Contact Us

Why Babylonian Names for Jewish Months?

Why Babylonian Names for Jewish Months?

 Email

In the pre-Babylonian era, we find in the Scriptures only four months on the calendar that are identified by name:

The first month (Nissan): Aviv1
The second month (Iyar): Ziv2
The seventh month (Tishrei): Eitanim3
The eighth month (Cheshvan): Bul4

The other months were just known by their place in the calendar—e.g., third month, fourth month—starting from the first month: first by virtue of the fact that it is the month when our nation left Egypt, the month when we became a nation.

(Apparently, even the four months that had names were more often than not referred to by their numeric place on the calendar, with the names serving as secondary titles accompanying their numbers.)

The Jerusalem Talmud5 tells us that the modern names of the months “came up [to Israel] with [the returnees] from Babylon,” at the onset of the second Jewish commonwealth, approximately 350 BCE.6

So, why did we begin to use these names? Why didn’t we stick with the biblical practice of referring to months by their number?

Nachmanides7 suggests that this is consistent with Jeremiah’s prophecy: “Therefore, behold days are coming, says G‑d, and it shall no longer be said [by one who wishes to pronounce an oath], ‘As G‑d lives, who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but rather, ‘As G‑d lives, who brought up the children of Israel from the north land [Babylon] . . .’”8

The original system was to count months in numeric order, starting from Nissan. Thus, any time a person mentioned a month, he was in effect recalling the exodus from Egypt: we are in, say, the sixth month—six months since the month of the Exodus.9 Thus, the numeric naming served as a constant reminder of our deliverance from Egypt.

After we were delivered from Babylonian captivity, however, we started using the names that we became used to using in Babylon. And now, these names served to remind us that G‑d has redeemed us from this second exile.

I hope that I’ve been helpful today.

Yours truly,

Rabbi Menachem Posner

Footnotes
1.

Exodus 13:4. Literally, “spring” or “ripening.”

2.

I Kings 6:1 and 6:37. Literally, “radiance,” so called because it is the time when the trees become radiant with blossoms.

3.

I Kings 8:2. Literally, “strong ones,” so called because the ripe fruit are at the height (strength) of their goodness. (Our sages [Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 11a] attribute the names Ziv and Eitanim to the births of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—the radiant and strong ones—in these months.)

4.

I Kings 6:38. Related to the word for “withering,” and so called because at that time the branches and stubble in the field begin to wither.

5.

Rosh Hashanah 1:2.

6.

While many maintain that the names are actually taken from the Babylonian tongue, the Rebbe maintains (Likkutei Sichot, vol. 23, pp. 214ff) that it is likely that many (if not all of) these names are actually Hebrew, but that the practice of calling months by names instead of their numeric position on the calendar originated in Babylon.
See also Tammuz—Time for Transformation.

7.

Commentary to Exodus 12:2.

9.

For similar reason, Nachmanides argues, we have no names for the days of the week. Sunday is called “the First Day,” Monday is “the Second Day,” and so on—because we are constantly counting down to the Shabbat. Every time we mention the day of the week—any day of the week—we are fulfilling the divine precept (Exodus 20:8) to always “remember the Shabbat day to keep it holy.”

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
24 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Amichai Eretz Yisrael via jewishmississauga.org September 5, 2017

This question bothered me for years. I found a brilliant answer in the Ramban on Parshas Bo (Shemos 12:2). The verse is about Nisan as month 1, the Ramban says we refer to the months as 1,2,3,etc to remember the miracle of the exodus. Similar to the weekdays, we call by numbers in relation to Shabbos. The number system is not ordering the months of the of the year-Tishrei is the 1st month of the year (וחג האסיף תקופת השנה), rather it is putting the exodus at the focal point.

Regarding the names of the months we brought from Babylon, originally we didn't have names for the months, because we just numbered them from the exodus, however, when we came from up Babylon, we fulfilled the verse in Jeremiah 16:14-15 which says, "It will no longer be said, 'Alive is the G-d that took up Israel from Egypt', rather, 'Alive is the G-d that took up Israel from the North'" so we used those months to remember we were there and G-d brought us up. Thus, we remember the second redemption as the first. Reply

Yahqub Pensacola December 3, 2016

Why do Hebrew months have pagan names With all due respect Rav, I think that's a poor excuse to continue to use pagan names; being reminded of what got one in a dire predicament is a great way, to keep one from repeating the same mistake, imho ... that's kind of one of our main problems ie, re-inventing the wheel... Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for Chabad.org November 7, 2016

Actually, the name Tammuz comes from the Aramaic word "heat," and it is connected to the heat of the summer months. The source for the pagan deity with that name comes from people offering fire, similar to the heat of the summer. Reply

Jack October 31, 2016

Heshvan? It's not called Heshvan and we add the Mar because it's sad that it has no holidays. It's called Marheshvan because this is the Babylonian name for Eighth (שון = שמיני) Moon/Month (מרח/ירח).

Also interesting to note, the name Elul means Harvest (end of summer/harvest season). Tammuz - was the name of a Babylonian deity, etc. Reply

Simcha Bart August 8, 2016

Av in Hebrew means father. Please see chabad.org/1904785 for the inner meaning why this month is known by the word "father."

Simcha Bart
Chabad.org Reply

Gershon August 7, 2016

Av It means "father" in Hebrew. Reply

Darya Hupp August 5, 2016

Meaning of Av Does Av mean fire? Where can I get the meaning of the word? Reply

Beryl Boanerges March 24, 2015

third month is Sivan Then were the king's scribes called at that time in the third month, that is, the month Sivan, on the three and twentieth day thereof; and it was written according to all that Mordecai commanded unto the Jews, and to the lieutenants, and the deputies and rulers of the provinces which are from India unto Ethiopia, an hundred twenty and seven provinces, unto every province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing, and according to their language. Esther 8:9 Reply

Chanah October 6, 2014

Thank you! Wow, than you so much, I was very confused about this! Unfortunately, non-Jewish sources love to say that these babylonian month names indicate that Judaism evolved from a Babylonian religion, but not so! Reply

Gershon June 11, 2013

To Yankel Both Zecharia and Esther were written after we went to Babylon. Reply

Yankel Lipskier June 9, 2013

what about Kislev? And Shevat? They are in Zechariah? Reply

Eliyahu Rehovot March 26, 2013

The Torah uses numbers for the names of months. That should be good enough for anyone that honors the Torah. Reply

yankel lipskier February 25, 2013

what about teves? it says it in megillas esther? Reply

NWAGBOROGU C.C. Nigeria , west Africa Awka Anambra state Nigeria February 25, 2013

What are the the names of other jewish months before Babylonian exile ? Reply

Len Levine ViennaVA January 9, 2013

Why does current Hebrew calendar not start with month one? Or put another way. Why is the head of the year Rosh Hashana not the first month? Reply

ron January 6, 2013

will we go back to months from leaving mitzrayim? thank you for this very fine article. does anyone still use the numeric system?
Why don't we go back to that system? the use of these names ..how could it be healthy for us? Reply

fabk ft laud, fl June 6, 2011

to Daniel indeed it would be better to use the names september, october, november, and december, since they mean 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th. and do not refer to any pagan deity! the interesting part i find is that those months of the High Holidays, G-d never allowed them to be named otherwise, even if they do not correspond exactly to the date, they cover the whole time so that no pagan god's name is pronounced. unfortunately it is not so for the days of the week in most countries. in portugal, and brazil, they use 1st, 2d, 3rd to 6th, then Sabado (shabbat)! and no pagan god's name at all. an improvement! i think in the orient also. thai, chinese. don't quote me! Reply

Lilly Ocala, FL USA April 14, 2011

Babylonian name of the months I don't believe using the names of pagan deities serves to remind us of our second exodus, I believe it serves to show how we became influenced by paganism...Hashem told us that the names of other G-Ds should never be found on our lips! We need to abolish these pagan names and return to the biblical numbering of the months except for the original four names! Stop sugar coating...Lilly Reply

Susan CA USA August 23, 2017
in response to Lilly:

Add a comment...My understanding of when a name of a month is mentioned it is in writings that were written during & after the Babylonian captivity & the numeric value is always mentioned along with the Babylonian name also. Living in Babylon they pick up Babylonian ways-many of those returning only knew Babylonian ways & now they were returning to the land YHWH gave them & to His ways so they were having to unlearn & relearn many things.
You can take the boy out of the country but it is hard to take the country out of the boy
Reply

Anonymous Harlem, NY September 22, 2009

Good question Daniel, I was wondering the exact same thing! Reply

Daniel Jerusalem, Israel September 17, 2009

So what happens during the next redemption? Will we map the secular month names of September, October, November, etc. onto the Jewish months of Tishrei, Cheshvan, Kislev, in recognition of the fact that we were brought out of the Western World exile? Reply

Related Topics
This page in other languages