Everything you need to know about the Jewish Calendar

Israel is a fascinating land, full of miracles, spirituality, and many vibrant colors. Because of its diverse population, it is a true melting pot of cultures. When tourists visit Israel, many factors fascinate them and also confuse them. What are kosher dietary rules (why can’t you mix milk and meat? ), Shabbat laws (why doesn’t public transportation operate from Friday night until Saturday night?), Yom Kippur (why does the entire nation close for 25 hours, including the airport?!). Another one is, ‘Why is the Jewish calendar different from the calendars used in the majority of the Western world today?”   

 

Let’s take a deeper look at the historical events in Israel and the background behind Jewish dates, as well as why the Hebrew or the Jewish calendar (‘Ha Luah Halvri’) varies from the Gregorian calendar.  

What are the beginnings of the Jewish calendar? 

During biblical times, the Babylonian calendar was used by the peoples and places in West Asia, especially the Israelites.  This was a ‘lunisolar’ system, with 12 lunar months beginning on the evening of the day a new crescent moon was seen. In addition, a thirteenth month was introduced by decree when needed. 

 

Maimonides, one of Judaism’s greatest sages, addressed the issue in his work “Mishneh Torah” by the 12th century. According to the creation myth in the Book of Genesis, he ruled that the world was founded on October 6, 3761. All of his regulations for this computed calendar (with its scriptural foundation) are still utilized by Jewish communities across the world.  

How does the Jewish calendar work? 

The Jewish calendar is essentially based on three astronomical events:   

  • the Earth spinning on its axis (one day),  
  • the moon orbiting around the earth (a month),  
  • and the earth’s movement around the sun (a year)

A month is 29 days on average, while a year is made up of 365¼ days, which equals around 12.4 lunar months. The civil calendar (used in Europe, North America, and Africa, among other places) has abandoned the concept of linking moon cycles and months; instead, the durations of various months have been fixed (somewhat arbitrarily) at 28, 29, 30, or 31 months.  

 

On the other hand, the Jewish calendar coordinates all three of these astronomical occurrences – its months are either 29 or 30. (in line with the 29½-day lunar cycle) and years are either 12 or 13 months (in line with the 12.4-month solar cycle).  

What are the months in the Jewish calendar? 

Here are the Jewish calendar’s 12 months:   

  • Nissan (March-April),   
  • Iyar (April-May),   
  • Sivan (May-June),   
  • Tammuz (June-July),  
  • Av (July-August),   
  • Elul (August-September),  
  • Tishri (September-October),   
  • Kislev (November-December),   
  • Tevet (December-January),  
  • Shv’at (January-February),  
  •  Adar (February-March),   
  • Adar II (every 3 years), February-March.  

  

In Jewish leap years (which occur seven times in a 19-year cycle, or roughly once every three years), an extra month of Adar (Adar II) is added. This guarantees that the lunar months remain in sync with the solar year and that Jewish festivals remain in their rightful seasons.  

When exactly do Jewish days begin?  

A new day begins at midnight in the West and other parts of the world. However, this is not the case in Judaism. The day begins, according to Jewish tradition, with the emergence of three stars in the sky.   

 

This is because, in the first chapter of the Hebrew Bible’s first book, Genesis, which chronicles the creation of the universe, it is written: “And there was evening and there was morning…one day.”  

 

Thus, Jews contend, nighttime came first, followed by the next day. This is why Jewish festivals usually begin at sundown, and why the Jewish Sabbath (“Shabbat”) begins on Friday evening and finishes on Saturday evening.    

What is the significance of the Jewish New Year beginning in September or October?  

The Jewish (Hebrew) calendar starts with Rosh Hashanah, which always falls on the first day of Tishrei (the seventh month), which is either in September or October.   

 

Fun fact: there are numerous ‘New Years’ in the Jewish calendar.  

 

Nissan 1 – for calculating the reigns of kings and months), Elul – for animal tithes; (voluntary contributions/taxation),   

Shevat 15 – for trees, deciding when the season’s first fruits can be enjoyed.   

Tishri 1 marks the beginning of the new year. 

So, what year is it according to the Jewish calendar?  

The Roman year is currently 2023 since Jesus was born 2023 years ago, according to them. However, Jews calculate the years from what they believe to be the creation of the world.   This indicates that the year 2023 is presently 5783 according to Jewish estimates.  

Is there a different Jewish calendar in use?  

This is an intriguing question, and the answer is yes. Smaller communities exist outside of orthodox Judaism that employ calendars based on the preceding customs but with notable variances. They are called the Karaite calendar, the calendar of the Samaritans, and Qumran’s calendar.  

  

Now you are all ready to amaze the locals! Tell them which Hebrew month your birthday falls in.  

 

For more information on Israel’s history, culture, and heritage, contact us! You can also reach out for an expert lecture. Consider hiring a private tour guide for your tour in Israel for more such interesting information. 

 

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