When is the New Year?
Understanding the Text:
What are the four new years mentioned? What do they each mark? According to this mishna is any one of these new years more important than the other? How do you know?
Considering the Impact of the Text:
What does the idea of celebrating four different new years mean to you? How does this impact the way you think about how you personally mark time? How the Jewish people marks time? What meaning might each of these new years have for you personally?
Understanding the Text: Which month is the 7th month of the Jewish calendar? What celebration is this text referring to? How does it describe the holiday? Is there anything that surprises you about this?
Considering the Impact of the Text: Does it surprise you that the bible makes no mention of this holiday as being "Rosh Hashanah"? This one of the only mentions of Rosh Hashanah in the bible and none offer more description of the holiday or its significance - what do you make of that?
Understanding the Text: This passage is referring to the month of Nisan (the month of Passover and the Exodus)
Considering the Impact of the Text: The mishna we read above tells us that the new year for years is Rosh Hashanah, what does it mean that the bible instructs us to start counting months in Nisan? Why do you think the mishna places the start of the "year" in Tishrei, but the bible marks the starting of months in Nisan?
Nisan vs. Tishrei: Which Should be the real New Year?
Understanding the Text: Which rabbi favors which new year? What are their proofs? Does the text indicate who is "right"?
Considering the Impact of the Text: Which rabbi's argument is most appealing to you and why? What do you think is at stake in this argument? How does this debate impact the way you think about Rosh Hashanah?
Wait...How Can We Have More Than One New Year?
Ismar Schorsch (former Chancellor of JTS) on Parashat Tzav
...The existence of two new years, then, echoes the long-forgotten debate of R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua. What united them is that neither rabbi called for the adoption of a calendar with but a single new year. They argued over which was primary and which secondary. To its credit, Judaism incorporated both. The newer holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur did not overwhelm the older pilgrimage festival of Passover. Together, both sacred seasons express the fullness of human need. In the spring, we join with family and friends to celebrate the rebirth of our people. Nature and history converge in a burst of new vigor, hope and creativity. We have a need to belong, to attach our lives to something greater and more lasting than ourselves, to find meaning beyond the self.
But the self is not to be denied. It must find some sacred solitude within the totality of community and peoplehood. And so we gather again in the fall against the backdrop of a natural world that is beginning to wither in order to contemplate what the passage of time means in our own lives.
As in so many other areas, Judaism strives for balance, keeping polarities in creative tension. The phenomenon of two new years, focused on the nation and the individual and promoting the values of particularism and universalism, is not an isolated instance. Judaism offers an unending dialectic between polarities such as priest and prophet, law and psalmody, a written Torah and an oral one-- or better yet, a canon without closure, halakkah and aggadah, rationalism and mysticism and the centrality of the land of Israel and the accommodation to life in exile. In sum, Judaism is a glorious prism that refracts God's light in a rainbow of human expressions.
Understanding the Text: How does Rabbi Schorsch help us understand what it means to live with two new years? Can you explain what he means by the New Year of Nisan being focused on the particular and the Rosh Hashanah in Tishrei focusing on the Universal?
Considering the Impact of the Text: How do you find resonance in having two New Years so central to Jewish life, and four new years described in the totality of our tradition? What meaning do you give to Nisan vs Tishrei? How will this new insight impact your holidays this year?