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Holidays

 

Not all Jewish Holidays are created equal!
In fact, it would be hard to answer the question, "Which Jewish holiday is most important?" Is it Shabbat which comes the most frequently- once a week? Is it Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year? Is it Passover, which really is the first 'official' Jewish holiday and referred to dozens of times in the Torah and the reason for not oppressing the stranger?

It is similarly difficult to organize the Jewish holidays. Historically: the ones in Torah (Pesach, Sukkot, Yom Kippur), then other biblical ones (Purim), post biblical (Chanukah), and finally modern (Yom Ha-Shoah and Yom Ha-Atzmaut); or by category: Pilgrimage festivals: Pesach, Sukkot, and Shavuot, the High Holy Days, Minor Festivals; or (what is usually done): chronologically according to the secular calendar, starting in September with Rosh Hashanah.

While time moves ever forward (as the popular bumper sticker has it: 'today is the first day of the rest of your life', time also moves in a circle. Day follows night, spring follows winter. The Jewish holidays punctuate the yearly cycle. To understand a holiday, we usually examine its historical development, and learn how to practice the special customs associated with it.

Find resources on the navigation bar for the closest upcoming holidays. Enjoy!

The Jewish Calendar: Why is Rosh Hashanah so early/late this year? 

Why does Rosh Hashanah sometimes fall at the beginning of September, and sometimes fall as late as the beginning of October? The Jewish and Julian calendars are not identical.

The Torah's word for month (chodesh) comes from the root 'chadash' (meaning new) because each Jewish month begins with a new moon. Even in English, we can recognize that the word month is related to the word for moon, but the English month can be 28, 29, 30 or 31 days long. The Jewish month follows the lunar cycle and is 29 (or 30) days long. (Note also: in English, the 'new moon' actually is 'no moon'; in our context, the new moon is when the moon is first sighted.)

Unlike the Julian or secular calendar, where months are no longer bound to their lunar origins, in the Jewish calendar, a new (Hebrew) month always coincides with the new moon, and the full moon always falls on the fifteenth of the Hebrew month. (Note that many Jewish holidays and special dates- Sukkot, Tu B'Shevat, Purim, Passover, Tu B'Av- occur in the middle of the month: on the night with the most available natural light!) Compare this to the Julian calendar where the new moon and full moon have to be graphically indicated on calendars, as they can move around from the beginning to the end of the month. There can even be (rare but possible) an English month with two full moons, (the second one called a 'blue moon,' heard in the expression 'once in a blue moon' to mean very rarely).

Measuring the months so faithfully according to the lunar cycle creates one small problem. Since many of the Jewish holidays are season-specific (Passover is a holiday of spring) it cannot move more than a few weeks either way, and so the 'lunar' months must also be calibrated to the [solar] seasons. The present Jewish calendar is therefore 'lunisolar,' and to keep holidays from 'wandering' into another season, adjustments must be made on leap years by adding an extra month of Adar. 

Tue, 17 October 2017 27 Tishrei 5778