A Not-So-Bitter New Month Approaches

26 Oct

During services this past Shabbat, the prayer leader in our synagogue and in synagogues throughout the world was tasked with announcing the upcoming arrival of the new moon and new month – the eighth month of the biblical year – commonly referred to as Cheshvan.

It did not go all that smoothly.

As soon as he announced the month, Cheshvan, a dozen or so congregants were quick to correct him, yelling out “Mar Cheshvan!!!”

He corrected his “mistake” and continued….. I have been wondering since then what the ruckus was all about. In fact, on a personal note, my father’s yahrzeit is on the ides of (Mar)Cheshvan, and I have never been sure what to correctly call the month…..

In my search for the “truth.” I came across this very interesting blog entry…..enjoy!

(Mar)Cheshvan is a terrific month for thinking about folk etymology. Anyone who grew up going to Jewish day school probably learned at a young age that the Hebrew month of Cheshvan is sometimes called “Marcheshvan” because it is a “bitter” (Hebrew: “mar”) month due to its lack of holidays. I think I might have even been taught (or derived myself) that it was the only holiday-less month, despite the fact that IyarTammuzElul, and Tevet are also apparently holiday-less. Av is no great shakes, either, and would be a prime candidate for a “bitter” month in my book, although I suppose the bitter lamentations of Tisha B’Av are mediated somewhat by Tu B’Av.

The actual etymology of “Marcheshvan” is apparently the Akkadian word “warasamnu,” meaning “eighth month.” (Wara presumably being like the Hebrew “yare’ach” or moon and “samnu” presumably being like the Hebrew “shmona” or eight. (How’s that for some amateur etymology?) Indeed, in the biblical account of the months, Marcheshvan is the eighth month.

The real question is not why Cheshvan is called Marcheshvan, but why it is called Cheshvan without the “Mar.” Who dropped the “mar” and why?

..Our chazzan did…..I suppose because he, like myself, had a good Jewish education… J

With wishes for a rainy winter, and a (bitter)sweet new month.



2 Responses to “A Not-So-Bitter New Month Approaches”

  1. Ed Porter Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 1:17 am #

    Don’t understand why this is worth talking about. What’s. The problem. Did you run out of interesting topics. Shana Tovah. Ed Porter

  2. Vered Harris Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

    We JUST had this conversation with one of our teaching teams, and then one of the teachers saw this post. Great timing for us, and quite relevant for our Hebrew students!

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