Today I received an advertisement for making a personalized Jewish calendar which lets you print a personal picture on the calendar for each month of the year. It’s a cute idea and it reminds us that Rosh Hashana, which celebrates the new year, is coming up soon.
I would like to look at two reasons why our calendar is so special. The first reason really gets me thinking. Just before God took us out of Egypt, where we were slaves and therefore had no control over our own time, He gave us a gift. This was given right before the tenth and final plague. God told us, in Exodus 12:1-2, “This month shall be for you the first of the months, it will be for you the first month of the year.” From the wording “shall be to you” it was interpreted that it was the responsibility of the new nation to decide when each new month would begin. Since it is written, “to you” twice we know that this is very important. In fact, it is the first commandment given to the nation as a whole.
In giving us this responsibility God gave us the gift of determining time. Wow! Take a second – no – at least a whole minute to think about this. God, by making us a partner in determining time, made us a partner in creation. Whether you believe that creation took exactly seven of our days or longer, you have to agree that creation is remarkable. And here we are told that we, the Jews, for eternity, were to be able to have control over time!
And this goes one step further. When the Sanhedrin declared “mekudash,” sanctified, for the new moon, that is when the new month began. What happened when there was an error? Guess what? The so-called error became the fact. So, for instance if the new moon of Nissan was declared a day or two off from what was “correct” it didn’t matter, we followed the Sanhedrin’s ruling as the proper time and Passover was commemorated on “the wrong day” which became the right day. And the same in Tishrei with Yom Kippur. God had to observe Yom Kippur at “the wrong time,” because that is what the Sanhedrin declared to be the right time. And the same is true today with our calendar.
The second thing that is remarkable about our calendar is that we only have one calendar which all Jews use. In 1953 Baskin-Robbins introduced the idea of 31 flavors in their stores so that you could buy a different flavor each day of the month. Well, I don’t know how many “flavors” of Jews there are: Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Yemenite, Ethiopian, Indian, German, Hungarian, Russian, non-religious, Haredi (ultra-religious), modern religious, traditional, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and the list goes on and on. Other than we all come from the same ancestors what do we really agree on? We all agree on one Jewish calendar.
That all Jews agree on anything is amazing! It should also not be taken for granted that the calculation made by Hillel before computers and artificial intelligence is still used today.
The calendar was set up in a unique way which takes into account both the moon and the sun. What does that mean? The Gregorian calendar was established in relation to the sun. The Hijri, Islamic or Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar. Of course, we Jews had to make things a little bit more complicated so we merged the working of the moon and the sun into a lunisolar calendar. Our years are governed by the sun but the months are based on the moon.
Why did we have to make it so complicated? Well, if we used a strictly lunar calendar Passover, one of whose names is Hag Ha-Aviv or The Spring Holiday, would sometimes fall in the middle of winter or summer. Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot all have both historical and agricultural significance so it wouldn’t make sense to have them come in just any season.
In the 4th century, Hillel created the Jewish calendar which we still use today. From that time, Jews didn’t have to go to Jerusalem and bear witness to the new moon. The calendar became set. Not just for some Jews – but all Jews. Hurray, we agreed on something – and we still do! All these years Jews have agreed on one calendar. And amazingly the calendar really does work. Yes, we often say Passover or Rosh Hashana is coming early or late in any particular year. It is perhaps earlier or later on the Gregorian calendar than we expect, but it falls the exact same date on the Jewish calendar – and even to this day holidays fall in the right season.
So, whether you order a custom Jewish calendar, or check your Google calendar, don’t take the Jewish calendar for granted. Remember that we were given control over time to be partners with God and that all Jews, all over the world, use the same calendar.
Marcia Goldlist is a regular contributor of blog postings on Jewish Values Online. She was the author of one of the blog postings selected for theSecond Quarter 5779 Jewish Values Online Best Blogs. .
Please note: All opinions expressed in Blog Postings and comments on the Jewish Values Online site and through Jewish Values Online are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, beliefs, or position of Jewish Values Online, or those associated with it.
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