How Many Jewish New Years?

In ancient times there were four new years on the Jewish calendar.

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The 15th of Shevat has become a minor holiday, Tu Bishevat. On this day, it is customary to eat, for the first time, a fruit from the new season, particularly one typical of the Land of Israel, and to say the Shehecheyanu blessing. In Ashkenazi communities in Europe, it was customary to eat 15 different kinds of fruits. The Sephardic mystics of Safed in the 16th century expanded the Tu Bishevat observance with a seder that uses the symbolism of fruit with and without shells to enact the process of opening up to God's holiness. In modern Israel, Tu Bishevat has come to symbolize the redemption of the land and the awakening of environmental awareness through the planting of trees.

1 Nisan

matzahThe third Jewish new year is 1 Nisan, which corresponds to the season of the redemption from Egypt and the birth of the Israelite nation. This particularistic national event defines the nature of the New Year celebrated on 1 Nisan. The Torah's command that "this month [Nisan] is for you the beginning of the months, it shall be the first month of the year to you" tied all counting of Jewish religious festivals to the Exodus from Egypt, and this special religious counting system distinguished Israel from other nations.

The first of Nisan is also the New Year for the reigns of Jewish kings (in line with the national emphasis of the season), the renting of houses, and the counting involved in the prohibition against delaying the fulfillment of vows. When a person vows to dedicate an object to the Sanctuary, he must fulfill the vow before three festivals, beginning with Passover, have passed. 1 Nisan is also the due date for using the half-shekel contribution described on Shabbat Shekalim to purchase communal sacrifices for the Temple.

1 Elul

cattleThe last new year, 1 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 1 Elul one year and the next.

 

 

 

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Michele Alperin is a freelance writer in Princeton, New Jersey. She has a masters degree in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary.