January 1, 2016
Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, January 1, 2016.
Happy New Year! Wait a minute. Is it OK for Jews to celebrate the secular New Year? This Erev Shabbat is January 1, therefore part of New Year’s Day. How many New Year’s do we celebrate?
Truthfully, we celebrate MANY New Years. Even within the Jewish tradition, we celebrate FOUR New Years, all of them outlined in the Mishna, the book of Jewish Law edited around the year 200 CE:
- 1 Tishre in the fall. This is the New Year we call Rosh Hashanah, the Head of the year. It’s not actually called “New Year” in the Torah, but, rather, “The Day of the Sounding of Horns.” It’s the New Year which commemorates the Creation of the World – so the age of the world is calculated on that date. [According to tradition, last Rosh Hashanah was the 5,776th anniversary of the creation of the world! It’s also the “New Year” on which they calculated certain taxes, and the marked the Sabbatical and Jubilee years.
- 15 Shevat in the winter. (See more information about this in the upcoming January 22 Shabbat Shalom Message.) This is the New Year of the Trees. It’s the “New Year” on which we calculate the age of trees (Important in figuring out when we can eat certain fruit and in calculating certain agricultural taxes). It’s also a day for planting trees, making it “Jewish Arbor Day.”
- 1 Nisan in the spring. This is the anniversary of the Exodus redemption from Egypt, and therefore the birth of the Israelite Nation. It’s the source of calculating the cycle of the festivals, the reign of kings, and taxes for the Temple. In fact, it is the only month that is mentioned in the Torah to be specifically observed as a commandment: “This month is for you the beginning of the months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.” (Exodus 12:2) In fact, this is the first of the Torah’s 613 commandments that is specifically addressed to Jews, and not to all of humanity like some of the other commandments, such as “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” Passover is observed on the 15th of this month at the full moon.
- 1 Elul in the summer. This is the New Year on which they calculated the age of livestock, and therefore the amount of cattle tithed as taxes.
But that’s not all, is it? We are a people in diaspora. We celebrate other New Years, don’t we? The school year starts in the fall, and we calculate what grade children are in at school, and we start the cycle of classes in all educational institutions. April 15 is the date of the tax year, and the deadline for taxes in America. July 4 is the anniversary of the creation of our country – we observe that every year too, though we don’t usually think of it as the New Year that it is. And there are other years, too. When I lived in China, Chinese New Year was a big deal for everyone. Then, of course, our birthdays are a kind of New Year. And our Yahrtzeits – the anniversary of the deaths of loved ones. All of these are New Years. Our fiscal system and the beginning of the year in our appointment books and in our iPhones start today, January 1.
So... Happy New Year and Shabbat Shalom.