Jewish Calendar

The Jewish calendar is a religious calendar used by Jews all over the world and is also the official calendar of Israel. This particular calendar commands quite an ancient lineage, dating back to the Sanhedrin president Hillel II, who brought it into being in around C.E. 359.

A Few Facts About The Jewish Calendar

A regular (non-leap) Jewish year with 12 months can have 353, 354 or 355 days, while the Jewish leap year can have 383, 384 or 385 days. These various years are respectively known as “deficient”, “regular” and “complete”.  It is also worth noting here that a Jewish leap year has 13 months.

The Jews use a lunisolar calendar, or a calendar that is a cross between the lunar calendar and the solar one. In this respect, the Jewish calendar is akin to the Chinese calendar. This particular type of calendar has its years corresponding to those in the tropical year and its months concurring with the synodic months. Obviously the architects of the calendar had quite a lot in their minds and it is not hard to imagine that the calendar incorporates rules that are quite intricate.

To elaborate, the 12 months in the Jewish calendar comes to about 11 days short than the typical tropical year. And as a countermeasure, a leap month (also known as an intercalary month) is included after every third year to have the calendar in sync with the seasons. Now this may sound too much of an effort, but the ancient Israelites found ingenious ways to make way around the problem. 

For instance, in the days of yore, the Israeli religious leaders would estimate the approximate date for Passover in spring based on whether the roads were suitably dry for the pilgrims to take on and also whether the lambs were ready to be slaughtered. If they didn’t find the conditions appropriate or the time ripe, they would add a month to the calendar.

But this practice is not surprising, for throughout history there have been sundry people who have looked to nature to give them the requisite signals. Thus there was an aboriginal tribe in Taiwan who went out to the sea at around the time of new moon at the commencement of spring. If they spotted the very elusive migratory flying fish, they knew New Year’s day was nearing.

The Jewish calendar is also known to yield itself to numerous modifications depending upon when the Jews would want their holidays and special ceremonies to be held. Thus for instance, they would holdup their New Year by a day if it falls on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday during the normal course. This is done to ensure that Yom Kippur doesn’t occur on a Friday or Sunday and Hoshanah Rabba, on a Shabbat (Saturday).

For the westerners accustomed to the rules of the Gregorian calendar, the following tidbits about the Jewish calendar would seem fascinating:

  • A conventional Jewish day begins either at sunset or the very time when three mid-sized stars are visible in the horizon, instead of midnight.
  • Depending on the particular season, the duration of the night might be different from the day. This is because sunset is taken to herald the commencement of the 12 night hours and sunrise, the start of the 12 day hours.

An understanding of the influences that shaped the calendar, be it the Jewish calendar or the Hebrew calendar, will in turn help you appreciate man’s efforts to bring time within its shackles.

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