Calculating the Jewish Calendar
(How to learn to love truly "moveable" feasts)
Much confusion exists as to how dates for the Jewish Festivals, so popular among a few at this time of the year, are actually calculated. A small minority of "Christian" groups still observe these days. These groups are mainly split-offs from the Seventh-day Adventists. The Adventists, while they teach and observe the Jewish Sabbath, do not regard these festivals as anything special. But many groups do, including those founded by Herbert Armstrong, who took much of his theology from the Seventh-day Adventists and the Church of God, Seventh Day (which later revoked his credentials as a minister for "conduct unbecoming." But that's another story for another time.)
Armstrongites, as they are commonly called, were never given any explanation as to how these days were calculated. The have had to rely on faith that their leaders know how to calculate these days, which is really a biblical task reserved for the Rabbis. And they acknowledge this authority, or have certainly never disputed it (except curiously enough in the case of the Jewish Passover -- here they dogmatically insist that they are right and that all the Rabbis and Jewish scholars are wrong).
Some of the material presented here was taken from the book "Standard C Date / Time Library" by Lance Latham. Mr. Latham has written a complete software library that allows various calendars of the world to be calculated, including the Jewish one. One caveat, however, applies to the latter. The Jewish calendar is slowly drifting out of synchronization with the solar year and is presently more than a month off with respect to the solar calendar. For example, Nisan 15 (Passover) for 1948 occurred more than a full month after the vernal equinox (the accepted first day of Spring, usually March 20 or 21). This will also happen again in 2005, when it occurs on April 24. The reader is also cautioned, because the Jewish calendar is a "luni-solar" one and depends upon the observation of the actual new moon, it cannot be used to calculate the dates of events too far into the future or unrecorded past events.
At some point in the future, the Jewish calendar authorities will have to take up the task of calendar reform, just as the Catholic Church finally did in 1582. Otherwise, given the nature of the Jewish calendar's drift away from accuracy, Passover will eventually occur in the month of May. Ironically, at that point, the Catholic Church will more accurately be able to forecast the date for Passover than Judaism will !
Jewish Units of Measurement
Here is a brief description on how Judaism divides time.The Day
The day begins and ends at sunset. The hour 6 p.m. is designated as hour 0 (or 24, corresponding to our midnight).
Parts of the Day
The day is divided into 24 equal hours. Midnight is hour 6. Each hour is divided into 1,080 halakim (approx. 3.33 seconds). Each helek is divided into 76 regaim (for you math fans, each regaim equals approx. 0.05 seconds). Now you can't exactly use this kind of accuracy in timing very many modern events, e.g., a Pentium IV running at 1.4 gHz, but we doubt the Sanhedrin was very concerned about such things back then.
The week is divided into seven equal days, numbered 1 thru 7, with the last day being called the Sabbath. The sixth day (Friday) later came to be commonly called the "Preparation" day. This was because a day of preparing food was always necessary before the Sabbath, on which no food preparation of any kind was allowed to be done. Contrary to popular belief among some of the Sabbatarian cults, annual festival days were never preceded by any day of preparation since food was allowed to be prepared on those days, according to Exodus 12:16.
Months and Year
This is where things get a little complicated. Because the lunar month is not a constant (or even an integer), tradeoffs have to be made. The Jewish calendar uses a calculated average of 29 days, 12 hours, 793 halakim as the length of a month. It also equates 235 lunar months to 19 years. Additional adjustments are also made.
Years occur in a 19-year cycle (sound familiar?) called the Small Mahzor. In this cycle, 12 years have 12 months and seven years have 13 months. This works out to (12 * 12 + 7 * 13 = 235 months). Years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, and 19 are leap years of 13 months. The rest are common years of 12 months. Months alternate between 29 and 30 days in length (again, because the lunar month is actually about 29 1/2 days). The day unit omits the 793 Haladim. So this omission is corrected by adding one day to the month of Marheshvan (a.k.a. Heshvan) or subtracting one day from the month of Kislev.
Some striking similarities exist between the Babylonian and Jewish calendar months.
Month No. Babylonian Jewish 1 Nisanu Nisan 2 Aiaru Iyar 3 Simanu Sivan 4 Duzu Tammuz 5 Abu Av 6 Ululu Elul 7 Tashritu Tishri 8 Arahsamnu Marheshvan 9 Kislimu Kislev 10 Tebetu Tebeth 11 Shabatu Shebat 12 Addaru Adar 13 Addaru II Adar II
The careful reader will note that the Jewish system of months came from the Babylonian one, and not vice versa, as is commonly supposed by many fundamentalists. Not much is known about the Jewish system during the days of the patriarchs. The only reference we have to any name of any Hebrew month is "Abib," mentioned in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy in connection with the Festival of Unleavened Bread and Passover. But after their return from Babylonian captivity (which captivity occurred in approx. 586 B.C.) the Jewish calendar was pretty much set as displayed above.
Some of these names for the months listed above do appear in the Books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, by which time the Jews were either in captivity, or were returning to rebuild the Temple. This demonstrates again the fact that the Jewish calendar is of Babylonian (and possibly Persian) origin. Nowhere in the Pentateuch are any of the names of the months given, except as noted for Abib, the first month of the religious year. The months are simply termed by number, as were the days of the week. Surely, as some Christians or Jews might argue, that if the Babylonians borrowed their calendar from the Hebrews, these names of the months would show up somewhere in the Hebrew scriptures long before the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah were written. But they do not.
This also raises another interesting question: just when were these books written, and by whom? If, as is commonly thought, that the Pentateuch was written by Moses long before the Jewish diaspora began, then why the noticeable absence of the names of the months? Did Moses not know what to call them? Or is the more logical explanation this: these books were written long after Moses was dead, perhaps 1,000 years later, and the writers simply did not know what the original names of the Hebrew months were. They had been lost in antiquity. So they used the Babylonian names instead, which were after all, the names of the months of the "Jewish" calendar then in existence.
The careful reader might also note that the fourth month of "Tammuz" appears to be named after none other than Nimrod the Great (although even more curiously, that Babylonian month is called Duzu). According to Ezekiel 8:14, women who wept for Tammuz at the entrance to the Temple were said to be doing an abominable thing. Just what this practice was, no one is really sure. But the fact remains that the Jewish priests apparently thought it was Ok to allow one of their months to be named after a pagan deity. This is very curious indeed ! And since the priests had total control of the calendar at that time, this could not have been a mere oversight on their part.
Another interesting fact is that the Babylonians also had a seven day week at that time, including a seventh day of rest. One could speculate on just who borrowed from whom concerning these details. But it is clear that the Jewish calendar is of Babylonian, not biblical origin.
The Molad and Rules of Postponement
Now get ready for a little journey into Jewish thought. Below are some little known rules for how the Jews come up with dates for their annual festivals. And be prepared for a shock.
Every month must begin on a day close to the Molad (new moon). And the first day of the year, Rosh Hashanah (or Festival of Trumpets), must fall on the Molad. [The Jewish civil calendar uses Tishri as the first month of the year.] But the dehiyyoth or rules of constraint further complicate things. These rules are as follows:
1. When Molad Tishri occurs on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday, Rosh Hashanah is postponed to the following day.
2. When Molad Tishri occurs at hour 18 (noon) or later, Rosh Hashanah is postponed until the following day. Rule #1 is reapplied here. So if Molad Tishri, because of rule #2 is postponed to a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday, it will be postponed one additional day. In other words, if Molad Tishri occurs on a Saturday after the noon hour, Rosh Hashanah is postponed to Monday.
3. When the Molad Tishri of a common year (non-leap year) falls on a Tuesday, 204 halakim after the ninth hour, Rosh Hashanah is postponed until Wednesday. Here, rule #1 kicks in again, and thus Rosh Hashanah is further postponed to Thursday.
4. In a common year succeeding a leap year, if Molad Tishri occurs on a Monday morning, 589 halakim past the 15th hour or later, Rosh Hashanah is postponed to Tuesday.
The purpose of these rules seems to have the following results:
- Yom Kippur (Tishri 10) cannot fall on a Friday.
- Hoshanah Rabba (Tishri 21) must not fall on the Sabbath.
Looking ahead to the years 2002, when Yom Kippur falls on a Monday, and 2003, when it falls on a Sunday, these look suspiciously as if the above "rules" kick in for these years, arbitrarily moving the day around. And one can only wonder at past observances of this day and how many times it was moved by the Rabbis. You may indeed be asking "Why?" And only the Rabbis, like the Clairol Lady, as far as we can tell, know for sure.
With all of that in mind, does this calendar issue really matter to anyone, except perhaps the Orthodox Jews? Yes indeed it does -- to the faithful followers of Armstrong and the religious sects his doctrine engendered. Perish the thought (as well know playboy, Garner Ted Armstrong liked to say) that they would be actually celebrating Yom Kippur, or any other Jewish holy day, on the wrong day !! And, as we have just seen, this can be as much as two days off schedule. This presents grave problems of faithful obedience to the Law they worship as necessary for salvation! After all, these days are considered by followers of Armstrong to be "high Sabbaths", not just ordinary Sabbaths. And the penalty could be death under the Law of Moses for anyone caught working on one of these days, especially Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. And remember, this could well be this case (we have to! examine the moon charts first to see if the Rabbis are going to fudge this one) for next year. As Herbert W-less Armstrong loved to shout, "Your Eternal LIFE could DEPEND on this, BRETHREN !! !!!! !!!!!! !"
But for the "reformed" followers of Armstrongism, we don't suppose this calendar fiddling presents too much of a theological issue or hurdle. Armstrongites have been know to arbitrarily drop parts of the Law of Moses that they don't find convenient to keep, like the instructions in Leviticus 12 (no temple, no need **). And they have "ceremonially" dropped other parts, or made substitutions, e.g., dwelling in a motel or hotel and counting this as a "temporary shelter" or booth for the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles). And one would expect them to take this same, nonchalant attitude toward holy day worship. If the Jews have moved Atonement two days ahead, that is good enough for them. Besides, God knows their hearts, so let's not get our panties in a wad here, right? It is, however, simply unthinkable for them to ever move the "Sabbath" day ahead to a Sunday on occasion, even though they move the Passover backwards one d! ay every year. Go figure.
In summing up, we can make these points:
- The "Jewish" calendar originated in Babylon, not the Bible,
- Calculations for Jewish festival days are arbitrary and set by men, not scripture,
- These days can be off as much as two days from the original day ordained by the Law of Moses,
- Anyone who pretends to be observing any "holy day" on its "God ordained" place on the calendar is just fooling themselves. More likely, they are only satisfying the desires of their cunning leaders to have a holy "pay-day" instead.
** Apparently mothers with new-borns coming back to "church" in as little as just a few days are Ok. This author witnessed one woman who brought her newborn back to church services that was barely a week old. She did this for the "blessing of the children" ministerial power exercise. She stated that she did not want her infant to go a full year again before receiving such blessing. Of course, the health implications of bringing a newborn out into the public seems to have been lost on her. Such is the mind of a cult member.
But God help you if you bring a ham sandwich to a church pot luck (see previous chapter, Lev. 11). The minister might just as well throw you and your infant out on your asses to protect the flock from such heresy. Yes, it's all in the same book, but so goes the reasoning of the Armstronites. Special dispension. They hold the "keys of Peter" (or so they tell us). One may stay, and another must go, depending upon their doctrinal whims at the time. They seem to have learned how to bend the rules, to suit their own purposes, and those of their Cult Masters.
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