Columns - 1998

    Carving a Passover niche

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Shofar Columnist

    Statistics show that only two of my 13 Jewish high school students knew that, according to the Torah, the lunar year begins in Nissan (April, this year), and not Tishrei (October, last year).

    Seven of them knew that Tishrei is the month when we currently celebrate the new year. Four thought it was January. Two were doing their algebra homework, and I didn't repeat the question.

    But the Torah states clearly (if the scribe had good handwriting) that the year begins in Nissan, a mere fifteen days before Passover begins.

    This excerpt from the Torah, referred to in rabbinical circles as the Nissan Stanza, contains many rules about this time of year. Never before has it been called into question in this column. Until now.

    So, one might ask, why do we celebrate the new year in Tishrei instead of the classic Nissan? And why in January, for that matter?

    I don't know who decided to put New Year's Eve in December but, whoever they were, I'll bet they have never been in Times Square waiting for that ball to drop as the wind chill approaches Absolute Zero.

    Of course, you are probably thinking as I am. The Mets will finally return to the postseason this year. But you might also want to consider this: If Rosh Hashanah was on the first two days of Nissan, Yom Kippur on the 10th, and Passover beginning on the 15th... If our digestive systems didn't kill us first, the matriarchs of our families probably would.

    Not only would we have one less day to finish the last of the Cocoa Puffs, we would also not have the Sukkah to eat in for a month while the dishes from Rosh Hashanah are piled from floor to ceiling in the house. Instead, when cleaning for Passover we would have to take the dishes and pile them outside in the Sukkah that we still haven't taken down since last fall because it's holding the dishes that the wives made us move out there the night of the first snowstorm.

    Obviously, this would not do. And, never fear, this occurred to the Rabbis, too.

    In the renowned Mishnah tractate Baba Gump, different maxims are explored and a simple solution is finally presented. In verses known by their Latin title, the Nissan Maxima, the rabbis wrote: "We think it best to celebrate the new year in Tishrei. After all, that's when Rosh Hashanah appears on next year's calendar."

    This issue was debated for many years, and was so important that the Nissan Maxima appeared at the start of chapter one, second only to the prelude.

    But never let it be said the rabbis are all of one accord. This issue is still being studied today by rabbinic scholars at the acclaimed Parisian university and department store, the Nissan Centre. At this Parisian institute, in Paris, rabbis and custodians work around the clock (they have a handsome antique grandfather clock), throughout the year (except for Shabbat, holidays, and the celebration after the Yankees are mathematically eliminated from the postseason) to unravel these mysteries.

    Scholars at the Centre are also exploring the mysteries involved in the Passover story itself, commonly retold in 30 words or less at many seders before the food is served. Specifically, they are researching how, at night, the angel of death was able to see the blood on the doorposts of the Israelites so he could skip their houses as he spared the world of those pesky older siblings. (Don't get me wrong. I value older siblings. Without older siblings, younger siblings wouldn't be younger siblings, would we? And where would that leave us?)

    So scholars search night and day, as well as some archaeological sites, for evidence of a map of the populace that only exists so far in rumors: the as-yet-undiscovered Nissan Pathfinder.

    The scholars at the Centre strive for the utmost acuracy in their work. Their integraty is the stuff of legends. We can only hope that these brave explorers will emerge from their odysseys enlightened, unharmed, and in all other ways, Cutlass.

    Doug Brook is a shifty manual writer in Silicon Valley who auto be carted away. Wheel keep you apprised of any news as it brakes.

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.