A year ago, I was leading the services in shul on the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh (Mar)Cheshvan. As is the custom on the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh, a short prayer is inserted wherein the time of the New Moon is announced, as well as which days are going to be celebrated as Rosh Chodesh. As a part of the announcement, the name of the month is mentioned. And so, when I was ready to make the announcement, I began "Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan...." Immediately I was stopped and asked to announce it as MarCheshvan.
Mar, of course, means "bitter" in Hebrew. The most common explaination given for the addition of this prefix to the name of the month is because Cheshvan is devoid of Jewish holidays. As such, it is deemed to be "bitter."
Personally, this has always troubled me. After all Elul has no holidays either. But let's write off Elul by saying that it's swept up in the whole pre-Rosh HaShannah hype. But certainly Cheshvan is no worse off than Tammuz. Tammuz also has no holidays and, in fact, has a major fast day. At Cheshvan has no negatives at all! So, why do people refer to Cheshvan as MarCheshvan but not to Tammuz as MarTammuz?
I think it has something suppoably to do with the mabul.
True, but I always wondered how much the Mabul truly means to us. After all, we fast for Tisha B'Av, 17 Tammuz, 10 Teves et al, because we are sad about the events that occurred then. No one (to my knowledge) fasts because of the Mabul. Based on that, I'd still say that Tammuz is a more bitter month than Cheshvan.
Marcheshvan is in fact the proper Hebrew transliteration of the original Babyloniyan name for that month. (All Hebrew month names are Babylonian in origin -- and the same is true for our calender system in general.) See here.
Interesting! Thank you BD. So, the mar=bitter part is just an after-the-fact explanation. That being the case, how did the shortened name ever come about?
"So, the mar=bitter part is just an after-the-fact explanation."
"how did the shortened name ever come about?"
I don't know. It does seem to be a relatively late development, though. Check out this article (read the footnotes!).
How can you be bitter in Tammuz? The weather is too nice.
You're reading "marcheshvan" in the wrong language. It's not Hebrew, so "bitter" is just later-develeped homiletics. It just means "moon eight," or, less literally, "eighth month." Almost all such frum toyreh is based on this kind of wordplay and not real linguisitics and etymology. e.g. the numerous teyches for "yarmulkeh". There's even a few such folk etymologies in the Torah, like the one given for Moshe's name.
They didn't use the Mar in my shul. I guess the Rebbe must have forgotten. Or perhaps they did institute a new holiday this month. Who knows? All I do know is that Mar means bitter, and boy is it getting bitter cold lately.
I recently learned what BD and ft have already said. Apparently, Cheshvan is just what you get after removing the Mar. And that's it.
Originally the month was called Warchashman and got switched to Marcheshwan with time. Warcha = Yarcha = Yareach = month. Shman = 8. Eighth month. It's not quite Hebrew, but it's Akkadian so it's fairly close.
An interesting post and some interesting comments. When you have a moment I'd like to invite you to check out an online Jewish journal I publish called the New Vilna Review (www.newvilnareview.com) which might be of interest to you and and your readers. We're always looking for new contributors, so if you'd like to submit something we'd be happy to hear from you.
-Daniel E. Levenson
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