An essay donated by Rabbi Allen S. Maller
A New Year for Jews
January 01, 2012 begins the Gregorian calender year 2012. Of course, the Jewish year, 5772, began three months earlier on the evening of September 29, 2011. Most Westerners know that the Gregorian calendar is based on an estimate of the year that Jesus was born. Muslims know the Muslim calendar begins with the flight of Muhammad from Makka to Medina. Buddhists know that their calendar starts with the enlightenment of Siddhartha under a Bodhi tree. But most Jews would be hard pressed to explain what happened 5,772 years ago to start the Jewish calendar.
By analogy to the Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist calendars one might expect that the Jewish calendar starts with the birth of Abraham (the first Jew), 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 symbolizes the transition of humanity from a largely nomadic/neolithic stone age society of hunter-gatherers to a more advanced metal working bronze age society of farmers and village dwellers. By starting the Jewish calender with a major historical transition that would eventually 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 that are derived from written records will fit into the Jewish calendar. The earliest writing comes from the Mesopotamian city of Uruk (Genesis 10:10) and dates to about 5,500 years ago i.e. the third century of the Jewish calender. The first dynasty in Egypt arose in the 7th century of the Jewish calender and the first stone pyramid in the 10th century. The famous king Sargon of Akkad (2371-2316 BCE) lived in the 14th century of the Jewish calender. Abraham was not born till the 21th century of the Jewish calender. It is only in the generations after Abraham that Biblical history begins to focus on the religious development of one specific people.
The Jewish calendar is not only the oldest of the world's calendars, it is the only one that begins with the beginning of recorded human history. Everything prior to the Jewish calendar is prehistory. History begins with Adam and Eve.
For more than 1.000 years all the world's major calenders have included the year as well as the month and day. This seems normal to us but for most of recorded history calenders only recorded the month and day. The year was counted from the start of a king's or a dynasty's rule. When a new king or dynasty came along, a new count was started again. Only major religions that last for many centuries produce a calender that can outlast political states and empires. Thus, all the world's major calenders today are religious. The oldest of the world's religious calenders is the Jewish calender, which is now at 5772.