Jewish Years Explained: 5778?

Image: Street sign in Jerusalem “Happy New Year St.” Photo Mt Scopus Radio  Some rights reserved

We’re about to begin the year 5778 and sooner or later, someone will wonder, “5778 years from WHAT?”

The simple answer: 5778 years from the creation of the world, as determined by counting back years in the Bible. The setting of this date is credited to Maimonides, who mentions it in his book, Mishneh Torah: Sanctification of the Moon, 11:6, written about 1178 CE, but it may have been in use for some time before that. This kind of numbering is called Anno Mundi meaning “Year of the World.”

You and I both know that human beings weren’t created on the sixth day after the Big Bang. We could get into a very interesting discussion about “days” in the context of creation (literal days? or something more metaphorical? or is the Creation story not really about time at all?). And then we could look at some of those times listed in the Bible – (Noah lived how long?) We could stomp off harumphing about how the Bible and science are completely incompatible.

The truth is that religion and science had a battle long ago, and many of us decided that scientific method was better at addressing the “how” of the world, so we quit looking to the Bible for science. Torah explores the meaning of creation, a question that science can’t and won’t address.

BUT – long before we abandoned the notion of a six day Creation a few thousand years ago, we Jews began numbering the years by a certain pattern. We remember many things in terms of their placement in Jewish time. Also we are “a stiff-necked people” and we cling to some things just to be stubborn. So even though it is a bit anachronistic, we still number our years by the old system. On Rosh Hashanah morning, the shaliach [service leader] will announce the arrival of the year Five Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy Eight.

So the more complex answer to the question, “Why 5778?” is “Tradition!”


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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

41 thoughts on “Jewish Years Explained: 5778?”

  1. I hope you will, at some point, discuss the varied rabbinic interpretations of time and counting it. I have never studied with a rabbi who interpreted the Bible to be saying that the world was created in six 24-hour days. This goes for Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis. They have all been quick to point out that Torah has four levels and the simple words are only the surface level. We can’t understand that is being said until we learn to delve into the deeper levels. The deeper levels are so dazzling!

    1. If the world was not created in six 24 hr days (evenings and mornings), then was it created in six God days (a day unto the Lord = 1000 years). If so did Adam die before God rested on the seventh day, seeing that he lived only 930 years.

      1. I believe the world was created in six days just as the Bible says. I believe that the Bible is often literal. God’s ways are much greater than our ways. Excellent analogy with your point to show it clearly.

        1. Well, I would agree with you that the Bible is sometimes literal. However, when it collides with the laws of physics, I tend to go with those, since I think God wrote them, too.

          1. Rabbi, yours is the most comprehensive & succinct response to this issue that I have encountered. And I have studied & taught for decades. Thanks!

          2. I agree. The Bible is “sometimes literal.”Think of the Bible as a living breathing document, applicable to all times. Literally we are not who we were 1000 years ago, or even yesterday. That’s science.

  2. Growing up, I always loved a particular chant during High Holy Days services. The English translation would be “On Rosh Hashanah our fate is written, and on Yom Kippor it is sealed.” Can you tell me the Hebrew for this chant, in transliteration, or point me to the Hebrew script? Thanks!

  3. The first dinosaurs appeared around 225 million years ago. Is science wrong about the timeline?

  4. If you read genesis correctly, you will see that on the sixth day God created man and women. There were also beasts at that time. On the seventh day God rested, then he made the first humans, Adam and Eve. The firs man and women were not the same as Adam and Eve, they could of been cavemen. In the Bible it says a day is like a thousand years. In the early days they could count in thousands, there was no greater number. Today we know the earth is millions of years old. We know the first man and women were millions of years old, that was in the 6th day. It could be if in the early days if they had known what millions or billions were, they might of said a day is like a billion years. Today scientist say the earth has proof it is at least 4.6 billion years old.

    1. John, I am always suspicious when I see phrases like “If you read genesis correctly.” There are lots of ways to read scripture, and I welcome the back-and-forth of interpretation. What I don’t welcome is dogmatism. I see that you feel this is the only way to understand the text. I’m not sure why you feel the need to bring this into a discussion of why we Jews number our years the way we do.

    2. John: When quoting verses from the Hebrew scriptures, whether the Tanakh or Brit Hachadash ( New Covenant ), please attach chapter and verse where your quote appears so others can research where you are getting your information. Todah rabbah ( thank you very much ).

  5. I just found out I’m Jewish.
    My mom was murdered 45 years ago, so I didn’t have that opportunity to have my questions answered.
    I have always been pulled to the Jewish people, yet my mom had me baptized as a Christian.
    Life did not begin 2017 years ago.
    If you can, I would like your guidance.

    1. Danielle, I am so sorry about your mother. I suggest that you check in your area to see if you can find a rabbi with whom to learn. They can help you sort out the situation.

  6. If the six days of Creation were really long epochs of time (each “day” = many millions of years, how could all vegetation (created on the so-called third day) live in a night that’s unimaginably long? Second grade science: Vegetation needs sunlight each day or else it dies. The “days” of Genesis must have each been a literal 24 hour period. The Hebrew word “yom” always means “day” – and it always refers to a 24 hour period.

    1. Metaphor is a traditional mode from interpretation of scripture. I suggest that you not try mixing “second grade science” and a Creationist message; it’s inconsistent.

  7. It is interesting to consider the time frame from the beginning of creation when the earth was without form and void. A day for God whom is eternal and without beginning or end can not be fathomed by the human mind, David mentions one day for God is such as a thousand years for the human being. He did not know the exact nature and time frame of the Creator and there for this world is far older than what we can imagine. Adam was created followed by Eve out of his rib. How many thousands of years had elapsed from his creation to the visit of the snake in paradise , leading to mankind’s fall. How many generations of children could have been born before the fall ?? The words of God to Eve after the fall , is significant in that He said ” I will multiply your pain in childbearing. In pain you shall bring forth children ” If we consider this judgement of God upon Eve , than she would have given birth before the fall without any pain . Readers contemplate what I have said as Cain found a wife on the earth while the bible does not indicate were this woman had come from ???Genesis 4 vs 17

  8. If our world was populated by humans for more than tens of thousands of years….ie the pyramids…then why is the Jewish calender 5778? What is that number based On? Thank you.

  9. ..According to Ussher they are a couple hundred years off.. as of right now we are in the year 2017 with an error factor of 4 years.. Jesus was taken back into heaven in our year 29..

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