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ָ ִ‫נ‬
Holidays in
Yom Hasho'ah
‫ִאיָ יר‬
Yom Ha'atzma'ut
Lag Ba'omer
‫ ִסיוָ ן‬Shavu'ot
ָ ‫ יוֹם ַה‬27th Contemporary
‫יוֹם ָה ַע ְצ ָמאוּת‬
ֶ ‫ ַל"ג ָבּ‬18th
No Chameitz;
Independence Day
Bonfires; end of
mourning period of
Sefirat Ha'omer
Harvest and Giving
of Torah
Walls of Temple
Fast Day
Fast Day
‫ ִתּ ְשׁ ָעה ְבּ ָאב‬9th
Rosh Hashana
‫ רֹאשׁ ַה ָשׁנָ ה‬1st
New Years; Shofar
Tzom Gedalia
‫ צוֹם גְ ַד ְליָ ה‬3rd
Death of Leader;
Fast Day
Day of Atonement;
Fast Day
Eat in Sukkah;
Lulav and Etrog
‫ ָאב‬Tisha B'av
‫ִתּ ְשׁ ֵרי‬
Yom Kippur
‫ ִכּ ְס ֵלו‬Chanuka
‫ֵט ֵבת‬
10th of Tevet
‫ ְשׁ ָבט‬Tu Bi'shevat
Ta'anit Esther
Adar II
‫ ֶפּ ַסח‬15th Torah--Exodus
‫ י"ז ַתּמוּז‬17th
‫ ַתּמוּז‬17th Tamuz
‫ֶח ְשׁוָ ן‬
‫ ָשׁבוּעוֹת‬6th
Holidays in
‫ַא ָדר‬
‫ַא ָדר ב‬
‫ יוֹם כּפּוּר‬10th
‫ סוּכּוֹת‬15th Torah-Leviticus
ָ ‫ ַח‬25th
Rabbinic (Talmud)
Light Menorah
ָ ‫ַח‬
Rabbinic (Talmud)
Light Menorah
‫ ַע ָשׂ ָרה ְבּ ֵט ֵבת‬10th
Siege of
Fast Day
New Year for
Trees; eat fruits of
‫ ט"וּ ִבּ ְשׁ ָבט‬15th
‫ ַתּ ַענִ ית ֶא ְס ֵתּר‬13th
Fast of Esther
ProphetsMegillat Esther
Story of Esther;
Read Megilla;
Shalach Manot,
Overview of the Jewish Calendar
The rhythm of Jewish time is determined both by the sun and by the moon. The basic unit of
time is the day, which in the western world begins in the middle of the night and lasts until
the next midnight. Since the standardization of time, days are divided into regular segments
of twenty-four hours.
The Jewish day is also ruled by the sun. However, it is more firmly rooted in simply
observable phenomena than our standard day. Following Genesis, in which the refrain "it
was evening and it was morning" sums up each day's creative work, Judaism measures its
day from one evening to the next. Of course, the question arises how to define the exact
moment when one day ends and the next begins. The rabbis determined that the new day
begins at the moment when the sun sinks below the horizon. Unlike our secular day, in
which the daylight hours are framed by night, the Jewish day begins with night and ends
with day. This is the reason that all Jewish holidays begin in the evening before the first day
of the observance. In fact, according to a Jewish reckoning of time, the evening before the
day is indeed the beginning of the new calendar day.
The story of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4 also establishes the next higher unit of measuring
time, namely the seven-day week. This serves to place the week firmly within the divine
plan, in which a six-day workweek is followed by the sacred Sabbath, a divinely ordained
day of rest.
The months of the Jewish year are lunar in nature. Unlike the months of the Gregorian solar
year that is the norm in the world today, the months of the Jewish year reflect the phases of
the moon. This can be seen most clearly in the length of the months. Whereas the months
of the Gregorian calendar vary in length between twenty-eight and thirty-one days in order to
make a solar year of 365 (or, in leap years, 366) days, the months of the Jewish year are
either twenty-nine or thirty days long. This reflects the fact that a lunar month is twenty-nine
and a half days in length, and the months always must begin with the new moon.
Years (and Leap Year):
A year of twelve lunar months, however, is eleven days shorter than a solar year. Therefore,
strict adherence to a lunar calendar would mean that the holidays would eventually take
place at the wrong season, i.e., every now and then we would celebrate Chanukah, the midwinter festival of Lights, in the middle of summer and Sukkot, the autumn harvest festival, in
the early spring. Therefore, in order to coordinate the traditional lunar year with the solar
year, Judaism has worked out a system of 19-year cycles, in which there are seven leap
years. In distinction to the day added to the secular leap year, the Jewish calendar adds a
full month to the end of its year. In this manner the Jewish holidays fluctuate by about a
month or so in relationship to the Gregorian calendar, but always fall at the same time of
year. The schedule of leap years is now fixed in the third, sixth, eighth, 11th, 14th, 17th, and
19th years of the cycle. This cycle is traditionally ascribed to Rabbi Hillel II in the fourth
century CE.
(It is interesting to note that Islam also follows a lunar calendar. In distinction to Judaism,
however, the Islamic calendar is strictly a lunar one and is not coordinated with the solar
year. Thus, over the course of time, holidays such as Ramadan, occur at different seasons.)
In order to further fine-tune their calculations, the rabbis determined that the months of
Nisan (March-April), Sivan (May-June), Av (July-August), Tishrei (September-October), and
Shevat (January-February) are always thirty days long. Iyyar (April-May), Tammuz (JuneJuly), Elul (August-September), Tevet (December-January), and Adar (March-April) are
always twenty-nine days long. Cheshvan (October-November) and Kislev (NovemberDecember) are either twenty-nine or thirty days in length. In a leap year, there are two
months of Adar, the last month of the year. When that occurs, Adar I is thirty days long, and
Adar II twenty-nine. A short Jewish year, therefore, consists of 353 to 355 days, while a leap
year varies between 383 and 385 days.
Names of Months:
The names that we use for the Jewish months are actually Babylonian in origin and were
adopted by the Jews as of the time of the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BCE. The
Bible indicates that until then the months were oftentimes called simply by their numerical
position in the year (First Month, Second Month, etc.), just as the days of the week--with the
exception of Shabbat--still are in Hebrew. In addition, the Bible does record some ancient
names for the months that disappeared once the Jews adopted the Babylonian names.
These include the now forgotten months of Bul and Aviv, among others. The Gezer
Calendar from the 10th century BCE, arguably the oldest Hebrew inscription ever
discovered, refers to the months according to the agricultural activities associated with them.
The Jewish month begins with the first sighting of the new moon, the Rosh Chodesh. There
are special prayers associated with the beginning of the month, and Rosh Chodesh
ceremonies have oftentimes played an important role, particularly among the female
members of the Jewish community.
Although the Jewish new Year is celebrated at the beginning of Tishrei (Rosh Hashanah),
this month is actually the seventh month according to the Torah's reckoning. The first month
is actually Nisan, during which Passover (Pesach) falls. In this manner, the Jewish year
begins with God's great redemptive act at the time of the Exodus from Egypt.
Numbering the Years1
The Jewish calendar not only has its own unique months, but it also numbers years
differently than the secular calendar. The basis of the Jewish annual calendar is ancient.
The Torah speaks of the annual cycle of holy days and festivals, and it was systematized by
the sages well before the fall of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.
If one tries to ascertain the origin of our counting of years, however, the Bible does not seem
particularly helpful. When providing a history, the Bible refers to lifetimes. For example, the
Torah tells us that Abraham was 75 years old when he and his household were sent
from Charan to Canaan (Genesis 12:4). In the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles,
dates are generally given according to the years of a sovereign's rule.
Most often, the dates are consistent among these five books. During the time when two
kings ruled the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel, the ascendance of one state's king
might be given relative to the years of the other king's reign. For example, II Kings 14:1
reads: "In the second year of [the reign of] Yoash ben Yoahaz, King of Israel, Amatzyahu
ruled [i.e. came to the throne] as King of Judah."
During the fourth century B.C.E., a dating system was sought out for secular use on
business and legal documents. At this time, the Jews borrowed the practice of the Greeks,
who had introduced the practice of numbering time in "eras"--periods of time relative to a
historical event, rather than the lifetime or rule of any one person. This new system is called
the "Seleucid Era" by secular scholars and, in Jewish circles, it is known as
"minyan shtarot"--"accounting of contracts." It counts time from the year 312-311 B.C.E.,
supposedly six years following the arrival of Alexander in the Land of Israel.
For private records and Temple histories, a different era was established, one measured
from the Exodus from Egypt. An example of this can be seen in I Kings 6:1, where the date
for the construction of the First Temple is given as 480 of the Exodus era.
1. based on article by Rabbi Rachel Leila Miller is a Conservative rabbi and educator living in the San Francisco Bay
area. In 2001 she received her ordination from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.
Calculating the Birth of the World
The Tannaim (sages of the late Second Temple Period and the century after the
destruction) calculated the date of Creation. They did so by basing their work upon the
Bible's account of lifetimes and kingdoms, thereby determining the period of time from
Creation to a known date, in this case, the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.
Many rabbis attempted this task, but the method attributed to Rabbi Yossi ben Chalafta, a
second century C.E. sage, is the one which gained popularity. He calculated "molad tohu"-"birth from nothing"--to be in the fourth hour of Monday, October 7, 3761 B.C.E. (according
to the Gregorian calendar used in the secular world today).
To this day, those Jews who believe the biblical accounting of time to be literal still accept
Rabbi Yossi's calculation, dating Creation to the year 3761 B.C.E.
It is possible that there is a direct correlation between the seven days of Creation mentioned
in Genesis and a specific Babylonian system, which would suggest that each Genesis "day"
represents a specific number of solar years.