As I have always freely admitted, I am not a Talmudic scholar, but for this book, I am doing my best to read and understand the appropriate parts of the Talmud. The more I read, the more I fall under the charm of this vast book. Come to think of it, it’s not just a book. It’s more like an early version of the Internet in the idea, often expressed by great scholars, that no matter where you start studying the Talmud, you are at the beginning… a mysterious, charming, and playful idea
that can lure any unsuspecting reader into a new adventure of a life-long study.
This is most appropriate for dealing with the New Year. What other source would tell you, with a straight face, that any given year starts four times? And yet, here is the quotation; you can’t make a thing like this up. The names of the months mentioned are, of course, the Hebrew months, but don’t let that trick you into thinking you can’t apply it to the normal calendar…
“There are four new years. On the first of Nisan is New Year for kings and for festivals. On the first of Elul is New Year for the tithe of cattle. Rabbi Eleazar and Rabbi Simeon, however, place this on the first of Tishri. On the first of Tishri is New Year for years, for release and jubilee years, for plantation and for the tithe of vegetables. On the first of Shevat is New Year for trees, according to the ruling of Beth Shammai; Beth Hillel, however, place it on the fifteenth of that Month.”
The rabbis encouraged participation by their students, and loved questions and even arguments. So, as their new student, I will say, “Dear Rabbis, since we are so inclusive, let us allow the current New Year to join the fold. And please wish us all a wonderful 2013. We had a very brutal, painful 2012 and we badly need a simple, healthy, prosperous and joyful year to heal the wounds.” To which request another interesting quotation might represent an answer, Talmud style.
“Rabbi Zebid said: If the first day of the New Year is warm, all the year will be warm; if cold, all the year will be cold.” Of course Rabbi Zebid did not refer only to the weather… the statement means we must have a loving, warm, happy day of celebration, followed by a string of 365 pleasant days. And so Hillel and I say, Happy New Year, everyone!