Modern Jewish practice presumes that Rosh Hashanah is our Jewish New Year. This is always celebrated in the Jewish month of Tishri. As previously discussed, this occurs in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. You may be wondering, “Why is New Years in the middle of the year?” To understand this, one must identify that the Jewish calendar is quite different from the norm. Throughout the Western world, the solar calendar is used. (Although our years are based upon a liturgical calendar that count years “from the incarnation.” Mohammedans reckon a lunar month and year according to the moon. The Jewish calendar is a compromise between the two.
Jews have twelve months of 29 1/2 days calculated by the moon, yet the year is reckoned by the sun.
This leaves our Jewish calendar with an extra eleven days to take up annually. We adjust for this with a Leap year. Every second or third year (7 in every 19 years) we have a thirteenth month that is known as the second Adar.
Are We Party Animals?
Why are the New Year and many other Jewish holidays two days long? It is not because we desire to stretch out the celebration. Rather, we are trying to insure obedience to Scripture.
The problem with a lunar calendar is that it becomes hard to be certain when the “New Moon” was correctly identified. In ancient times, witnesses were used and fires were lit on the tops of hills to notify the people, but the ultimate authority was vested in the Sanhedrin. To insure that the important holidays were accurately observed, a second day was added to many holidays in the Diaspora (outside of Israel). New Years is the only holiday observed for two days in Israel and throughout the Diaspora. This is because it falls on Rosh Chodesh (new moon) and it is difficult to figure if it is last day of Elul (6th month of Jewish calendar) or the first day of Tishri because the holiday falls on a New Moon. Yom Kippur was limited to one day due to the hardship of fasting.
How Many Jewish New Years?
How many New Years are recognized by most observant Jews? There was a debate in the Talmud: Was the world created in Nisan, spring, or in Tishri, fall? The Talmud settled it “You’re both right.” Actually, there are four New Years.
1.) Nisan is the New Year for determining the reign of kings and the actual biblical first month. God clearly decreed that Nisan (Ex. 12:2) is the first month of the “biblical religious calendar.” This is when we celebrate Passover and the Exodus.
2.) Elul is the New Year for tithing animals.
3.) Shevat is the New Year for trees with the joyous celebration known as Tu Bishvat.
4.) Tishri is the New Year for years marking the anniversary of the creation of the world. (In 1997, Erev Rosh Hashonah is celebrated on the evening of October 2, which inaugurates the Jewish year 5758.)
Three Distinctions in the Liturgy
In modern practice, three principal sections of the liturgy have been developed which make our lovely Rosh Hashonah services distinctive.
malchiyot -- kingship
shofarot--the sounding of ram’s horn.
The first of these important concepts, malchiyot, teaches Jewish worshippers about the majesty and oneness of our God—King of the Universe. The second, zichronos--remembrance, reminds us of God as creator and judge who is in covenant relationship with us. Shofarot, gives the blessed hope of our Deliverer, who will come and redeem us as promised.
Hence, the Messiah is a very important aspect of our celebration. When we hear the sound of the shofar--a ram’s horn, we think of the great trumpet blast that will usher in the Messiah. To gain a mental visual, think about Gabriel blowing his horn when the saints go marching in.