The Jewish and Muslim New Year will fall on the same day, or days this year; from September 20 at sunset to September 21 when it gets dark. This is not surprising since both Islam and Judaism use a lunar calendar, which begins with the first day sighting of the new moon.
However the Jewish calendar adjusts the lunar calendar with an extra month 7 times during the cycle of every 19 years, to keep it in sync with the solar calendar. Muslims do not do this. The two religious New Years will fall on the same solar calendar day, or days, next year but not the following year as that year is one of the seven leap month years.
The reason I have said ‘day or days’ is the same for both Islam and Judaism. Both religions not only use a lunar calendar but also follow the ancient practice of declaring the New Year based on the first day sighting of the new moon in Jerusalem (Judaism) or Mecca (Islam).
However, since clouds in those locations may obscure the sighting on the new moon’s crescent, and since both religions have become world wide faiths it is customary for some religious groups within each religion to observe the New Year based on astronomical calculation evidence rather than the traditional visual evidence.
According to the Jewish Calendar this will be the year 5778 CE in the Jewish Calendar era. In the Islamic Calendar era this will be the year 1439 AH. The letters following the numbers indicate how many years since the era’s starting date.
There have been many calendars that were established to mark a new dynastic (political) era, but they all disappeared after a few centuries when the governing dynasty died out.
Religious calendars are different because major religions last much longer than political governments, and so their (spiritual) turning points are much more important and permanent.
The Christian calendar starts with the birth of Jesus. The Buddhist calendar starts with the enlightenment of Gautama Buddha. The Muslim calendar starts with the emigration of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina. So you might think that the Jewish calendar would also start with a very important event in early Jewish history.
If you did think so; you would be wrong. The Jewish calendar doesn’t start with the birth of Abraham or with the Exodus from Egypt or even with the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai. It starts with Adam and Eve. But why does the Jewish calendar start so many centuries prior to the birth of Judaism and the Jewish People?
The rabbis in the third or fourth century who originated the current calendar did so to replace the non-Jewish calendar that the Jews had been using for the previous six centuries. That calendar started with the death of Alexander in 323 B.C.E. and was the first calendar in the world to record events over many centuries using just one fixed starting point.
The rabbis based their calendar on a second century book of Jewish chronology written by Rabbi Yosi ben Halafta who followed the example of Genesis and began with Adam and Eve. So why does the Bible start with Adam and Eve rather than Abraham?
Because in the Biblical view, God is the creator of all humans and the one God of all historical nations. The Jewish calendar thus records the chronology of all the generations of written historical civilizations. Everything prior to 58 centuries ago is pre-history.
The first dynasty in Egypt arose in the seventh century of the Jewish calendar. The current era of the Hindu calendar, the Age of Kali, also began in the seventh century of the Jewish calendar. The oldest astronomical calendar in the world, the Mayan calendar, starts from the middle of the first century in the Jewish calendar. Thus all ancient calendars fit within the Jewish Bible based calendar.
By beginning the Jewish calendar with Adam and Eve, rather than some important event in their own religion, the rabbis emphasized that the one God of Israel; was the one God of all humanity. The rabbis also equated human history with urban civilization and writing. All written references to human events in the archeological records of the earliest civilizations can be dated within the Jewish calendar.
There is no before Adam from a historical point of view, only an after. If one understands that Adam and Eve mark the beginning of historical humanity rather than the beginning of biological humanity; much of the present day conflict over human evolution verses Adam and Eve disappears.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the next two years of a united Islamic and Jewish calendar produced United Jews and Muslims.
Rabbi Maller's website is: www.rabbimaller.com. His new book ‘Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi's Reflections on the Profound Connectedness of Islam and Judaism’ (a collection of 31 articles by Rabbi Maller previously published by Islamic web sites) is now for sale ($15) on Amazon.