Living with Two Calendars

Jews navigate not a dual identity but the coexistence of two distinct calendars: the secular, solar (Julian) calendar and the Jewish calendar, which operates on the lunar cycle.

The Julian calendar, instituted by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE, emerged in response to the need for a standardized calendar. Before its implementation, regional calendars were subject to the whims of Rome’s political leaders, resulting in a lack of global synchronization. The Julian calendar aimed to rectify this predicament by providing a universally applicable system. Initially embraced by the Roman Empire, it eventually gained worldwide acceptance.

In contrast, the Jewish calendar’s inception can be traced back to Moses, as detailed in the Torah, during the Jewish community’s time in Egypt. This calendar, rooted in lunar cycles, persists as the guiding force for the Jewish year, maintaining its influence over time.

“The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be for you the head of the months; for you, it shall be the first of the months of the year.” (Exodus 12:2)

According to the Jewish historical timeline, that specific date corresponds to 2448 on the Jewish calendar or 1313 BCE. Much like the Julian calendar, the Jewish calendar is attuned to the natural seasons, serving as a reliable reference for agricultural events, holidays, and commemorations. This alignment facilitates the coordination of plantings and harvests with various pilgrimage holidays, including Passover, Sukkot, Shavuot, and other significant dates.

The Jewish calendar incorporates four New Year celebrations, each serving a specific purpose. While this may initially appear unconventional, it parallels the multiple New Year designations in the modern American calendar, such as the traditional New Year on January 1st, a tax-related New Year, the government’s fiscal New Year in October, and the commencement of the public school year in September.

As mentioned earlier, the first New Year, occurring in the month of Nissan is linked to the Passover holiday, symbolizing Israel’s liberation from Egyptian slavery in the spring.

The second New Year, Elul, falls on the sixth lunar month after Passover, typically in late summer. It addresses economic matters such as animal and vegetable tithes while also marking the initiation of the Sabbatical year (7th) and the Jubilee year (50th) – practices that, since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, hold limited contemporary significance but remain documented by Rabbis and halachic authorities.

The third New Year is the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month, recognized by most Jews as Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

The fourth New Year, Tu B’Shvat, observed on the fifteenth day of Shvat (usually between January and February), serves as the New Year for trees. Unlike the first of Nisan and the first of Elul, Tu B’Shvat is still widely celebrated globally as a minor Jewish holiday. In Israel, it marks the onset of new sap and the blossoming of spring trees. The tradition of a Tu B’Shvat seder, introduced by the Kabbalists of Tzfat, pays homage to the seven species mentioned in the Torah and underscores ecological and agricultural sustainability.

Examining the Jewish calendar unveils a profound interconnectedness with Jewish time, encompassing holidays, precepts (mitzvahs), and practices spanning five thousand years.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *