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!”