Four New Years In Jewish Tradition. Why? and Which is the Most Important?
1א

When is the New Year?

2ב

(א) ארבעה ראשי שנים הם.באחד בניסן ראש השנה למלכים ולרגלים.באחד באלול ראש השנה למעשר בהמה.רבי אלעזר ורבי שמעון אומרים, באחד בתשרי .באחד בתשרי ראש השנה לשנים ולשמטין וליובלות, לנטיעה ולירקות.באחד בשבט , ראש השנה לאילן, כדברי בית שמאי.בית הלל אומרים, בחמשה עשר בו.

(1) The four new years are: On the first of Nisan, the new year for the kings and for the festivals; On the first of Elul, the new year for the tithing of animals;in the first of Tishrei. On the first of Tishrei, the new year for years, for the Sabbatical years and for the Jubilee years and for the planting and for the vegetables. On the first of Shevat, the new year for the trees, these are the words of the House of Shammai; The House of Hillel says, on the fifteenth thereof.

3ג

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?

4ד

(כג) וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. (כד) דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם שַׁבָּתוֹן זִכְרוֹן תְּרוּעָה מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ. (כה) כָּל מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם אִשֶּׁה לַה'.

(23) And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:

(24) Speak to the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest to you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation.(25) You shall do no manner of work; and you shall bring an offering made by fire unto the LORD.

5ה

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?

6ו
(א) וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל אַהֲרֹן בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר. (ב) הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה.

(1) And the LORD spoke unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying:(2) ’This month shall be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.

7ז

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?

8ח

Nisan vs. Tishrei: Which Should be the real New Year?

9ט

תניא רבי אליעזר אומר בתשרי נברא העולם בתשרי נולדו אבות בתשרי מתו אבות בפסח נולד יצחק בראש השנה נפקדה שרה רחל וחנה בראש השנה יצא יוסף מבית האסורין

It was taught that Rabbi Eliezer said: "In Tishrei the world was created. In Tishrei the forefathers were born. In Tishrei the forefathers died. During Passover Yitzchak was born. During Rosh Hashanah Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah were remembered. During Rosh Hashanah Joseph left the dungeon."

continuation on next daf
10י

בר"ה בטלה עבודה מאבותינו במצרים בניסן נגאלו בתשרי עתידין ליגאל

ר' יהושע אומר בניסן נברא העולם בניסן נולדו אבות בניסן מתו אבות בפסח נולד יצחק בר"ה נפקדה שרה רחל וחנה בר"ה יצא יוסף מבית האסורין בר"ה בטלה עבודה מאבותינו במצרים בניסן נגאלו בניסן עתידין ליגאל

תניא ר"א אומר מנין שבתשרי נברא העולם שנאמר (בראשית א, יא) ויאמר אלהים תדשא הארץ דשא עשב מזריע זרע עץ פרי איזהו חדש שהארץ מוציאה דשאים ואילן מלא פירות הוי אומר זה תשרי ואותו הפרק זמן רביעה היתה וירדו גשמים וצימחו שנא' (בראשית ב, ו) ואד יעלה מן הארץ

R. Joshua says: In Nisan the world was created; in Nisan the Patriarchs were born; in Nisan the Patriarchs died; on Passover Isaac was born; on Rosh Hashanah Sarah, Rachel and Hannah were visited; on Rosh Hashanah Joseph went forth from prison; on Rosh Hashanah the bondage of our ancestors ceased in Egypt; and in Nisan they will be redeemed in time to come.


‘R. Eliezer says: Whence do we know that the world was created in Tishri? Because it says, And God said, Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree. Which is the month in which the earth puts forth grass and the trees are full of fruit? You must say that this is Tishri. That time was the season of rainfall, and the rain came down and the plants sprouted, as it says, And a mist went up from the earth.

R. Joshua says: Whence do we know that the world was created in Nisan? Because it says, And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree bearing fruit. Which is the month in which the earth is full of grass and trees [begin to] produce fruit? You must say that this is Nisan. That time was the period when cattle, beasts and fowls copulate with one another, as it says, The rains have mounted the sheep, etc.

11יא

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?

12יב

Wait...How Can We Have More Than One New Year?

13יג

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?