The Jewish New Years —Collect Them All!
We’re about to celebrate Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. But did you know that according to Jewish tradition, there are really four new years?
In the Bible, the new year comes in the spring, in the month of Nisan. This is why the Bible says that the Feast of Trumpets (today called Rosh Hashana) and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, take place in the seventh month. Since Nisan is also the month in which we celebrate Passover, it’s essentially the new year, or the birthday, of the Jewish people —the month in which we were redeemed from slavery to become God’s people.
A second new year is in the month of Elul. This marked the new year for tithing cattle. It’s not really observed any longer. Most Jews don’t own cattle these days, anyway.
The third new year is the in the month of Tishrei, which begins in 2014 on the evening of September 24. This is the new year of creation, since traditionally the calendar turns marking the number of years since God created the universe. This upcoming new year is number 5775.
And the fourth new year is in the month of Shevat, falling in January or February. This is the new year for trees, and has to do with figuring out how old a tree is before you can eat its fruit. The fifteenth of this month, Tu B’Shevat, has become a kind of Jewish Earth Day.
Each new year centers around something different: the Jewish people, animals, Creation, and all of nature. Or to reduce them to two: nature, and humanity (of which the Jewish people are a part).
What do they have in common? God created people, and he created nature.
What else do they have in common? They are both broken, not the way God intended them to be. Our planet was created as a good place, but now it has some serious issues as we contemplate how our actions have affected the environment, both animate and inanimate. And people (that’s us!) were also created good, but we have some issues, too. Terrorism, spouse abuse, road rage … not the way it was meant to be. That’s one reason we think about our sin and the need to repent in this season.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a fifth new year? One in which all the brokenness and pain of the world was healed and made the way it originally came from God’s hand?
There is a fifth Jewish new year. Most people don’t celebrate it because it can fall on any day of the year, in any month. It’s the day when someone repents of their sins, trusts Yeshua the Jewish Messiah as their atonement, and begins a lifelong journey of healing and reconciliation with God, with one another, and with nature. The Bible says, “If anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”*
Check out our section on How to Know God. Whether it’s the month of Tishrei, Nisan, Elul or Shevat—or any other time—you can celebrate a new year in Yeshua. L’shana tovah—Happy New Year!
*From the New Testament, Paul’s second letter to the congregation in Corinth, chapter 5 verse 17.
Scholar in Residence, Missionary
Rich Robinson is a veteran missionary and senior researcher at the San Francisco headquarters of Jews for Jesus. Rich has written several books on Jewishness and Jesus, and he received his Ph.D. in biblical studies and hermeneutics from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1993.