Happy New Year or Happy New Years?

by Eytan Oren, M.A.T.

As the Gregorian calendar turns over to January 2021, I have been reflecting on new beginnings and the markers we set to measure school, work, home, food, and religion. The Jewish calendar mentions 4 distinct dates that count as a marker for a “New Year.” Knowing that time is an unending flow, the Sages worked to set a calendar, eventually specifying the 4 new years. These time-bound observances ensure that certain mitzvot are completed at their appropriate times, but also so that we could all stop and appreciate the world around us. The four Jewish new years specified in the Mishnah are the 1st of Tishri, 15th of Shevat, 1st of Nisan, and 1st of Elul .

The 1st of Tishrei, also known as Rosh Hashanah, is considered “the head of the year.” It is considered the New Year for the civil calendar, or “the new year for seasons.” Many things begin counting their new year on the 1st of Tishrei; measuring the reign of a foreign monarch, figuring the yearly tithe, and multiple agricultural items like the Sabbatical year and Jubilee year.

The Jewish calendar just entered the month of Shevat, and we are gearing up for Tu B’Shevat (the 15th of Shevat), the New Year for trees. Most Jewish sources consider the 15th of Shevat as the New Year both for deciding if fruits are old enough to eat (it is forbidden to eat fruit having grown during the first three years after a tree’s planting) and for separating fruits for tithing. This date was selected “because most of the winter rains are over,” the sap has begun to rise, and the fruit has started to ripen.

The third Jewish New Year is the 1st of Nisan, which corresponds to the season of the redemption from Egypt, as Nisan is the month in which Pesach (Passover) occurs. The Torah commands that “this month [Nisan] is for you the beginning of the months, it shall be the first month of the year to you.” Other things that begin their yearly counting on the 1st of Nisan include the reigns of Jewish monarchs, the renting of houses, and the counting involved in the fulfillment (or delay of fulfillment) of vows.

The last new year, the 1st of Elul, is the New Year for the tithing of cattle. The tithe for cattle had to be made from cattle born in the same fiscal year, between the 1st of Elul one year and the next.

As you can see, Judaism has separate occasions to mark new beginnings for work, home, food, religion, and more. As 2021 continues on, I hope we all reflect the Jewish model and take note of the various segments of our lives and commemorate important moments. As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

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