Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Bereishit 5763/ October 5, 2002

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
Prepared for Internet Publication by the Center for IT & IS Staff at Bar-Ilan University.
Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,

Parashat Bereishit 5763/ October 5, 2002

One Day or Sunday? The Names of the Days

Yossi Peretz, Staff
Mikraot Gedolot -- Ha-Keter

The narrative of Creation that opens the book of Genesis has six units of fixed form that begin and end as follows: "G-d said," followed by the content of what He commanded and concluding with the words: "And there was evening and there was morning, a first day", "a second day", and so forth. The next unit after these six concludes the story and deals with blessing and sanctifying "the seventh day" (Gen.2:2,3), the day on which the Lord ceased all His work. Thus, in this week's reading, all seven days of the week are called by their ordinal numbers;[1] it is not until the book of Exodus that we first encounter the noun Sabbath used as the name of the seventh day: "Six days shall you gather it; on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none" (Ex. 16:26).

This nomenclature for the days of the week has been used in Jewish tradition for generations. It appears in the writings of the Sages and the rest of our extensive body of literature. Unexpectedly, seventy years ago, when the Hebrew language was being revived, the subject of these names came up for discussion, with certain people calling for changing the existing nomenclature and instituting other names. In 1928 a person by the name of Wohlman wrote a letter to the editors of Ketuvim,[2] a Hebrew weekly, as follows:

The lack of explicit names for the days of the week is sorely felt in spoken Hebrew in Israel. In the language as it is spoken at home and in the marketplace, and especially among school children, there is a sense of considerable alienation in the collocation of words used to define the day of the week.[3] Would it not be wise for the Academy of the Hebrew Language in the Land of Israel to look into this question and perhaps set special, short names for all the days of the week, the same as we have the more concise name Shabbat?

Apparently this question was addressed to the editors in the context of other nations having names for the days of the week which, in the writer's opinion, reflected a more enlightened name that was both shorter and conveyed more content. In contrast he felt that the Hebrew names, yom rishon (Sunday, literally "the first day"), yom sheni (Monday, literally "the second day"), yom shelishi (Tuesay, "the third day") were primitive, consisting of two separate words combined to form a single name which, all in all, denoted nothing more than a number. Responses to Wohlman's letter were not slow in coming. The newspapers of the times[4] and various periodicals indicate the scope and importance of the discussion at that time, and reflect the numerous suggestions that were made both by scholars and the general public.

Below we present six different suggestions, each proposing to replace the "complicated" and "complex" name of each day of the week with a name in one word.

1) Zeev Javetz (1847-1924), writer, historian, and active contributor to the Academy of the Hebrew Language, proposed calling the names of the week according to the things made on the six primordial days of creation. His proposal was based on the seven names that Queen Esther gave her seven maidens in waiting, so that she not forget when it was the Sabbath. The Aramaic translation renders Esther 2:9 - "The girl pleased him and won his favor, and he hastened to furnish her with her cosmetics and her rations, as well as with the seven maids who were her due from the king's palace; and he treated her and her maids with special kindness in the harem" - as follows: "... and her seven maids to wait on her the seven days of the week - Hulta waited on her on the first day of the week, Rok'ita on the second day, Genuneita on the third day, Nehorita on the fourth day, Rohashita on the fifth day, Hurpita on the sixth day, and Rego'ita on the Sabbath." Inspired by the Targum, Javetz proposed the following names of the week: Hulta for Sunday, Rok'ita for Monday, Genuneita for Tuesday, Nehorita for Wednesay, Rohashita for Thursday, Hurpita for Friday, and Rego'ita for Saturday. Another variation (Hebraizing the Aramaic) was Hultit, Rok'it, Genunit, Nehorit, Rohashit, Hurpit and Rego'it.

2) Joseph Klausner (1874-1958), literary scholar and historian, active in reviving the Hebrew language, proposed the audacious idea of naming the days of the week after the planets, as in Roman parlance and in several European languages by which he had been influenced.[5] His proposal was to combine the Hebrew names of the planets with the particle yom, eliding the y: Sunday = Shimshom (day of shemesh, the sun); Monday = Yarhom (day of yar'eah, the moon); Tuesday = Ma'adimom (Ma'adim or Mars day); Wednesday = Kokhavom (Kokhav or Mercury day);[6] Thursday = Tzidkom (after Tzedek, Jupiter); Friday = Noghom (after Noga, or Venus). Saturday would remain Shabbat, since that name recalled Shabtai, the Hebrew name for Saturn.

3) K. Sillman suggested names based on the days of Creation, according to Jewish tradition:[7] Sunday = Holyom, meaning the first workday (yom hol) after the Sabbath; Monday = Shemayom or Zivyom after the heavens (shamayim) or their brilliance (ziv) that was created on this day; Tuesday = Tovyom, since it says that the Lord saw it was good (tov) twice on this day; Wednesday = Oryom, after the heavenly bodies (meorot) that were created on this day; Thursday = Hayyom after the first living things (hayyim) that were created on this day, or alternatively Ofyom after the birds (of) that were created on this day; Friday = Ishyom or Kelilyom after the creation of man (ish), the acme of Creation (kelil ha-beriah), made on this day - the day the Lord completed His work. Shabbat, he believed, should remain the name for the seventh day and not be replaced by another name.[8]

4) Tzvi Har-Zahav, a linguist, sharply criticized the proposals, calling them infantile.[9] Among his arguments, he wrote: "We have no need of new names for the days of the week, nor are we entitled to eliminate the names that have been accepted usage for hundreds of generations and are substantiated in our Torah, suddenly replacing them with new names." Yet he himself could not refrain from adding that if there are, nevertheless, people who cannot make their peace with the current situation, then he had two proposals of his own to set their minds at ease. According to him, his suggestions accorded with the Jewish spirit and sense of the language, at the same time preserving a reference to the ancient names. His first proposal was based on the Aramaic form of the Hebrew word Shabbat which is shab or shabba,[10] the days being called had be-shabba (one of the week), trei be-shabba (two of the week), etc. Accordingly, Har-Zahav proposed the following names, using the Hebrew numbers: Sunday = Hadshav; Monday = Shneishav, Tuesday = Shloshav, Wednesday = Revashav; Thursday = Hamishav; Friday = Shishav; and Saturday would remain Shabbat. Another suggestion of his was to add the ordinal numbers (instead of cardinal numbers) to the particle shav, yielding the following names for the days of the week: Rishonshav, Shenishav, Shelishishav, Revi'ishav, Hamishishav, Shishishav, and Shabbat.

6) A person by the name of P. Shifman wrote a letter to the editors of Ketuvim,[11] suggesting that the two components of the names of the week be melded together to a single word. Accordingly, Sunday would be Rishyom; Monday, Sheniyom; Tuesday, Shaloshyom; Wednesday, Revi'yom; Thursday, Hamishiyom; Friday, Sheshyom; and Saturday would remain Shabbat.

Today when we consider the massive preoccupation with the names of the week, we cannot be other than amazed at the large number of suggestions that were made, considering the context of the times, an era of fighting doggedly to revive the Hebrew language. This was well-put by Tzvi Har-Zahav, who wrote in his critique, "All of a sudden there emerged certain authors whose sense of aesthetics was offended by the ancient names and who specifically wanted new names! For the old names were too long for them."[12] It must be remembered that one of the more challenging difficulties faced by those who wished to revive the Hebrew language was the dire lack of basic vocabulary and terminology to express the concepts needed in daily life.[13] There is evidence from that era of writers complaining about the lack of words to express their ideas. For example, the author Y.A. Broides wrote:

The Hebrew language is quite inadequate for expressing all that we feel. With a language whose words are numbered and few, a person who sets out to write stories in a language of the past will feel this lack most sorely: for a single word will sometimes denote an entire quality, and such a word or even concept might not exist in that language.[14]

The lack of vocabulary was felt not only by writers and publicists, but also by the common person who wished to hold a simple every-day conversation in the language. Ben-Yehudah (1858-1922) remarked on this: "Especially a person like myself, who speaks Hebrew at home with his children, talking about all sorts of things in our lives, feels the lack of words at every turn, words without which there can be no living spoken language."[15]

Given the context as described here, it is hard to understand how people renewing Jewish settlement in Israel found time to address themselves to trifling matters, putting forward proposals for changing existing names with new ones, instead of devoting the same effort in other positive directions, promoting the development of the Hebrew language. What started with a loud uproar, fortunately for us, ended very quietly. All the proposals were summarily rejected, especially the far-reaching one that would have replaced Shabbat with another name.

Har Zahav himself actually raised a long list of questions and wonderment at some of the proposals, arguing that they were not worthy of acceptance primarily from an ideological and linguistic point of view. Among his comments was the following: "We see that the names that have been proposed, aside from being unnecessary, are not worthy of us also by reason of sounding foreign and strange, not to our liking at all, and also because they do not stand up to Hebrew etymology."[16] For example, in Klausner's proposal of Shimshom and Yarhom, etc., there was no etymological reason for eliding the letter yod in the word yom, day. Furthermore, logically yom should have been the construct, appearing at the beginning of the word, not the end; e.g., yomshemesh ("day of the sun"), yomyareah ("day of the moon"), etc. This criticism also applies to Shifman's proposal of Rishyom, Sheniyom, Shaloshyom, etc. Furthermore, this proposal mixed cardinal and ordinal numbers, Shaloshyom being based on the cardinal and Hamishiyom, for example, on the ordinal.[17]

In our opinion, all these proposals were rejected not only due to linguistic and other similar considerations, but due to recognition of the fact that Hebrew is different in its conception of the days of the week from other languages. In contrast to other nations, we have one day of the week that is of paramount importance - the Sabbath, all the other days being plain weekdays, identified by their proximity to the Sabbath.[18] Each day, before reciting the daily psalm, we say, "This is the first day after the Sabbath, on which the Levites used to recite in the Temple; This is the second day after the Sabbath," etc. In other words, the Sabbath stands at the center, radiating its sanctity and light to all the days of the week. The Sabbath symbolizes the sign of the covenant between the Jews and the Lord, and its praises were sung by the Sages, calling it "a sort of World to Come" (Berakhot 57b); "a lovely gift" that the Holy One, blessed be He, stored in his treasure house to give to Israel (Shabbat 10b). Since it is one of the mainstays of Judaism, the entire essence of the Jew should be different on the Sabbath. Therefore we were commanded, "your dress on the Sabbath should not be like your dress for the weekday; your ways on the Sabbath should not be like your ways on the weekday," etc. (Shabbat 113a). Calling the days of the week by ordinal numbers emphasizes the Sabbath in two ways: The days of the week are different because only the Sabbath is actually named; they are called in relation to the Sabbath to which they lead up and to which they are subordinate.

We conclude with two out of many legends emphasizing the special quality of the Sabbath, distinguishing it from other days of the week:

And G-d blessed the seventh day and declared it holy (Gen. 2:3) - He blessed it with the light on the countenance of Man, and sanctified it with the light on the countenance of Man. For the light on a man's face throughout the week is not like the light on his countenance on the Sabbath. (Genesis Rabbah 11)

I am dark, but comely (Song 1:5) - I (the House of Israel) am dark all the days of the week, but comely on the Sabbath. (Song of Songs Rabbah 1)

If we are conceived as being different and special on the Sabbath, it is fitting that the days of the week be called differently as well.

[1] Save for the first day, which is referred to in Genesis as yom ehad, one day, not yom rishon, the first day. (We cited the JPS translation "a first day" but see the note there) Abarbanel remarks on this at the end of his eighth question in the list of questions with which he begins his commentary on Genesis. Also see Rabbi Meir Simhah of Dvinsk, Meshekh Hokhmah al Hamishah Humshei Torah, New Revised Edition, 1996, p. 1.
[2] No. 6 (Oct. 25, 1928).
[3] Referring to the Hebrew formulation for Sunday as yom aleph ("day one"), Monday as yom bet ("day two"), etc.
[4] I would like to thank my friend, the librarian Avi Hod, of the central library at Bar Ilan University, for his help in locating microfilms of the newspapers.
[5] Joseph Klausner, "Ha-Shemot shel Yemot ha-Shavua be-Ivrit," Leshonenu, vol. 1 (1929), pp. 317-319.
[6] Cf. the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.6: "and he who throws a stone at Mercury."
[7] This idea was brought up earlier by Y. L. Wohlman (see note 2, above), however he suggested naming the days of the week according to their function in the history of Creation without listing explicit names.
[8] Sillman's proposal is presented in the article referenced in note 5, above, and also in S. Bahat, "Milhemet Shimshom be-Holyom," Leshonenu La'am, vol. 42 (1991), pp. 189-190.
[9] Tzvi Har-Zahav, "Yemot ha-Shabbat," in Leshon Dorenu, Tel Aviv, 13th Anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, p. 77.
[10] See the Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 1.16.4; Avodah Zarah 5.44.4.
[11] No. 17, 1929.
[12] See Note 8, above, p. 76.
[13] Uzi Ornan, "Darkhei Hiddush Milim," in Ha-Lashon ha-Ivrit be-Hitpathutah u-ve-Hithadshutah, Israel Academy of Science, Jerusalem 1996, pp. 77-101 (especially pp. 85-86). Ornan lists three reasons for this, the main one being the fact that Hebrew had been only in partial use for hundreds of years, and therefore the shortage of vocabulary had not been felt.
[14] Introduction, Zekenim im Ne'arim, Warsaw 1886.
[15] E. Ben-Yehudah, Milon ha-Lashon ha-Ivrit ha-Yeshanah ve-ha-Hadashah, Jerusalem 1959, Overall Introduction, p. 13.
[16] See note 8, above.
[17] Another reason for replacing the existing names was their length. Therefore, suggestions of names such as Rishonshav, Shenishav, Shelishishav, etc., were no help in solving this problem, since they had no fewer syllables than the current names.
[18] A critique along these lines, from the religious angle, was actually made by the Sages in the Mekhilta (and is cited in Nahmanides' commentary on Ex. 2:8): "Rabbi Isaac says that one should not count the way that others count, but should count for the sake of the Sabbath. This means that the gentiles count the days of the week for their own sake, calling each day by its own name, or after the name of the servants, as do the Christians, or other names that they might use; but Israel counts all the days for the sake of the Sabbath - one day after the Sabbath, the second day after the Sabbath, for this follows from having been commanded to remember it always, every day." I wish to thank Dr. Yossi Ofer, from the Department of Bible, for calling may attention to this source.