For us Red Sea Pedestrians, today is New Year’s Day: the first day of Nisan, the first month of the year.
Wait, what? What about all that foofaraw in September... that Rosh Hashanah thing? Isn’t that the Jewish New Year?
Well, yes. It is, indeed. As it happens, in Jewish tradition, there are actually four different New Years, falling on 1 Tishrei, 1 Nisan, 15 Shevat, and 1 Elul. (Those are names of Hebrew months, if you’re still scratching your head in wonderment.)
- The first of Tishrei (the seventh month) is Rosh Hashanah, the holiday with which many of my Esteemed Reders may already be familiar. It’s the New Year for the Jewish civil calendar, used for counting the number of years (ostensibly) since Creation and for determining the Sabbatical and Jubilee years. It’s also when vegetable and grain tithes were calculated.
- The fifteenth of Shevat, AKA Tu b’Shevat, is the New Year for trees, used to determine whether a tree is old enough (three years minimum) for its fruit to be usable. It is a minor holiday that accumulated some mystical aspects during the 16th century, when the sages of Safed (Tzfat) instituted the practice of having a special Seder meal on Tu b’Shevat involving fruits and nuts with inedible shells or seeds or those that were completely edible, all serving to illustrate an element of the Eternal. (Go figure.) You could call it the Earth Day of the ancient Israelites: Unto this day it carries environmental overtones, probably on account of all those fruits and nuts.
- The first of Elul (the twelfth month) is the New Year for the calculation of animal tithes.
- The first of Nisan (the first month) - today! - marks the beginning of the season of redemption, commemorating the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt - the moment that defined Israel as a nation. As it states in the Torah, “...this month [Nisan] shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.” [Exodus 12:1] It also marks the year used for measuring the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah in ancient times, as well as for the fulfillment of Temple-related vows.
Complicated, huh? Think of them as you would fiscal years, which do not necessarily start when the calendar year begins, and you’re on the right track.
We also get a fifth New Year, the one we all know - the beginning of the Gregorian year. That’s the New Year for writing the wrong date on your checks (assuming you still actually write checks) and for drinking heavily. But that’s a topic for another post.