It happens thousands of times a year. Young couples stand beneath the chupa, the mesader kiddushin is handed a kesuva and intones, “On date such and such of the year 5767 since the creation of the world according to our count.” According to our count? If 5767 years have passed why mention that that they are “according to our count?” How many ways are there to count 5767 years? Surely 5767 years since creation signifies that Rosh Hashana 5767 marked the passing of 5,767 years. Are there two ways of looking at this simple fact? Strangely, the answer is yes!
Things are never as easy as they look. The simple rule that we count the years from creation is complicated by the inconvenience that the creation spanned over two years giving us two candidates for “zero hour.” Which year do we choose? Concerning this there are two major opinions.
Every Rosh Hashana we announce, Hayom haras olam – today is the birth of the world! This statement itself is surprising because Hashem began the creation not on Rosh Hashana, but five days earlier on the 25th of Elul.
Apparently haras olam refers not to the beginning of the process, but to its pinnacle – the creation of man. This prompts the question of when to start clocking the years. On the one hand, you might argue that the calendar should begin during the first year of creation because that is when everything got started. The trouble with that approach is that the first year lasted only five days and was totally missing its first eleven months. How can we clock time from the first of Tishrei that never existed? On the other hand, to start the calendar on the second year also seems less than perfect because it was, after all, the second year. In brief, we are left with two problematical options – to consider a non-year as the first year, or to consider the second year as the first year.
There is a second question that also hinges on these two options. What is the first month from which we estimate all future months? It is well known that because every month has an average length of 29 days, 12 hours, and 793 parts, all you have to do to work out the beginning of any future or past month is figure out how many months separate it from creation and multiply that number by the average month-length.
Take the 60,000th month since creation. To know when it starts, multiply the average month-length by 60,000, add the result to the first molad (the moment the first rosh chodesh began), and there is your answer. The question is – what is the first molad that determines all other molads?
According to the Rambam (Kiddush Hachodesh 6:8), the Zero molad is Rosh Hashana of the five-day year when Hashem started the creation. This non-existent year which only sprang into being during its last five days is called Shnas Hatohu – the “Year of emptiness.” The non-existent molad of its non-existent Rosh Hashana is called molad BaHaRaD because these initials describe the moment the molad would have happened had it existed – on Monday (yom Beis), the 5th hour (Hei) and 204 parts of an hour (RaD).
At this point a reader might scratch his head. How do we know the molad of a month that never existed? There are two answers to this question. One answer is that we work it out by extrapolating backwards. By taking a molad of the present, we can use the average month length to extrapolate thousands of years into the past or future.
Maharal ben Chaviv has a totally different explanation. He writes that the BaHaRaD starting point was revealed through prophecy or received as a tradition from Sinai. Rabeinu Bechaye on Chumash says that BaHaRaD is hinted in first verses of Bereishis:
“You should know that we have a tradition concerning this verse of Bereishis, that we can derive from it [Hashem’s] name of 42 letters that is connected to the attribute of strict judgment [starting from the beis of Bereishis] until the beis of vohu…
Once we know that this verse hints at the name of 42 letters [we can also reveal something else]. If we count 42 letters from the letter beis of Bereishis and reach the letter hei of bohu, after another 42 letters appears the letter reish and after another time [counting another 42 letters] we will reach the letter daled. The resulting combination is thus BaHaRaD… A sensible person will realize that this is no coincidence and is an absolute proof to the world being newly created!”
Unlike the Rambam who holds that time starts from the non-existent BaHaRaD, other authorities hold that we estimate the months not from an imaginary molad, but from the world’s first actual molad that took place on Rosh Hashana, the second hour of Friday morning (14 hours after midnight) when Hashem was creating Adam’s form. Although the moon was already created since the 25th of Elul, it was now “born” as the world reached its perfection at man’s creation (Rav Yosef Gaon). This molad is called Molad Adam and also known as Molad VYD as it occurred on Friday (yom Vav) at 14 (Yud Daled) hours.
In conclusion, according to the Rambam we start counting the years from the first year of creation, while those who disagree with him insist that we only start counting from the second year. Does this mean that according to the second opinion we are not in 5767 but still back in 5766?
This is indeed the case! According to the Baal Hama’or (beginning of Avoda Zara), the Gemara reckoned the years from molad Adam. Then the minhag changed and our calendar is a year ahead of the Gemara’s! He explains as follows:
“Know that the earlier generations had two customs how to count the years from the creation of the world, one of them adding an extra year compared to the other. This is found explicitly in the responsa of the Geonim in many places that some of them calculate from the Tishrei whose molad is VYD, and this is a more correct calculation even though its practice has not spread [nowadays], because it begins from when the world existed. And some people calculate from the Tishrei whose molad is BaHaRaD, and counts that which did not exist as if it existed. And this [second opinion] adds a year to the first opinion, and this [second opinion] has spread now in all places known to us.”
How can we include the first year in our count if it is only five days long? The logic is that even though the first year of our reckoning began on the 25th of Elul, because of the rule that part of a year is considered like a year, it is perfectly justifiable to consider those five days as an entire year. This is similar to the seven days of mourning which end at the beginning of the seventh day because we consider part of the seventh day like a whole day.
THE LOST ZERO
In the course of this discussion we concluded that according to our custom the first year of our calendar was only five days long. Therefore, Rosh Hashana 5768 will mark the passing not of 5,768 years, but only 5,767 years and five days.
Amazingly, the secular year has a very similar phenomenon. People writing history articles discover that transposing Jewish dates into secular dates is a bit confusing. The rules seem paradoxical. To calculate dates before the Common Era we consider the year 3761 as the beginning of the Common Era. For example, to calculate the civil year of Avraham Avinu’s birth in 1948 you subtract 1948 from 3761 and come up with 1813 BCE. However, to calculate civil dates after the Common Era we consider 3760 as the beginning of the Common Era; to calculate the Jewish date of World War II we add 1939 CE to 3760 and come up with 5699.
This is a paradox. How can the Common Era have two different starting points? Can 0 CE be 1360 and 1361 at one and the same time? As the Briskers would say, this question doesn’t start because 0 CE never existed!
Lay the blame for this state of affairs at the door of the Venerable Bede, the 7th Century English cleric and historian who invented the BCE system. Until his time, Europeans counted years anno mundi, anno Adam or Anno Abrahami. In other words, they began their calendars from the creation of the world, the creation of Adam, or the birth of Avraham Avinu (although their view of when these events happens conflicts with ours). Then along came Bede and created the BCE system.
For some reason, Bede omitted the year “0” from his system. Imagine the last seconds of 1 BCE are ticking and a group of Roman legionnaires are sitting, beer tankards in hand, waiting for their digital watches to register the transition to 0 CE. As they raise their tankards to their lips to celebrate. In walks the Venerable Bede: “What are you celebrating?” “Don’t you know? Tonight is the beginning of a new epoch! The year zero has just begun!” “Too late boys, I forgot about 0. It’s already 1 CE!”
At the zero moment of transition between BCE and CE, the Common Era leaped forwards one year and this is why its benchmark switches at this point from 3761 to 3760. To compensate for the civil year leaping a year forwards, the Jewish benchmark of 3761 jumps back to 3760.
This created a fiasco seven years ago. It’s New Years Eve 1999 and the neighbors are keeping you up with a raucous celebration. You tap on their door. ”What’s all this noise about?” “Don’t you know? Tonight is the beginning of 2000! It’s the beginning of the new millennium!” Wanting to get some sleep you tell how Bede skipped the year zero. Their fuzzy minds somehow grasp the point. “You mean we’re a year ahead of the times?” they ask you. “That’s right. The second millennium doesn’t start until next year!”
Hopefully, by then you’ll have quieter neighbors.
(Credits: Encyclopedia Talmudis, erech BaHaRaD)