of Bavel, which represents exile, into the vicinity of holiness. This explains why not only these names have been adopted, but they have even surpassed in usage over the names written explicitly in the Torah, as brought in B.[7]

Alternative explanation:[8] An alternative explanation is that in truth the names [or at least majority of them] are original Hebrew names which were forgotten with the years and later rediscovered. The intent of the Yerushalmi is hence to say that when the Jews went to Bavel they brought back the names, as the names were rediscovered. Accordingly, the names did not originate from the Akkadian language. This explanation resolves why some of the names have explicit Hebrew meaning, such as Nissan and Av, and also explains the wording of the Yerushalmi that the names were “brought down” and not innovated and the like.

B. The original Hebrew names:[9]

The months in the Torah are called by number and not by a specific name with exception to four months. These are He’aviv[10] [Nissan]; Eisanim[11] [Tishrei]; Ziv[12] [Iyar]; Bul[13] [Marcheshvan]. The reason why the Torah does not give the months a specific name and rather calls it by number is because originally the intent was to count the months in accordance to the exile from Egypt. Therefore, Nissan, which is the month of the exodus, is the first month and all the other months are counted from Nissan.

C. The meaning:[14]

We do not have exact knowledge to the meaning behind the names of the months, whether in the Hebrew language, or the Akkadian original. Nevertheless, speculations have been made as to the meaning of the names and some hints to its Hebrew counterpart have also been recorded in Chazal. Particularly worthy of mention is an ancient manuscript of Midrash called Midrash Hasheimos in which Chazal expound the Hebrew meaning of each name.[15] The following is a list of the names of the months and their possible meaning:

  1. Nissan:

Akkadian meaning: Possibly means a sacrifice or blossom,.

Hebrew meaning:[16] Comes from the word Neis, which means miracle, and represents the miracles that Hashem did for us in Egypt.

  1. Iyar:

Akkadian meaning: Possibly means a blossom or light.

Hebrew meaning:[17] Comes from the word Panim Meiros, which means a shining face, as in this month we received the Mun and we saw the Shechina.

  1. Sivan:

Akkadian meaning: Possibly means a Holiday.

Hebrew meaning:[18] Comes from the word Sinai and Nissim, as in this month we received the Torah on Har Sinai and witnessed many miracles.

  1. Tamuz:

Akkadian meaning:[19] Comes from the idol names Tamuz, as in this month we served the golden calf.

Hebrew meaning: This is the one name that even according to Midrash Sheimos has no Hebrew meaning and is solely sourced in the name of a pagan deity.

  1. Av:

Akkadian meaning: Possibly means wood.

Hebrew meaning:[20] Comes from the word father in Hebrew, as this month is the head of all tragedies.

  1. Elul:

Akkadian meaning: Possibly means joy or a singing women.

Hebrew meaning:[21] Comes from the word Meula, which means elite, and represents that this month is a chosen and elite month being that the creation took place in it.

  1. Tishrei:

Akkadian meaning: Possibly means begining.

Hebrew meaning:[22] Comes from the word Tishriy, which means to leave, as in this month Hashem clears us of sin.

  1. Cheshvan:

Akkadian meaning: Possibly means the 8th month.

Hebrew meaning:[23] Comes from the word Israchish, which means occurred, as in this month the Temple was built by Shlomo Hamelech.

  1. Kisleiv:

Akkadian meaning: Not known.

Hebrew meaning:[24] Comes from the word Kesil, which is the name of a star from which the rain is dependent on.

  1. Teves:

Akkadian meaning: Possibly means the rain season.

Hebrew meaning:[25] Comes from the word Tov, which means good, as in this month good things occurred as Sichon and Og were killed.

  1. Shevat:

Akkadian meaning: Not known.

Hebrew meaning:[26] Comes from the word Sheivet, which means a staff, and represents the hitting of the rain on the earth.

  1. Adar:

Akkadian meaning: Possibly means lust.

Hebrew meaning:[27] Comes from the word Adir, which means great, as in this month Moshe was born.

D. The first month:

The month of Nissan is called by the Torah the first month.[28] The reason why Nissan is the first month is because the exodus occurred in this month and Hashem desired that all the other months be counted from it in order so we remember the exodus.[29]

May one use the English dates verbally or in writing?[30]

The years: Some Poskim[31] rule it is Biblically forbidden to write English dates.[32] Other Poskim[33] however rule it is permitted.[34] Practically, the custom is to be lenient as did many Gedolei Yisrael.[35] However those that are meticulous only write the last two digits, or write “for their count”, or also write the Hebrew year.[36]

The months in numbers: It is questionable whether it is permitted to write or say the English month in numbers, such as 01 for January. The reason for this is because some Poskim[37] rule that the Torah commanded us to count Nissan as the first month. Accordingly, if one counts any other month as the first one transgresses the Biblical command.[38] Practically, it is best to be stringent to avoid using numbers for the secular months.[39] One is to rather use the English names if he needs to.[40]

The months in English names:[41] It is permitted to call the months by their secular names.

Weekdays:[42] One may call the weekdays by their English name.


[1] See Torah Sheleima 11 Miluim 4-5

[2] Rosh Hashanah 1/2; brought in Tosafus Rosh Hashanah 7a; Brought also in Bereishis Raba 48

[3] Akkadian is an extinct East Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. Many of the words of this language centuries later evolved into Aramaic.

[4] Even Ezra Shemos 12/2; Ramban 12/2; Chizkuni ibid; See Torah Sheleima 11/176 that this has been historically proven from Babylonian writings that were discovered in ancient Ninveh

[5] Even Ezra ibid; Ramban ibid; There are seven names of months mentioned in Esther and Ezra: Nissan; Elul; Kisleiv; Teves; Shevat; Adar.

[6] Ramban ibid

[7] Toras Menachem 1985 4/2048

[8] Likkutei Sichos 23/215; Toras Menachem 1985 2/1253; See Shelah 409b that all words found in the Torah from foreign languages are in truth Hebrew words that have been implanted into those languages.

[9] Ramban 12/2

[10] Parshas Bo

[11] Melachim 1 8/2

[12] Melachim 1 6/1

[13] Melachim 1 6/38

[14] See Torah Shelima 11 Miluim 5

[15] See Torah Sheleima for the Midrash Hasheimos as he found in the manuscript of three different Midrashim.

[16] Pesikta Zutrasi Bo 12; Midrash Hasheimos ibid

[17] Midrash Hasheimos ibid

[18] Midrash Hasheimos ibid

[19] Midrash Hasheimos ibid

[20] Midrash Hasheimos ibid

[21] Midrash Hasheimos ibid

[22] Midrash Hasheimos ibid

[23] Midrash Hasheimos ibid

[24] Midrash Hasheimos ibid

[25] Midrash Hasheimos ibid

[26] Midrash Hasheimos ibid

[27] Midrash Hasheimos ibid

[28] Shemos 12/2

[29] Ramban ibid

[30] Piskeiy Teshuvos 156/3

[31] Maharam Shick Yoreh Deah 171; See also Chasam Sofer in Toras Moshe Bo and Drashos for 7th of Av; See Beir Moshe 8/19; Kinyan Torah 1/55; Yabia Omer 3/9

[32] The reason: The reason is because the years are counted from when their deity J.C. was born and it is forbidden to mention the name of a  deity. [ibid]

[33] Mishmeres Shalom Semachos 84; Kinyan Torah 1/55; Yabia Omer 3/9

[34] The reason: As the prohibition of mentioning the name of a deity is only applicable when the words explicitly imply it. [ibid; Hagahos Maimanis Avoda Zara 5; Darkei Moshe Y.D. 147]

[35] Shut Rama 51; Maharam Pawa 36; Chavos Yair 184; Chasam Sofer E.H. 1/43

[36] Mishmeres Shalom ibid; See Darkei Chaim Veshalom 1010

[37] Ramban Bo ibid; However see Rashba on R”H 7a and Ran and Ritva there that imply that no such Mitzvah exists, as they question what practical ramification is there in knowing which month is the first month, and they do not answer as above; See also Baal Hikkarim that this Mitzvah no longer applies today; Likewise the Rambam does not list this Mitzvah anywhere in his Mishneh Torah or Sefer Hamitzvos.

[38] Minchas Chinuch Mitzvah 311

[39] Toras Moshe Parshas Bo; Iyun Yaakov Megillah Pirush Hakosev; Mishneh Sachir 1/120; Yabia Omer 3/9

[40] Iyun Yaakov Megillah 2 Pirush Hakosev; Yabi Omer ibid; Piskeiy Teshuvos 156/3; However see Tzitz Eliezer 8/8

[41] Iyun Yaakov Megillah 2 Pirush Hakosev; Yabia Omer ibid; However see Tzitz Eliezer 8/8 that one is to avoid doing so being that these names are rooted in idolatry.

[42] Igros Kodesh 2/361 [printed in Shulchan Menachem 1/93]; See Piskeiy Teshuvos 156 footnote 18

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