The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt,
‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months;
it shall be the first month of the year for you. 1
— Exodus 12:1-2
I must admit I was surprised to learn that Rosh Hashanah — meaning, “Head of the Year” in Hebrew, does not actually take place at the beginning of the Jewish year. According to the lunar based Hebrew calendar, Rosh Hashanah is a festival that occurs on the first day of the “Seventh month” of Tishrei. While Passover, which begins on the fifteenth day of the month of Nisan (some time between mid-March and mid-April on the modern Gregorian calendar) is known as the “First Month” of the year according to the Torah.
While it is not entirely clear why Rosh Hashanah has become the accepted date for celebrating the new year culturally among Jews, it is possible that it has to do with ancient agricultural cycles, and the beginning of the fall harvest. As part of the Rosh Hashanah tradition, we choose to wear clothes that are white and new, and eat autumn foods that represent abundance, health, and happiness for the coming year. Similar to Passover, many Sephardim will arrange a special Seder plate including foods that symbolize overall good luck.
The Passover holiday takes place in the spring season — a period of change and renewal. The festival represents the redemption and rebirth of the Israelite people brought out of slavery to freedom, and their arduous journey to the “Promised Land” (then known as Canaan — an area that included modern day Israel) to ultimately become the Jewish nation. During Passover, we clean our home from top to bottom, buy new clothes, and prepare foods that include new green vegetables. A special Seder plate is arranged using foods that symbolize suffering, freedom, and thanks and devotion to God.
Whether spring or fall, both holidays represent new beginnings.
And the hope for a happier, healthier, and better time to come.
1 Exodus 12:1-2. Translation from the New Annotated Oxford Bible: With the Apocrypha.
Revised Standard Edition, Oxford University Press, New York, 1973, p. 80.