Image: Symbols of the Jewish New Year: A shofar (ram’s horn), apple, honey, and pomegranate (tomertu/Shutterstock)
At sundown on September 9, 2018 Jewish year 5779 will be proclaimed in synagogues around the world. Sooner or later, someone will wonder, “5779 WHAT?”
The simple answer: 5779 years from the creation of the world, as calculated by counting back years in the Hebrew Bible. The calculation of this date is credited to Maimonides, who mentions it in his tome, Mishneh Torah: Sanctification of the Moon, 11:6, written about 1178 CE, but it was likely in use for some time before that. This kind of numbering is called Anno Mundi meaning “Year of the World.”
Liberal Jews believe that scientific method is better at addressing the “how” of the world, so we long ago quit looking to the Bible for science. Torah explores the meaning of creation, a question that science can’t and won’t address.
The Biblical text cannot be read literally about scientific matters. Human beings weren’t created on the sixth day after God said “Yehi Or!” [Let There Be Light!] (Genesis 1:3)
BUT – long ago we Jews began numbering the years by this ancient calendar. 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 number our years by the old system. On Rosh Hashanah, the shaliach [service leader] will announce the arrival of the year Five Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy Nine.
So the more complex answer to the question, “Why 5778?” is “Tradition!”