The moon has almost as many names in Hebrew as it has phases. To begin with, the Hebrew words (hodesh), month, and (hadash), new, are etymologically related for obvious reasons; the moon completes its orbit around the earth in one month, returning to its former "new moon" state. Interestingly – or perhaps obviously – an alternative Hebrew word for month is (yerah), lit., moon.

The moon is commonly referred to as (levanah) in classic and modern Hebrew literature and liturgy: (lavan) is the Hebrew word for white. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the day when (ve-hafra ha-levanah u'vosha ha-hama), "the moon shall be ashamed, and the sun shall be abashed.[1]

Another less-known name is (sahar), related to the Aramaic and Arabic words for moon (sahara and shahr, respectively). A full moon is referred to poetically as (agan-hasahar), the moon-basin,[2] and a moon crescent as (hazi-sahar), lit., half a moon.

The blessing for the sanctification of the moon is known as (kiddush levanah) or (birkat ha-levanah). Letters appearing in large print are referred to in Hebrew as (otiot shel kiddush levanah), letters for sanctifying the (levanah), the new moon; this is because the blessing is recited outdoors by moonlight, necessitating large print on this particular page in the prayerbook.

The most common name, (yareh-ah), is related to the ancient Akkadian, Aramaic and Ugaritic words for "month" – the amount of time it takes for the moon to orbit the earth, or as the ancients viewed it – to return to its previous shape. This usage is found in Exodus: "A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months [yerakhim]"[3]. Similarly, in the book of Kings it is written: "Shallum son of Jabesh became king in the thirty-ninth year of King Uzziah of Judah, and he reigned in Samaria one month [yerakh].[4]

There is clearly a relationship between the ancient word for month, and the ancient Semites' male moon-deity – known as Sin among the eastern Semites, but as Erah or Yerah in the western regions of Mesopotamia.

Several modern Hebrew words are based on the wod (yare'ah), moon. A small moon, that orbits the planets, is known as (yerei'hon), on being a Hebrew suffix that creates the diminutive form. A magazine or journal which is published monthly is know as a (yarhon).


footnotes [1] Isaiah 24:23 [back]
[2] Song of Songs 7:4 ("your navel is like the moon basin") [back]
[3] Exodus 2:1-2 (va-tizpenehu shlosha yerahim), she hid him for three months. [back]
[4] II Kings 15:13 [back]
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