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The Four Jewish New Years

Renee Eder on Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Rosh Hashanah (or the anniversary of the creation of the world) is a time when Jewish people reflect on their actions and try to make amends with each other and G-d.  It is the most famous of the Jewish new years celebrations, but what many don't realize is that it is one of four times we celebrate the Jewish New Year throughout the year.

In ancient times, as the body of Jewish law was developed, the Jewish calendar served to demarcate both holiday observances and numerous time-bound obligations. To ensure that certain commandments were completed at their appointed times, four different Jewish new years were established to provide boundaries and markers for these activities.  Below is a brief description of each (research from National Jewish Outreach Program (now NJOP)):

  • 1st of Nisan: The first new year is the 1st of the Hebrew month of Nisan, usually in the early spring (April). While Rosh Hashanah is seen as the anniversary of the creation of the world, the 1st of Nisan is seen in a way as the anniversary of the founding of the Jewish people when they escaped from Egypt during the Passover story.
  • 1st of Elul: The second new year is on the 1st of Elul, the sixth month of the Hebrew calendar which usually falls in the late summer (August). In ancient times, this was the new year for animal tithes, or the start date for the animal tithe to the priestly class in ancient Israel (similar to how we use April 15th in the US as tax day). Generally this new year is no longer observed, although the month of Elul does mark the beginning of preparations for Rosh Hashanah.
  • 1st of Tishrei: Tishrei is the seventh month of the Jewish year, and the first of Tishrei is the holiday of Rosh Hashana, which is the new year of the calendar by which Jews calculate the year. The year’s assigned number is calculated from the creation of Adam. Rosh Hashana is also the New Year when a person’s behavior is judged by the Heavenly courts. 
  • 15th of Shevat: Tu B’Shevat is a rabbinical, not biblical holiday, that is often referred to as the New Year for trees. On Tu B’Shevat, there is a widespread custom to eat the seven species by which the land of Israel is praised, including figs, dates, pomegranates, olives, grapes, wheat, and barley. Some Jewish people even get together to eat a special meal on Tu B’Shevat, called a Tu B’Shevat Seder.

Whether you celebrate New Years once a year on Rosh Hashana, only on the secular new year, or all four times, as described, we wish everyone a happy and healthy year!  

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