Sunday, March 18, 2018

The British Mitzvah

Now here's something interesting. There's a mitzvah which according to some sampling that I did, is fulfilled by people who, like me, are British, but not by Israelis.

I discovered this one Friday evening when I asked my kids (who grew up in Israel) to name the months of the year. They replied: "Tishrei, Cheshvan, Kislev, Tevet, Shevat, Adar, Nissan, Iyyar, Sivan, Tamuz, Av, Elul." I was shocked! Shocked, I tell you!

You see, growing up in England, I was always taught that the months are to be named in this order: Nissan, Iyyar, Sivan, Tamuz, Av, Elul, Tishrei, Cheshvan, Kislev, Tevet, Shevat, Adar. And this is actually the mitzvah that we just had a special Shabbat about, parashat haChodesh. Hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chadashim, rishon hu lachem lechodshei hashanah! Nissan is the first month, not Tishrei!

(Yes, I realize that it's not a technical aveirah to recite the months in a different order. Still, it certainly goes against the idea being presented in the Torah.)

I've been asking a few people, and it's always the same. Brits, whether from London or Manchester, start their recital with Nissan, and they are often surprised to hear others saying it differently. Israelis all seem to start with Tishrei, and they are often surprised to hear Brits saying it differently. (If you're an exception to this pattern, please let me know!) I haven't asked many Americans yet, so please tell me how you learned it in the US.

Now, it's not hard to figure out the cause of people getting it wrong. After all, the Jewish year does start in Tishrei. And it's certainly intuitive that the count of months would start at the beginning of the year. It's a remarkable peculiarity of the Jewish calendar that the year begins in the seventh month. (For a discussion of this based on the insights of Rav Hirsch, see the long out-of-print book Seasons of Life by my cousin's cousin, the late Nosson Slifkin.)

Nevertheless, it is definitely wrong. And it's weird that while Israelis get it wrong, Brits get it right. Does anyone have any insight into why this is so?

57 comments:

  1. I grew up in the US from age 2 and I definitely start with Nissan. Can’t even recite them from Tishrei.

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  2. you dont begin your year with Elul???

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  3. Menachem CoppermanMarch 18, 2018 at 8:07 AM

    Is very simple. When the Jewish months are just a "mitzva" that has nothing to do with your day to day life, like in England, you go by the book. But in Israel, where the official year in the Jewish state starts at tishrei, and that's your day to day calendar, it is counter intuitive to start at Nissan. That's one of the "prices" of living the Jewish calendar naturally. I think it's rather give up that mitzva and love in Israel, rather than keep it in England....

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  4. My American experience is like our British cousins.

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  5. I'm American, and I learned starting from Tishrei.

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  6. I can't recall ever starting with ניסן. Grew up in the American midwest.

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    1. Same for this Midwesterner (St. Louis).

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  7. Well, it is no kashya, the Brits also drive on the wrong side of the road ;)

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  8. I am from New Jersey and learned the months from Nissan, and I never heard otherwise until I read this!

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  9. My kids have a “torah island” cd with a months of the year song. The months on that start with tishrei. It is an American production.

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  10. While it is true that the 'official' calendar of the Torah starts with Nisan, there is another calendar in the Torah that starts with Tishrei.

    You find it in Shmot 23:16 which speaks about Sukkot as 'the end of the year'. And in Devarim 31:10 Sukkot is again described as the end of the year and the time when Shemitta begins.

    So this is not as simple as one might think.

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    1. There is no פרשה which speaks about סכות that doesn't mention it takes place in the seventh month. It's at the end of the (Biblical) Holiday cycle (which starts in ניסן), but not at the end of the Biblical calendrical year.

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    2. I think the ramban in torah temimah brings this

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    3. Avi, what you wrote is simply incorrect. See the reference to Sukkot in Shemot 23:16, which I mentioned in my earlier comment. Nothing there about the 7th month. Same for the reference to Sukkot in Ki Tissa (Shemot 34:22). Nothing there about the 7th month. This won't be the only place that the Torah has more than one position on something.

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    4. Avi, see also the reference to Sukkot in Devarim 16:13, again with no mention of the 7th month.

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  11. My kids were taught ftom tishre. I used to renumber the charts they got. Got a call from an administrator and was happy to tell them this was not an elu velu issue. A chodesh tov from NYC

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  12. I am British, and have always defaulted to what you describe as the Israeli pattern. Possibly because the primary school I went to had Israeli teachers for kodesh subjects.

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  13. My Hebrew Day School in the USA taught us the Hebrew Months, beginning with Nissan, in a song (to the tune of "Yankee Doodle", no less)!

    Bivrachah,
    Catriel Lev, RBS-Alef [ISRAEL]

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  14. see the long out-of-print book Seasons of Life by my cousin's cousin, the late Nosson Slifkin

    Many, many years ago when I was 23
    I was married to a widow who was pretty as can be

    This widow had a grown-up daughter who had hair of red
    My father fell in love with her and soon they too were wed

    I'm my own Grandpa...

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    1. No wonderyou believe they went to the moon; you think it's made of cheese too! :-)

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  15. The children's song used in most schools in NY (which is the same tune as Ilu Ilu hotzianu) starts with tishrei

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  16. The English , the English , the English are best,
    I wouldn't give tuppence for all of the rest.

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  17. I am from Canada and I learned (with a tune) to start from Nissan.

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  18. Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal (author of Eim Habanim Semeichah and Shu"t Mishneh Sachir) held that it is forbidden to refer to a calendar month by its number in relation to January, Tishrei or any other base-month, except Nisan. E.g., one may not call April or Tevet the 4th month or write 4/3/2018 as short-hand for the April 3, 2018. In his responsa (vol.1 #180), he attributes this view to Chidushei HaKotev, a 15th Century commentary on the Aggadot of the Talmud by the compiler of Ein Yaakov, Rabbi Yaakov Ibn Chaviv, who wrote: "The mitzvah is incumbent upon us at all times to refer to months by their numbers relative to Chodesh Ha'aviv (the month of Spring, i.e., Nisan), in which we departed from Egypt. No Jew is permitted to number the months in relation to the beginning of the year, which is in Tishrei, for example. We are obliged to comply with this in our day as well. . . ." (Chidushei HaKotev, Megilah, chap. 1, s.v. "Od katav.") R. Teichtal maintains that according to the Kotev, one who numbers a month in relation to any base-month other than Nisan transgresses the Biblical commandment, "This month [Nisan] shall be for you the beginning of the months; it shall be for you the first of the months of the year." (Shemot 12:2.) In an addendum to this responsum (Kuntres Acharon, #196), Rav Teichtal adds that the Lechem Hapanim on the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch also holds it is forbidden to number any month other than in relation to Nisan, based on the Ramban to Parshat Bo (Shemot 12:2; see also Ramban, Shemot 20:8). R. Teichtal notes further that the Maharal also acknowledges this prohibition in Chapter 64 of Tiferet Yisrael. (For additional authorities on this issue, see footnote 43 to Chapter 64 of the Hartman edition of Tiferet Yisrael.)

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  19. All the kids in Israel learn the months of the year from the song about what happens in each month. The song starts from Tishrei. And so that's what they start from.

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  20. Israelis follow the Shitta of Naomi Shemer

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  21. Brits are particularly careful with all aspects of how they speak: enunciation, grammar, and so forth. More than Israelis, they not only use language but they seem to devote themselves to a pact of proper usage. Thus, the pithy phrase, "brit milah."

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  22. British. Start with Nissan because it fits into the Yankee Doodle song. Not sure how others remember it.

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    1. Shaarei Torah BochurMarch 20, 2018 at 12:11 AM

      What does yankee doodle have to do with Britain?

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    2. see here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yankee_Doodle#Origin

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  23. Clearly, in Britain, we followed our Rebbe, R.Yehoshua, and not R.Elizer. Elu v'elu, etc.

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  24. I grew up in Canada and was taught the months of the year in the order beginning with Nissan.

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  25. I'm American; my wife and I greatly enjoyed your museum in Beer Sheva. We know that Nissan is he first month.

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    1. It's in Bet Shemesh. Be'er Sheva is in the south of Israel.

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    2. Tobias got his doctorate at bet shemesh university, named after an early Israeli political leader. Not far from the bet shemesh international airport.

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  26. From the US. Start with Nisan.

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  27. I just asked my Israeli sons (Grades 4 and 6) to recite the months. Without hesitating the oldest started with Tishrei, then when he finished looked at me and said "I made a mistake, it should be Nissan, Iyar ....", his younger brother said that he was about to correct him for starting with the wrong month before he corrected himself.

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  28. Canadian here, learned them starting from Tishrei.

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  29. American here. Always count from Nissan, just like you Brits.

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  30. As an American, I believe that most "frum" Americans would also start naming the months from Nissan rather than Tishrei since that's the way it's usually taught in Yeshivot and Jewish Day Schools. However, I believe that most Jews in galut, even "frum" Jews, typically live their "year" according to the secular calendar (ie work schedules, vacation schedules, salary payments, tax payments, rent or mortgage payments etc.) so that for them, January 1 is the true New Year.

    In contrsst, I suspect that most Jews in Israel, frum or not, live their year according to the Jewish calendar, so if you ask an Israeli when does the "New Year" start, they will answer Tishrei.

    In essence, the difference in when one perceives the "New Year" to start, stems from the difference between a "galut" perspective of living one's life largely based on secular calendar versus living one's life based on the Jewish calendar.

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  31. Doesn't meseches Rosh Hashana start off that there are 4 new years, including tishrei and nissan? So aren't they both right? btw, just to add to the sampling, I grew up in the US and my song starts with Nissan (even has a little add-on at the end for adar bet)

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  32. Isn't there more than one start of the year anyway?

    After all the calendar can't necessarily be called jewish when many of the names are the names of pagan gods from mesopotamia.

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  33. I grew up in the U.S. Always counted from Tishrei. I didn't know anyone else did otherwise until this post.

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  34. How can it be a mitzvah to recite Babylonian names of months ?

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    1. if it is already a mitzva to wear a shtreimel, kol shekain it is a mitzvah to recite Babylonian names of months

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  35. Grew up in NY (Modox school in long Island) and we were taught starting with Nissan

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  36. I'm ashamed to say that I grew up in NYC, attended yeshiva all my life and never actually learned the months in order! To this day it would be a slight struggle to get through them with no mistakes. Where was Uncle Moishe back in those days?

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    1. http://www.cjnews.com/news/canada/beit-din-proclaims-two-uncle-moishys

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  37. American...never learned the months as a list. But we were definitely taught that the Torah calls Nisan the first month and Tishri the seventh month. And, I might add that was how I was taught to spell the transliterations of the names even if all my current calendars conform to your spelling. I have to wonder why and when that changed.

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  38. Simple: When do all the charity organizations and insurance agents send out their new Jewish Calendars? In late summer or early spring.

    In New York, my parents always received a new dual calendar from their bank (not a Jewish bank), which started with September in order to coincide with Rosh Hashanah.

    It's dem goyim's fault!

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  39. In the US, I learned them from Tishrei with a song. Pretty sure my kids learn them that way as well.

    FWIW, the current Hebrew calendar keys off the date of the current and next R"H. I'm sure that it could be translated to Nisan (because there is month length variation between Nisan and Tishrei), but that is not how it is done.

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    1. Typo: FWIW, the current Hebrew calendar keys off the date of the current and next R"H. I'm sure that the procedure could be translated to Nisan (because there is no month length variation between Nisan and Tishrei), but that is not how it is done.

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  40. I don't think I've ever seen a numerical shorthand for Hebrew months like we've seen for roman months. Even Israeli (secular) newspapers just below the masthead list Hebrew date, English date, and numerical Roman date. Thus, your question is moot.
    Morah Kundah never taught this to us this way in our MO kindergarten, and my elementary school prided itself in being the first (and probably the last) ivrit b'ivrit school in America.

    This is probably discussed halachically in the context of a shtar promissory note due in a numerical month

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    1. This is probably discussed halachically in the context of a shtar promissory note due in a numerical month

      I imagine you just check if the year is Hebrew or Western

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  41. Growing up in America, I don't recall learning the months in order, but I see that some of the younger generation do - from Nissan.

    After all the calendar can't necessarily be called jewish when many of the names are the names of pagan gods from mesopotamia.

    How can it be a mitzvah to recite Babylonian names of months ?


    According to Ramban Shmos 12:2 the verse in Yirmiyahu obligated them to use the Babylonian names to commemorate that we were there and that Hashem took us up from there.

    He also says that Tishrei is certainly the beginning of the *year* but Nissan is the beginning of the *months*.

    https://he.wikisource.org/wiki/%D7%A8%D7%9E%D7%91%22%D7%9F_%D7%A2%D7%9C_%D7%A9%D7%9E%D7%95%D7%AA_%D7%99%D7%91

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  42. Can someone tell me why the names of the Jewish months are those? Where do these names come from? Why are they used?

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