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Hebrew Calendar

Hebrew Calendar Trivia:

Did you know?

- The Hebrew calendar used to be calculated by eyewitness observation of the new moon
- The modern names of the Hebrew months are Babylonian, whereas the Bible refers to the months by number
- In the Jewish calendar, the day begins the preceding evening
- Years of the Hebrew calendar are numbered from the time of Creation

For these and many more reasons, the Hebrew calendar is one of a kind!

History of the Hebrew Calendar

Known also as the Jewish calendar or ìåç òáøé (lu'ach ivri), the Hebrew calendar differs from standard (Gregorian) calendars in one key way: It is based on the lunar cycle rather than on the solar cycle. How did it all begin? During the time of the Temple, a new month (Rosh Chodesh) was declared when two eyewitnesses notified the Sanhedrin that the first sliver of the new moon had appeared, whereupon messengers were sent out to notify the people at large. Later, in the fourth century, Hillel established a fixed calendar with standardized lengths of months based on mathematical and astronomical calculations – the Hebrew calendar still in use today.

Hebrew "Leap" Year

Since the Hebrew month of Nissan and the Passover holiday (also called Chag Ha'Aviv, the Festival of Spring) are supposed to occur during the springtime, the lunar calendar poses a specific problem: Unlike the 365-day solar year, wherein the months match the seasons every year (i.e., October always occurs in the fall and July always falls during the summer), the lunar year "moves back" 11 days annually since 12-month lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than a solar year (354 days). Over time, this gap would cause the month of Nissan to occur 11 days earlier in the season each year, until it eventually landed during the winter, fall, or summer! On the other hand, a lunar calendar of 13 months would speed up this discrepancy in the other direction. Therefore to balance out the lunar and solar months and to keep the Jewish holidays in their proper seasons, an extra month is added to the Hebrew calendar seven times over the period of 19 years, resulting in a "leap year" or a ùðä îòåáøú (shana me'uberet – a 'pregnant' year), during which a second month of Adar is added.

Calculating the Hebrew Calendar Year

Did you know that at present, during the year 2011, the Hebrew calendar year numbers 5771? This marks the number of years since Creation, derived by adding up the ages of Biblical figures since that time. Although science has determined that the world has existed for a few million years, the Rabbis explain that each of the "six days" of Creation were not necessarily the 24-hour days we normally think about but rather may have represented an historical era. Many articles have now been written demonstrating the convergence of Judaism and science in this question of the Age of the Universe.

Names of the Hebrew Months

The names of the Hebrew months were adopted during the time of the Prophet Ezra and were brought back by the Jews upon their return from the Babylonian exile. The Bible, on the other hand, refers to the Jewish months by number rather than by name, i.e., the first month, the second month, et cetera.

The following are the names of the modern-Hebrew calendar months, their approximate corollaries in the civic calendar, and the Jewish holidays or Fast Days that occur during each month:

Tishrei - September-October >>> Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, Simchat Torah
Cheshvan - October-November
Kislev - November-December >>> Chanukah
Tevet - December-January >>> Fast of the 10th of Tevet
Sh'vat - January-February >>> Tu Be'Shvat (the 15th day of Sh'vat, celebrating the fruit of the Land of Israel)
Adar I and II - February-March >>>Purim
Nissan - March-April >>> Passover
Iy'yar - April-May >>> Yom Ha'Atzmaut (Israel's Independence Day), Lag Ba'Omer, Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day)
Sivan - May-June >>> Shavuot (Harvest Festival)
Tammuz - June-July >>> Fast of the 17th Day of Tammuz
Av - July-August >>> Fast of the 10th Day of Av
Elul - August-September

Why Jewish Holidays Start at Sundown

Test your family and friends on this final piece of Hebrew-Calendar Trivia!

Why do Jewish calendar days and Jewish holidays begin the preceding evening at sundown (for example, Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, begins on Friday evening at sundown)?

The Torah describes the order of Creation as follows: "There was darkness on the face of the deep; and G-d said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light." Similarly, the description of each day of Creation ends with the phrase: "…and it was evening, and it was morning..." Since dark and evening preceded light and day, so too does the Jewish day begin in the evening.

Hebrew Calendar Links

Here are links to some online Hebrew calendars which convert or display Hebrew and civil months, Jewish holidays, Sabbath candle-lighting times, and more. You can also purchase beautiful Hebrew calendars that feature Jewish artwork, Jewish themes, scenic views of Israel, and Israeli landmarks.

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