Hebrew In Israel | New Moon Shabbat – Learn Torah

“When will the new moon be over, so we can market our grain?"

Hebrew In Israel | New Moon Shabbat – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi One comments

An examination of the relationship of the New moon and Shabbat in Biblical Times

“Is the New moon day a Shabbat?” has been a discussion in Torah observant groups for many years. The common argument is that the day of the new moon is the starter of a cycle of seven days, where the seventh or eighth day is a day of rest. In this article, I will examine the use of Amos 8:5 in the claim, and look into historical evidence on the matter.[1]

Genesis 1 Description of the Moon 

In the creation narrative of Genesis 1 we are given a seven-day structure which ends with a seventh day of rest that is part of a super structure cycle of a perpetual seven days. When looking in to this description, the moon has no actual place in the seven-day cycle and is placed in the middle of the creation on the fourth day. Light is described in 1:1-5, however the illuminants are not introduced till vs.14-19. In the text, there is no actual reference linking the seven-day cycle and the moon, and the moon is described as being one of the tools used to decide when the feasts are. However, this element is not connected to the seven-day cycle which is clearly evident in the text. The weekly cycle is separate from the feasts, which are part of the yearly and monthly cycle. The monthly cycle is the function of the moon in all lunar based calendars in the ancient world. This cycles starts with the moon, and is imbedded in the language’s terminology.[2] 

A seven-day cycle is clearly not consistent with the moon, which uses a 29+ day cycle that can never correspond with a seven-day division. In a calendar which uses only the moon to calculate the week, one will have to create a six-day week where every month has 5 weeks, or follow the Egyptian model of a 7-8-day week with four weeks in every month.[3] 

The seven days also seem to be fundamental to the calendar, which also has a dependency on the solar cycle. Some research has even emphasized the centrality of the sun to the seven days, and not the moon.[4]

Shabbat and New Moon Parallels in the Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew text, in several places, puts Shabbat and New moon as parallels, which can lead to a feeling that the days were similar in nature. Such examples can be found in the following places:

2Kings 4:23

Isaiah 1:13, 66:23

Ezekiel 45:17, 46:1,3

Hosea 2:13[2:11 in English bibles]

Amos 8:5

Nehemiah 10:34[10:33 in English]

1Chronicles 23:31, 2Chronicles 2:3[4], 8:13, 31:3

When analyzing all these texts, one thing comes forward: all the texts except for 2Kings 4:23 and Amos 8:5 are in the context of the temple sacrifices, and not a comparison of work between the days. The case of 2Kings is too obscure in my opinion to even understand the context of why would the servant ask his mistress about going to the prophet. It might be an indication that there was a practice to visit a prophet or place of worship on the new moon, but this is idea is only conjecture and cannot, in my opinion, be completely proven. The only case left which can be important is Amos, which is the only text that might indicate a non-work environment on the new moon day, and hence should receive special treatment. 

Amos 8:5

Amos 8:5 describes the complaint of the wealthy not being able to cheat during the new moon and Shabbat

שִׁמְעוּ-זֹאת הַשֹּׁאֲפִים אֶבְיוֹן
וְלַשְׁבִּית ענוי (עֲנִיֵּי) אָרֶץ 
מָתַי יַעֲבֹר הַחֹדֶשׁ וְנַשְׁבִּירָה שֶּׁבֶר 
וְהַשַּׁבָּת וְנִפְתְּחָה בָּר
לְהַקְטִין אֵיפָה וּלְהַגְדִּיל שֶׁקֶל וּלְעַוֵּת מֹאזְנֵי מִרְמָה

“Listen, you who swallow the needy
and destroy the poor of the land!
You say:
“When will the new moon be over,
so we can market our grain?
and Shabbat, so we can sell wheat?”
You measure the grain in a small eifah,
but the silver in heavy shekels, fixing the scales, so that you can cheat”

(Amos 8:4-5)

These verses bring many to the conclusion that the new moon is the same as Shabbat, and work is forbidden on both. The new moon and the Shabbat seem to appear in a synonymous parallel, which can lead to an understanding that they are identical. However, the parallel does not have to be a complete one, and maybe the meaning can be different.[5] This is not only common with new interpretations, but has been a prevalent opinion with commentators throughout the years. It seems that in Ancient Israel the day of the new moon was a celebration day, and people did not do work. However, this does not mean it was Shabbat, but another day of rest.[6] The text is probably more with the intent of presenting the absurdity of not working on a non-work day, and then stealing from the poor, and this information is given to us more in passing. Very little is known about Torah keeping in ancient Israel, and I find it difficult to come to any absolute conclusion on what was actually done during the new moon day. 

An Old Finding With New Meaning

Though the verse in Amos seems to be very distinct and clear, a reference in an ancient document from Tel Arad in southern Israel adds more details on practices of the time. The documents were found by Y. Aharoni at Tel Arad, and by most are agreed to belong to the end of the first temple. Many of the documents are addressed to a man named Elyashiv (El will bring back), who probably was an officer at the fortress of Tel Arad. 

In the document, we find a report to a garrison upkeeping the fortress and giving out rations. In several letters, we find a clear description of giving out rations to the Kittim (Greek soldiers) military force on the new moon.[7] 

אל אלישב. וע
ת. נתן. לכתים
לעשרי ב \ לחד
ש. עד הששה
\\\ לחדש ב \ הין 
כתבתה לפניך. ב
שנים לחדש. בעש
רי ושמן ח
“To Elyashiv, at the time, give the Kittim on the tenth (month) on the first[8] of the month, till the sixth of the month, 1 Bath 3 Hin, write before you on the second of the month, on the tenth ḥ”

(Arad Letter 7)

In this letter, Elyashiv is commanded to give rations to the Greek forces which were part of the Judean army. Evidence of this Greek presence has been proven several times in findings around Israel.[9] Being a professional military force which is receiving rations as payment, it cannot be escaped that this is a payment given to these forces on a day which presumably is a day with no work. I can accept the argument that this is a military endeavour, and in a state of emergency one might be allowed to break a Shabbat day. However, there is no sign that they are at war, and there is no need to break a non-work day for this. 

“Write on the second day”

Though I still postulate that the rations given are clearly a payment, one cannot ignore the other command given. Elyashiv is told to wait with writing down the rations till the second day, making one wonder if he is told not to do work on the new moon day. In rabbinic sources, it is understood that writing on Shabbat is a form of work, as it is stated in the Mishnah Shabbat 7:2

הכותב שתי אותות, והמוחק על מנת לכתוב שתי אותות
“He who writes two letters, and he who erases in order to write two letters”

Writing in the ancient world was considered a profession, and only people who were trained to read and write could have access to written material and the ability to read and write them. We can state almost as fact that Elyashiv could write. This is due to the fact that to be in charge of the rations, one also had to keep a record of what has been done, hence being a scribe was one of the requirements for the position. We also know that people in charge had to read and write in order for them to be able to actually read the orders given. This reality is found in the Lachish letters where the officer in charge states that he can read after he is ridiculed by his superiors for not understanding the orders given in a letter.[10] Hence Elyashiv is being directly ordered not to write till the next day, preventing him from potentially violating a non-work day. However, it is possible that waiting till the next day was not due to violation of a non-work day, but rather that this was just a function of how they operated. The first of the month would be used to write the sum of the previous month, and the second of the month was when the new listing began.[11] However, it has been suggested by S. Paul that this was an actual prohibition of doing work on the new moon day.[12] The problem with this argument is that we never find religious instructions in these letters, nor do we find them in the Lachish letters. Hence Paul’s argument is mostly speculation and not fact. Due to the fact that the rations were given on the first of the month as payment, it seems more likely that work was done on that day.  

Possible Influence of a New Moon Shabbat?

It is important to note that the question of Shabbat is linked to some questions of the calendar, which is why the above mentioned debate has sparked. The calendar in ancient Israel is a complicated matter, and much has been written about it. As argued in the first section, I am of the opinion that there are at least some parts of the calendar which are fixed under the Priestly calendar. I identify such parts as the seven day cycle, the Sabbatical and Jubilee years. On the other hand, in my opinion there is clearly a lunar side of the calendar which determined the months. However, because of the issues which arise with sighting the renewal of the moon, calculations were introduced in different cultures, especially Egypt.[13] Because of the proximity of Egypt to Israel, and the long lasting influence of Egypt in the Levant, there is the possibility that the calculations were used in ancient Israel from an early stage. Later on in time some groups may have returned to a much more lunar based calendar, maybe due to the Assyrian-Babylonian influence. 

It is possible to argue that Israel (northern tribes where Amos prophesied) were under the influence of the Assyrians who practiced the ūmē lemnūti and  šappatum. The ūmē lemnūti was kept on the 1st, 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th days of the month, while the šappatum was kept on the 15th together with 1st and 7th days as days to appease the Gods.[14] ūmē lemnūti was considered a bad omen day, and the market place was not active on these days. However, the most important part of this practice was the protection of the king and the officials who could be harmed by evil spirits on these days. 

More so, Weinfeld and others have argued that there is no link between the lunar cycle and the fixed seven-day cycle due to the description of Genesis.[15] Much can be said on this topic, and there are some similarities between the terms and some of the practices, but there are also differences which are substantial and can lead away from concluding that there is an actual connection or influence. 

Attempts have been made to connect the Jewish practice of Shabbat to the Roman market days of nundiane. However, there is no evidence that the Shabbat has to do with just market days.[16] Though Jeremiah does mention the idea of not going out with a load on Shabbat (Jeremiah 17:22), and Isaiah mentions the prohibition of going out to do business (Isaiah 58:13), these are only part of what Shabbat was. I am in agreement with Weinfeld that the main prohibition of work on Shabbat in the Torah had to do with field work.[17] It seems to me that later on market place dealings were introduced when such a concept was created in Israel and the expansion into cities. 

It is possible to see the difficulties in resemblance of these specific days in other cultures, early or late, to the Shabbat, or even the New Moon as presented in the Hebrew Bible. The Israelites kept the Shabbat and New moon, but there are difficulties (due to the presented details) that the above pattern of days for Shabbat starting on the new moon day were kept. Amos only knows of the first day and does not recognise a bad omen or anything of the sort. 

A different possibility is that not having a market day was more of symbolic gesture kept by the people because the day was special with special sacrifices. We do not, in any place where the New Moon day is described in the Torah, find a prohibition on work, and the New Moon day is omitted from the feast list of Leviticus 23. People in ancient Israel probably used it to go to the temple and worship, or to seek God with holy men/prophets, but it was not an actual day where work was forbidden. This practice can be found in 2Kings 4:23 and Isaiah 66:23. 

A third possibility is that the north and the south had different ideas about the new moon, and the south did not observe the new moon the same way the north did. 

New Moon in Talmudic References 

In several references in the Talmud there are clear descriptions of non-work days for the new moon. Such references are of a late period, and could reflect a new practice, or a late interpretation of Amos. It is possible that the practice was created during the second temple, but this would contradict the idea of Anshe Ma’amdot who would not work on certain days to represent the people of each place before God. These men would not work due to the idea that when a sacrifice is presented, the owner would have to be present, or at least concentrate on the sacrifice, which means they would not do work at the time. Because a daily sacrifice was presented for all of Israel, a select number of people from each town would not work.

״מאי קאמר ה”ק אלו הן מעמדות ומה טעם תיקנו מעמדות לפי שנאמר(במדבר כח ב) צו את בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם את קרבני לחמי לאשי והיאך קרבנו של אדם קרב והוא אינו עומד על גביו התקינו נביאים הראשונים עשרים וארבעה משמרות על כל משמר ומשמר היה מעמד בירושלים של כהני’ ושל לוים ושל ישראלים הגיע זמן משמר לעלות כהנים ולוים עולין לירושלים״
“Since it is stated: “Command the children of Israel.” These are the non-priestly watches, and what is the reason that they instituted non-priestly watches? Since it is stated: “Command the children of Israel and say to them: My offering of food, which is presented to me made by a fire, of sweet savor to Me, you shall observe to sacrifice to Me in their due season” (Numbers 28:2). But how can it be that a man’s sacrifice is being offered, and he is not standing next it? The early prophets established 24 priestly watches. For each watch, there was a corresponding watch in Jerusalem of priests, Levites and Israelites. When the time of that watch came, priests and Levites would ascend to Jerusalem”.[18] 

Though this practice probably dates back to the 2nd temple, it is not clear when or how it started. Due to the common problem of midrashic exegesis, it is difficult to know if this was a decision created by textual exegesis, or a pre-existing practice confirmed by text. Hence this idea cannot confirm nor negate any historical practice dating back to Biblical times.


It seems safe to say that at least in the south the new moon day was not a non-work day as a Shabbat. It was a day to be revered as seen many times in the Hebrew Bible, and was ascribed special sacrifices which distinguished it from regular days. It is also possible that in the north the day was kept as a special day with much higher regard than the south. However, we lack conclusive evidence of work being forbidden on the new moon day. The Torah does not list it in the non-work days (Leviticus 23), and it continuously appears next to the Shabbat as a celebration day and temple visit day, but not in the context of work. Only in the case of Amos does such a thing appear, and it is in a context which is more about abhorrent behaviour, and less about keeping a holy day where work is forbidden. This does not take away from the fact that the market was closed, but this does not reflect on any other forms of work that can be done, and only demonstrates a public action, and not private keeping of no work. 


1 The basis of this discussion is in the debate in observance of Torah laws in different groups who originate in the Christian world. Though the discussion is not in academic circles, it is a very interesting subject raised by these groups. This paper is a preliminary look at the matter, and should be expanded. 

2 See for example hdt (II), in Gregorio Del Olmo Lete and Joaquin Sanmartin, A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition, Leiden-Boston 2003, p.356

3 Clagett Marshall, Ancient Egyptian Science: A Source book, Vol.II: Calendars, Clocks and Astronomy, Philadelphia 2014, pp.2-3. An exact calculation of the calendar and chronologies can be found in: Ancient Egyptian Chronology, Erik Hornung, Rolf Krauss and David A. Warburton (Editors), Leiden-Boston 2006

4 Guillaume Philippe, Land and Calendar: The Priestly Document from Genesis to Joshua 18, pp.37-45

5 On the subject of parallels see Avishur Yitchak, Studies in Hebrew and Ugaritic Psalms, Jerusalem 1989, and Avishur Yitchak, The Construct State of Synonyms in Biblical Rhetoric, Jerusalem 1977

6 Paul Shalom M., Miqra L’Yisrael Amos, Jerusalem, 1994, pp.128-129

7 Ahituv Shmuel, Handbook of Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions, Jerusalem, 1992, 64-65

8 The symbol \ is an Egyptian numeral meaning 1, hence \\\ is 3

9 Personal communication with Dr. Haya Katz of the Open University of Israel

10 Tur Sinai Naphtali, The Lachish Ostraca, Jerusalem, 1987, 89-90

11 Aharoni Yohanan, Arad Inscriptions, Jerusalem, 1986, p.24, Ahituv, 1992, p.66

12 Paul, 1994, p.129

13 Clagett, 2014

14 Weinfeld Moshe, The Decalogue and the Recitation of the “Shema”: The Development of the Confessions, Tel-Aviv 2001, pp. 67-68. Some versions state 7, 11, 21 and 28, while others 6, 14, 21 and 27 or 6, 13, 20 and 27

15 ibid

16 Tigai Jacob H., Shabbat, in Time and Holy Days, Jerusalem, 1988, pp.93-96

17 Weinfeld, 2001, pp.73-74

18 Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 27:a


אהרוני יוחנן, כתובות ערד, ירושלים, תשל״ו, 1976
אחיטוב שמואל, אסופת כתובות עבריות, ירושלים, 1992
ויינפלד משה, עשרת הדברות וקריאת שמע: גילגוליהן של הצהרות אמונה, תל-אביב, 2001
טור-סיני נפתלי, תעודות לכיש, ירושלים, 1987
טגאי יעקב חיים, שבת, בתוך מועדי ישראל, ירושלים, 1988
פאול ש״מ, מקרא לישראל, עמוס, ירושלים, 1994

Ancient Egyptian Chronology, Erik Hornung, Rolf Krauss and David A. Warburton (Editors), Leiden-Boston 2006

Clagett Marshall, Ancient Egyptian Science: A Source book, Vol.II: Calendars, Clocks and Astronomy, Philadelphia 2014 

Guillaume Philippe, Land and Calendar: The Priestly Document from Genesis to Joshua 18, 

One comments

Ana Lopes

August 14, 2020 at 2:41 pm

Shalom, Yoel!
Very interesting and informative text!
Thank you!

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