Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 18 June 2016 / 12 Sivan 5776

Days or Deities

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Alicia

Dear Rabbi,

I have a question about the Jewish notion of time. We reckon the days by number, 1 through 7, where 1 is Sunday and 7 is Saturday. But most of the world uses names to identify the days of the week. That makes more sense to me. For one, names are more personal than numbers. And secondly, the fact that each day has its own name suggests there’s some unique quality about that day to connect to, which is missed by just calling it a number. Would you please explain this to me? Thanks.

Dear Alicia,

This is a fascinating question, and the answer revolves exactly around what unique quality the names of the week are intended to convey.

Let’s start with the Jewish system for the days of the week.

Ascribing numbers to the days is based on the Torah’s description of Creation, where, after enumerating what Gd created on any given day, the Torah concludes with the phrase, “And it was evening and it was morning day one” (or day 2, or day 3 and so on). Interestingly, the 7th day was not numbered, but rather described by G-d’s desisting from creating — Shabbat.

What this means is that while Jewish sources discuss the unique quality of each day of the week based on its role in Creation and how we can connect to its unique energy, ultimately each day is secondary in importance to the count-up to Shabbat. This is because, while each weekday expresses the proliferation of multiplicity, Shabbat unifies all of Creation into a singular celebration of G-d’s Oneness.

In complete contrast to the Jewish system, the non-Jewish names for the days of the week, insofar as they are based on idolatry, actually celebrate multiplicity, and thereby manifest denial of the Oneness of G-d.

How so?

Ancient astrology viewed 7 heavenly bodies as having an influence over Earth: Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. It was believed that their influence rotated through the 24 hours of a day in cycles of seven, one per hour, such that the first hour of each of the seven days of the week was governed by a different one of these 7 “planets”. Since the ancients worshipped the stars in general, they deified these “planets” as well, and they honored each separate god by naming the days of the week after the god that “governed” it.

Thus, the names of the days of the week in Latin prefixed by dies (day) became: Solis (Sun), Lunae (Moon), Martis (Mars), Mercurii (Mercury), Jovis (Jupiter), Veneris (Venus) and Saturni (Saturn) — which form the basis for the names of the week in the various Romance languages. While English also uses this convention for “Sun’s day”, “Moon’s day” and “Saturn’s day”, the English names for the other days of the week are based on the Norse equivalents of the Latin gods: Mars-Tew — “Tew’s day”; Mercury-Wodin — “Wodin’s day”; Jupiter-Thor — “Thor’s day” and Venus-Frigga — “Frigga’s day”.

Now that you know the “unique qualities” intended by the non-Jewish, idolatrous names for the days of the week, hopefully you’ll reconsider your interest in cultivating a personal connection with them, and, instead, celebrate the unique contribution each day of Creation makes within the count-up toward the proclamation of G-d’s universal unity — Shabbat.

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