Beit Midrash

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Using the Hebrew Calendar

There are some people, in Israel for the most part, who oppose the use of the Gregorian calendar in their every-day interactions, and choose to use the Jewish calendar instead. Let us delve into and explain the importance of the Jewish calendar.

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Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Tishrei 25 5782
Translated and adapted by Hillel Fendel

There are some people, in Israel for the most part, who oppose the use of the Gregorian calendar in their every-day interactions, and choose to use the Jewish calendar instead. Let us delve into and explain the importance of the Jewish calendar.

[Ed. note: Both the Gregorian and Jewish calendars have 12 months each, but the months of the latter are about one day shorter on the average – giving the Jewish year some 11 days fewer than the Gregorian year. The two systems are re-coordinated every 19 years by adding a 13th month in each of several Jewish years. This explains why the Jewish holidays never begin on the same Gregorian calendar date as the years before or after, but still always basically remain within the same Gregorian month, such as Chanukah in December, Rosh HaShanah in September, etc.]

The significance attached to the type of calendar we use and to the way we count the days, months, and years is simply too important to be ignored.

Admittedly, it is much easier and more convenient to work with the Gregorian calendar used by the rest of the world. For one thing, we do not live on our own island, and we must be coordinated with the rest of the world. In addition, some would say that the question of which calendar we use is nothing more than a technical matter – and that even if those who designed the Jewish calendar had spiritual intentions, these really have no significance today.

The fact is, however, that there is great importance to which calendar we use. By using the Jewish calendar, we are imparting Jewish values. [For instance, when we say that Passover begins on the 15th day of Nissan, instead of "somewhere around April," we are connecting to many spiritual lessons, such as the significance of the mid-month full moon, the importance of Nissan as the "head" month, etc.] We cannot detach a nation's economic/organizational framework from its ideology and values. For instance, public programs and budgets are based on a yearly cycle, such that the beginning, middle, and end of the process become milestones with significance. In a Jewish state, these societal milestones should be of a Jewish nature!

When a fiscal year ends, summations of the past and plans for the future are made. There is a sense of a new beginning, as we learn from past mistakes and seek to actualize great dreams for the future. These ideas thus take on a sense of spirit. We, the Jewish People, have a very rich spiritual world of our own, and it can be expressed in our unique yearly calendar. The first day of the month of Tishrei – Rosh HaShanah – is our natural milestone for summing up the past year, making accounts of our behavior, doing teshuva (repentance), reviewing what we can do better, and seeking to rectify.

The first day of Tishrei is the day on which the world was created by G-d, and thus it is no coincidence that this day is our New Year, our Rosh HaShanah. At the same time, it is also no coincidence that the civil new year is on January 1, as the designers of the civil calendar wished to give significance to the birth of the man considered to be the father of the Christian belief system [which was actually the day of his Brit Milah, based on his traditional birthdate of Dec. 25]. This is of course another reason not to use this calendar.

In short, given that the economic, societal and spiritual networks are all intertwined, and since they are connected in time, the choice of which calendar to use is very significant. The time has truly come to return to widespread use of the Jewish calendar – our very own national calendar.

Our calendar is special, based on our national, land-based reality, and is rooted in nature. Most importantly, it belongs to the Jewish People, as determined by the Creator of the world and nature. We have four different new years: The first day of Nissan is the new year by which to count the reign of kings; the first of Elul is the new year for tithing animals based on their year of birth; the first of Tishrei is most widely considered the New Year, because we use it to count the yearly cycles for the Jubilee, Shmittah, etc. And finally, Tu B'Shvat - the 15th day of Sh'vat - is the new year for trees, in order to determine which fruits are tithed and how.

This is our vibrant, natural, national calendar. Let us keep it that way!

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