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Nowruz: The Youngest Of New Era Calendars – OpEd


Over 200 million people in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Iraq will be welcoming the start of the year 1398 by celebrating Persian New Year – Nowruz. In the Christian calendar the year is 2019, in the Islamic calendar it is 1440 and in the Jewish calendar it it 5779.

This is because the three Abrahamic religions start their calendar epoch from three very different events; and that will never change because the events are central to the each religion’s being.

Christians know their calendar starts from the birth of Jesus. Muslims know the Muslim calendar begins with the flight of Muhammad from Makka to Medina.

But most Jews  would be hard pressed  to explain what happened  5,779 years ago to start the Jewish calendar.

By analogy to the Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist calendars (Buddhists know that their calendar starts with the enlightenment of Siddhartha under a Bodhi tree) one might expect that the Jewish calendar starts with the birth of Abraham or Sarah (the first Jewish couple), or from the Exodus from Egypt (the trans-formative experience of the Jewish people), or from the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai (the enlightenment of the Jewish people).

But the second century Rabbis who made up the calendar Jews currently use, chose to begin with Adam and Eve i.e. the beginning of human civilization.

The word Adam in Hebrew means  mankind/Homo Sapiens– the species. The exit of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden symbolize’s the transition of humanity from a largely nomadic stone age  society of hunter-gatherers to a more advanced metal working bronze age society of farmers and village dwellers.

By starting the Jewish calendar with a historical transition that would have  a universal impact on all of human society, the second century rabbis followed the lead of the Torah which begins not with Judaism but with urban civilization and recorded history.

All historical dates will fit into the Jewish calendar. In 3700 BCE, the first century of the Jewish calendar, researchers recently concluded (Science News 9/21/13) Egypt started to evolve from a migrating population of cattle owners to a farming community of villages and a centralized state.

The earliest writing comes from the Mesopotamian city of Uruk (Genesis 10:10) and dates to about 5,400-5,300 years ago i.e. the 3rd or 4th  century of the Jewish calendar. The development of writing in Egypt around 3200 BCE was in the 5th century of Jewish calendar. The first dynasty in Egypt arose in the 7th century of the Jewish calendar and the first stone pyramid in the 10th century.  

Abraham was not born till the 21th century of the Jewish calendar. It is only in the generations after Abraham that Biblical history begins to focus on the religious development of one specific people.

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Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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