Monday, January 7, 2019

Is Today Rosh Hashana?

A quick perusal of the Jewish calendar will note that today, the first of the Hebrew month of Shevat, always falls two weeks prior to Tu B’Shevat, the beginning of the end of the winter, one of the four “New Years” on the Jewish calendar. However, according to one of the greatest rabbis of the Mishnah, today, the first of Shevat, is the New Year for trees, not the 15th of Shevat.

“On the first of Shevat, [we observe] the new year for trees, according to the opinion of the Academy of Shammai. The Academy of Hillel state on the fifteenth of it [Shevat]” (Mishna Rosh Hashana 1:1).

Hillel and Shammai, and later their eponymous schools, often disagree in the pages in the Mishna. There are many celebrated disputes between these two rabbinic titans. In practically all cases, including the aforementioned debate, normative Jewish thought follows the opinion of Hillel. The Talmud (Eruvin 13b) records in the name of Rabbi Abba, citing Samuel: “For three years there was a dispute between the Academy of Shammai and the Academy of Hillel, the former asserting, ‘the halacha is in agreement with our views’ and the latter contending, ‘the halacha is in agreement with our views.’ Then a heavenly voice issued announcing that [the utterances of] both are the words of the living God, but the final halachic ruling is in agreement with the ruling of the Academy of Hillel. If both are the words of the living God, why do we follow the opinions of the Academy of Hillel? Because they are easy-going and modest, and when discussing their own rulings, they consider Bet Shammai’s opinions too. And that’s not all, but they would first discuss Bet Shammai’s views and only then formulate their own position… This comes to teach that if a person humbles himself, the Holy One, blessed is He, raises him up; and if anyone elevates himself, the Holy One, blessed be He, humbles him. Whoever seeks greatness, greatness runs away from him…”

The Jewish New Year for trees is thus observed two weeks hence. Let’s remember the reason we follow the Academy of Hillel.

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