Monday, April 27, 2015

The Hebrew Calendar

You remember that post nary a year ago where I wrote on one of my favorite books, Nehemiah and documented how that there was actually 4-5 months between when Nehemiah heard about the wall of Jerusalem being torn down and actually being able to act upon it.

This of course says a significant amount of the endurance of Nehemiah's burden where he is still noticeably upset by the events 4-5 months later. It opens up many a great understanding of the text and of what Nehemiah was actually going through at that time.

Understanding the perspectives of the people involved in the narrative texts helps to let the events come alive and for you to understand more of what the author was intending. After all, even though the messages are obviously still relevant today, the author didn't write to Americans in the twenty-first century. Instead, he wrote to the culture of the times.

Thus, it is helpful in understanding especially the Old Testament to understand what is going on within the context of the culture. I feel that a good way of beginning an understanding of that culture is by understanding the calendar. It also is what allows you to catch what was going on in Nehemiah.

So today, we will examine some key tidbits about the Hebrew calendar in hopes of giving you tools that will allow you to memorize it in the future. Much general information was taken from the book, The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar.


Civil v. Ecclesiastic Year

The Hebrew calendar has to be a bit difficult to even begin to understand. You see, there are 12 months in the calendar, but there are two important distinct calendars using those twelve months. Indeed, the Hebrew calendar utilizes both a civil year and an Ecclesiastic year, which begin with different months!

Indeed, the civil calendar starts with the month Tishri and is used for documenting, well civil events that pertain to governments. It is also used to count the number of the year. The ecclesiastic calendar starts in the month Nisan (also goes by the Hebrew word Aviv, which means Spring).

Ecclesiastic Year                                                       Civil Year
Nisan                                                                         Tishri
Iyar                                                                            Chisleu
Sivan                                                                         Cheshvan
Tammuz                                                                    Tevet
Av                                                                             Shevet
Elul                                                                           Adar
Tishri                                                                        Nisan
Chisleu                                                                     Iyar
Cheshvan                                                                 Sivan
Tevet                                                                        Tammuz
Shevet                                                                      Av
Adar                                                                         Elul

This may seem confusing at first, but it really isn't much different than the way we Americans discuss the calendar year starting in January, and the school year that starts in September. The only difference is that in the Hebrew system, both calendars are formalized. 

The Ecclesiastic calendar is the one primarily used in the Bible and as our goal is to get at understanding the Bible better, we will be examining this particular formalized calender, which for this current year started on 21 March 2015. 

Lunisolar System

In the English calendar are months are kinda arbitrary in their length and can span from 28-31 days depending on what that particular month feels like at the time. Hebrew is much less arbitrary. Hebrew months are determined by the cycle of the moon. 

This used to mean that the new month would start when the new moon was noticed in the sky. Thankfully, the Hebrew month has been standardized to mean that instead we now know that each Hebrew month is either 29 or 30 days in the year and largely it alternates between those two amounts for days by the month it's in. 

But there is a slight hiccup in this system. The Hebrew people needed to calculate the year based on the Sun because many of their festivals must fall during certain parts of the harvest season. For instance, it would be a tad bit awkward to have a firstfruits offering when there are no firstfruits... But a purely Lunar calendar would fall 11 days behind a solar calendar. 

Thus, 7 years in every 19 years, there is an added month before Adar, called Adar 1. This month contains 30 days. Adar simply becomes Adar 2. This is called a Shanah Me'uberet (pronounced shah-NAH meh-oo-BEH-reht), literally: a pregnant year.

Now, I say that a month is added before Adar, rather than that a month is added at the end for two primary reasons. First, in a Shanah Me'uberet, Adar 2's 29 days corresponds to the number of days in Adar in a normal year. More importantly though, the festivities of the month of Adar (most notably Purim) will occur during Adar 2 during a pregnant year, meaning that it's as if the festivities of the month of Adar are postponed for 30 days for the month of Adar 1. 

The Hebrew Calendar Itself

With the background explained, we can go through a look at the calendar as a whole. I will go through the current Ecclesiastic calendar year in comparison (5775-5776) in comparison with the dates of the Gregorian calendar we use today. 


1.      Nisan/Aviv (Mar/Apr) 30 days     21 March 2015 – 19 April 20152.      Iyar (Apr/May) 29 days   20 April 2015 – 18 May 20153.      Sivan (May/June) 30 days   19 May 2015 – 17 June 2015
Note the alternation of the days beginning pretty clearly; this continues for a little while longer anyway.


4.      Tammuz (June/July) 29 days  18 June 2015 – 16 July 20155.      Av (July/Aug) 30 days   17 July 2015 – 15 August 20156.      Elul (Aug/Sep) 29 days   16 August 2015 – 13 September 2015


7.      Tishri (Sep/Oct) 30 days  14 September 2015 – 13 October 20158.      Cheshvan (Oct/Nov) 29 or 30 days    14 October 2015 – 12 November 2015  (30 days) .9.      Chisleu/Kislev (Nov/Dec) 29 or 30 days  13 November 2015 – 12 December 2015 (30 days)
And this is where our difficulty with the easy to remember alternating pattern begins. The reason why Cheshvan and Chisleu decide to be so annoying with their dates is not entirely clear, though there is certainly an element of it that had to do with the fact that Tishri cannot being on the first, fourth, or sixth day of the week, and so at some point manipulation would be needed to ensure that didn't happen.

Also, when you get down to trying to memorize these names (I will be making that easier for you very shortly, just you wait), it will be difficult to deal with Cheshvan and Chisleu both starting with C being right next to each other. Easy way to keep it straight is that is remains in alphabetical order.


10.  Tevet (Dec/Jan) 29 days 13 December 2015 – 10 January 201611.  Shevat (Jan/Feb) 30 days   11 January 2016 – 9 February 201612.  Adar (Feb/Mar) typically 29 days 
Conveniently for teaching purposes, the current Hebrew calendar year is a Shanah Me'uberet, so we get to examine the effects on this in real time. So the months of Adar look like this:
12. Adar 1 30 days 10 February 2016 – 10 March 201613.  Adar II 29 days 11 March 2016 – 8 April 2016 

How to go from Here

So this is kinda a lot of information, and those Hebrew words seem kinda rough, so how are you ever suppose to remember them? Have no fear, my mom developed a wonderful mnemonic device that should greatly aid you with this effort. She may have a slight sense of humor that you may or may not catch. 

Normal                                                                Nisan
Intelligent                                                            Iyar
Students                                                              Sivan
That                                                                    Tammuz
Apply                                                                  Av
Effective                                                             Elul
Techniques                                                         Tishri
Can                                                                     Cheshvan
Comprehend                                                       Chisleu
This                                                                    Tevet
Simple                                                                Shevet
Aid                                                                     Adar

Other than that, it's just a lot of hard work, that may not seem worth it, but maybe you should at least copy this down and interact with it when reading some Old Testament narratives. You never know when you might find a gem like we discovered with Nehemiah not that long ago. 

Appendix: Calendar with Major Festivals (and Explanations)

       I.         Background
A.    Civil v. Ecclesiastic Year
1.      Civil year is when they change the number of years and starts with Tishri
2.      Ecclesiastic year is the calendar referenced in the Bible and starts with Spring “Aviv” Nisan
3.      There are also other “years” in the Hebrew calendar, marked by the trees or the reign of kings.
4.      Since we want to understand more about interpreting Bible, we will follow the Ecclesiastic year.

B.     Lunisolar system
1.      Months are determined by the cycle of the moon. All are 29 or 30 days in length.
2.      The lunar calendar falls 11 days behind a solar calendar
3.      Ergo, 7 years in each 19 years, there is an added month before Adar, called Adar 1 (of 30 days). Adar becomes Adar II.

    II.         Calendar
A.    Spring
1.      Nisan/Aviv (Mar/Apr) 30 days     21 March 2015 – 19 April 2015
a.       Passover 15 Nisan – 22 Nisan
                                                        i.            Background
1)      To celebrate what the Lord did in delivering the Israelites from Egypt. Killling Firstborn… Passed over Israelites’ houses
2)      Also marks the beginning of harvest season
3)      Ordained in Exodus 12-15
                                                      ii.            Observances
1)      Sacrifice a lamb
2)      Eating unleavened bread. Symbolizes that the Israelites were in a hurry when leaving Egypt, couldn’t wait for bread to rise.
3)      Must sell all leaven and have none in possession for the duration of the holiday. Spring cleaning!
4)      No work on the first two or last two days of the festival.
                                                    iii.            Other Scriptural references
1)      Joshua 5:10. After the act of circumcision on the Canaanite side of the Jordan River.
2)      2 Kings 23:21-23 Part of Josiah’s reforms to bring people to God. No Passover like it ever.
3)      Ezra 6:20-22 Part of the dedication of the Temple after it was rebuilt.
4)      The Last Supper: Luke 22:1, 7-22, Matt. 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, John 13:21-30, I Cor. 11:23-25
5)      I Corinthians 5:7-8 Christ is our Passover.
2.      Iyar (Apr/May) 29 days   20 April 2015 – 18 May 2015
3.      Sivan (May/June) 30 days   19 May 2015 – 17 June 2015
b.      Shavu’ot     6 Sivan
                                                        i.            Background
1)      As of post-exilic era, commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai (note: not receiving because they are always receiving)
2)      Referred to as Marriage day in Talmud between the people and God.
3)      Commemorate the Firstfruits of the harvest.
4)      Count 49 days between second day of Passover and Shavu’ot. This reminds the Israelites of the connection between the two. They were physically emancipated at Passover, but the giving of the Torah spiritually rescued them from idolatry.
5)      Ordained Lev. 21:15-22
                                                      ii.            Observances
1)      No work. Treated like a Sabbath
2)      Burnt, sin offering, peace offering.
3)      Firstfruits harvested, baked, and brought to the temple
4)      Stay up the night before Shavu’ot, studying Torah, and pray as early as possible in the morning.
5)      Eat a dairy meal once on the day
6)      The book of Ruth is read
                                                    iii.            Application in Scriptural Interpretation – Ruth
1)      Can glean from the fact that Ruth is read at this festival some insight into how the Hebrews interpret this passage.
2)      Marriage between Ruth and Boaz is a bigger picture of a marriage between the world and Christ
3)      Ruth’s rescue with Boaz is indicative of a bigger rescue promised to the Israelite people through Christ.
B.     Summer
4.      Tammuz (June/July) 29 days  18 June 2015 – 16 July 2015
5.      Av (July/Aug) 30 days   17 July 2015 – 15 August 2015
c.       Tisha B’av    9 Av
                                                        i.            Background
1)      Translated: the ninth of Av
2)      To commemorate many tragedies that have occurred to the Israelite people on the ninth of Av, such as the destruction of the first temple (586 BC) and destruction of the second temple (70 AD)
3)      Created after the destruction of the first temple (II Kings 25:8-9; Jer. 52:12-13)
4)      From the Talmud Taanit: “It cannot be said that on the seventh day the calamity occurred, because it is also written "on the tenth." Neither can it be said that it happened "on the tenth," because it says "on the seventh"--hence it must be assumed that entrance to the Temple was gained by the enemy on the seventh, and they ate and did damage therein on the seventh, on the eighth, and on the ninth. Toward the evening of the ninth they set it on fire, and it continued to burn all day on the tenth, as it is written [ibid. vi. 4]: "Wo unto us! for the day waneth, for the shadows of the evening are stretched out." And this bears out the statement of R. Johanan, who said as follows: "Were I living in those days, I would have ordained the fast for the 10th of Abh; for on that day the greater part of the temple was burned." The sages of that day, however, held that the day when the calamity began should be observed as a fast-day.”
                                                      ii.            Observances
1)      Culmination of a three week period of mourning, starting with the fast on 17 Tammuz
2)      Fast and mourning. Refrain from even so much as idle conversation. No bathing, no washing, no leather shoes, no sex, and no study of Torah.
3)      Book of Lamentations is read
4)      If the 9 of Av falls on a Sabbath, then Tisha B’Av is postponed to the tenth.
                                                    iii.            Other Scriptural references
1)      Zech. 7:3

6.      Elul (Aug/Sep) 29 days   16 August 2015 – 13 September 2015
C.     Fall
7.      Tishri (Sep/Oct) 30 days  14 September 2016 – 13 October 2015
d.      Rosh Hashanah 1 Tishri
i.                    Background
1)      Translated: head of the year. Tis the beginning of the civil year. Year number changes here
2)      Ordained Lev. 23:24-25 called day of remembrance in Bible
ii.                  Observances
1)      Used as opportunity to turn around oneself and become a better person.
2)      Unless holiday falls on a Sabbath, a shofar (ram’s horn) is blown in the Synagogue.
3)      No work
4)      L'shanah tovah ("for a good year") commonly used as a greeting
5)      Read the story of Abraham to try to receive an empathic heart.
6)      Starts the “ten days of repentance” leading into the Day of Atonement
e.       Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) 10 Tishri
i.                    Background
1)      It is a day to afflict the soul and find atonement for sin. Atones only for sins between you and God…
2)      Ordained Lev. 16:29-30, 23:26-32
ii.                  Observances
1)      Must seek reconciliation from others before the Day of Atonement to
2)      Complete Sabbath
3)      25 hour fast starting an hour before sunset until sunset the next day.
4)      No bathing, no washing, no leather shoes, no sex,
5)      Spend day in synagogue praying
6)      Priest allowed to enter the Holy of Holies
7)      Sacrificial lambs
iii.                Other Scriptural references
1)      Hebrews 9:6-14
f.       Sukkot (Feast of the Tabernacles) 15 Tishri – 21 Tishri
i.                    Background
1)      Commonly referred to as “The season of our rejoicing” Z'man Simchateinu
2)      Commemorates the forty year period the Israelites wandered in the wilderness
3)      Also a harvest festival.
4)      Ordained Lev. 23:33-43
ii.                  Observances
1)      Live in temporary booths (must have two and a half walls, like the letter Hay)
2)      No work permitted on the first day
3)      Binding together four species of plants and waving in all six directions (up, down, west, east, north, south) to signify that God is everywhere.
iii.                Other Scriptural references
1)      Ezra 3:4 As part of the spiritual revival before the rebuilding of the Temple.
2)      Nehemiah 8:13-18 Part of Nehemiah and Ezra’s reforms that took place as a part of revival after the rebuilding of the wall.
3)      Zechariah 14:16-20 Prophesied that in the day of the Lord, all will go up and keep the feast of the Tabernacles
4)      John 7:2-14 Jesus attends the Feast of the Tabernacles right as the desire to kill Him becomes stronger.
g.      Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah 22 Tishri 
i.    Background 
1)      Immediately follows the Feast of the Tabernacles
2)      Host (Lord) asks them to stay another day
3)      Simchat Torah = rejoicing in the Torah
iv.                Observances
1)      No work permitted
2)      Finishing a week of Torah reading in the Synagogue
3)      Much celebration with the Torah, like marching and dancing with the Torah scrolls.
8.      Cheshvan (Oct/Nov) 29 or 30 days    14 October 2015 – 12 November 2015  (30 days)
9.      Chisleu/Kislev (Nov/Dec) 29 or 30 days  13 November 2015 – 12 December 2015 (30 days)
D.    Winter
10.  Tevet (Dec/Jan) 29 days 13 December 2015 – 10 January 2016
11.  Shevat (Jan/Feb) 30 days   11 January 2016 – 9 February 2016
12.  Adar (Feb/Mar) 29 (except leap month this year) so 30 days  10 February 2016 – 10 March 2016
13.  Adar II 29 days 11 March 2016 – 8 April 2016
h.      Purim 14 Adar
i.    Background
1)      Commemorates the protection from extermination in Persia in the book of Esther
2)      Purim means “lots” reference to how Haman determined the day the Jews would be exterminated.
3)      On the thirteenth day of the month Adar, Israelites were saved from their enemies; 14th day then set aside as a day of merriment and fasting
4)      The walled city of Shushan did not receive rest until the 15th day of the Month Adar; thus, in cities that were walled at time of Joshua, Purim festivities occur on the 15 Adar
5)      Ordained Esther 9
iii.                Observances
1)      Preceded by a minor fast, marking the Fast of Esther (Esther 4)
2)      Hear the reading of the book of Esther (booing, hissing, stomping, and using noisemakers to blot out the name of Haman)
3)      Commanded to drink and be merry
4)      Making gifts to charity, sending gifts of food to friends

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