Cheshvan is Really M'rachSh'van-Say That Five Times Fast

Who knew? Actually, I knew that the names of the Hebrew months were derived from Babylonian names, and I also knew that there was a controversy over the name of the Hebrew month which follows Tishrei, commonly known as "Cheshvan," or sometimes "MarCheshvan," with various and sundry explanations for the prefix "mar," which means 'bitter,' or could possibly mean 'droplet' as in 'water droplet.'  The common explanation given is that, in the first case of 'mar' meaning 'bitter,' we refer to this month as bitter because there are no holidays in it, and it comes right after the month of Tishrei, chock-full of Holy Days, from Rosh Hashana to Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah (with Yom Kippur and Sukkot in between, to boot).  In the second meaning of 'mar,' meaning a droplet of water, the reference is to the rainy season starting in the month of Cheshvan, which actually is a blessing--one hundred eighty degrees opposed in tone to explanation no. 1!

But here comes a researched article in the Orthodox Union's Jewish Action Magazine (which we used to receive when we were members. I miss it...) which indicates everyone has been wrong, on both sides.  And the real, original name of Cheshvan--can't use this anymore--is M'rachSh'van; a little hard to pronounce, but, hey-we can handle it.  Don't forget to read the entire article, linked above.  Here's an excerpt.
Misconception:  The complete and correct name for the month following Tishrei is Cheshvan, and it is a quaint tradition to call it Mar Cheshvan because it is bitter (Hebrew: mar) due to its lack of holidays.
Fact:  The correct name for this fall month is the one word Marcheshvan/M’rachsh’van1 (Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 126:17).
Background:  The Bible usually refers to the months by their ordinal numbers, although occasional ancient Israelite names are also used.2 The currently used Jewish names for the months were imported from Bavel (Babylonia),3 and many of them appear in post-exilic books of the Bible.4  Some of these are derived from the names of ancient gods, such as Tammuz which is thought to come from the Assyrian Du-mu-zu, an Egyptian god, and is mentioned as the name of an idol in Ezekiel (8:14).5
Marcheshvan is probably derived from its location in the calendar.  In Akkadian (Babylonian/Assyrian), “w” (vav) and “m” (mem) sounds can interchange.  As a result, Marcheshvan which is from the two words “m’rach” and “shvan,” would have been “warh” and “shman,” in Akkadian, corresponding to the Hebrew “yerech shmini,” thus “eighth month.”6  In the Yemenite tradition, the name of the month is pronounced Marach-sha’wan, not Mar-cheshvan as in the Ashkenazic tradition, and this would seem to preserve a greater fidelity to the original.
Oh, and read about the interesting customs which grew up around the erroneous explanations, such as not getting married in MARCheshvan, because it's a bitter month. 

Our 44th anniversary is coming up soon.  Guess we missed that memo...


the sabra said…
ha!! how wacky!!
Batya said…
Let's suffice with mazaltov on your anniversary. 44 years, that's longer than us by a few months. We'll be 44 in Sivan.

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