Monday, February 9, 2015

Why is the Hebrew Calendar not “certain”? (Part 2 of 2)

In the first segment, (Part 1), I boldly stated that the the Hebrew Calendar IS “certain”, but making that statement does not really address the issue and is surely less than satisfactory!  The issue can be restated as: “Why are there so many variations to the Hebrew Calendar?  In the simplest terms, it is because people apply poor interpretations of scriptures, making unscriptural “rules” or “claims” to create their calendar and then insist they are “right”.  Four examples: 
Claim: The month begins with the sighting of the new crescent.
Discussion:  I find this idea is largely myth but it has been stated for so long, by so many that it is more often simply assumed as “fact.”  Few question it.  Everyone should.  Some go so far as to say the “sighted moon is the Biblical way”, yet absolutely nowhere in scripture do we find ANY such declaration to determine the month by the sighted crescent.  (The “scholar” mentioned in the first segment went on to insist that the original Hebrew word translated as “Observe” in Deuteronomy 16:1 has to mean “look” and therefore it means “sight the crescent”.)  But it’s easy to prove the sighted crescent wrong.  Assume you are in Israel, and when your “sighted moon” calendar says the date is changing from the 14th to the 15th, simply watch the eastern horizon for the moon to rise at sunset.  Your calendar says it is the middle of the month, so at sunset that night you should see a full or nearly full moon rise near sunset. And you will see the moon rise, but it will rise well after sunset, and it will be visibly, noticeably past “full”, and you should go “Uh Oh!” 

You see, if your “month” by the moon is correct, then the “middle” of the month must be a Full Moon (a “sign”!), and if you see a Full Moon (or nearly Full Moon) rise, the calendar date MUST therefore also say it is the middle of the month!  (I’m not going into the specifics of this issue but suffice it to say, most of the time the moon should become full sometime within the period when the calendar says the date is going out of the 14th to into the 15th. )  Therefore the requirement for the 1st day of the new month has to be that day which will ensure the Full Moon is at the middle of the calendar month.  That turns out to be the first sunset after the lunar conjunction. (Also not going into the specifics here.)  The first sunset after conjunction must become the 1st day whether or not you “see” a crescent!  The old, tired argument that “the moon can’t be seen in conjunction, therefore it cannot be the sign of the new month” is simply bogus.  In general, yes a "sign" would be "visible", but in the case of the moon, its very absence at conjunction IS a very clear sign!  (I’m also not going to elaborate on this.  Suffice it to say that it is not hard, by observation alone, to know the period when the moon is in conjunction, and hence, which sunset becomes the 1st of the next month. You can nail it 100% of the time by skilled observation alone.)

Claim:  The month of Nisan is determined by the stage of ripening of the barley crop in Israel.

Discussion: With all due respect to the sages, IMHO, this is a misapplication of scripture.  It centers around the idea that the word “aviv” (or “abib”) has a special meaning as a stage of ripening, and so they take Exodus 13:4  “You are leaving today, in the month of Aviv and instead of seeing this as the “monthof the year that the Spring crops begin to green which happened to be the month of the Exodus, they instead see that it must be the “the greening of the barley set the month”, and thus develop an entire calendar based on the unbiblical interpretation.  The arguments  supporting the “abib barley” are many, but the overarching problem with all of them is that nowhere in scripture do you find ANY requirement to hold hostage the month or the year to an “earth sign.”  Genesis 1:14 says: "Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to divide the day from the night; let them be for signs, seasons, days and years” – i.e., the sun and moon are the signs, and it does NOT say “…and use the abib barley to determine which month is the 1st month of the year. Truly, where are the signs found? “In the dome of the sky” – nothing about any sign on the ground.  Since the sun and moon determine the seasons, and barley does not, this is a simple matter to understand.  The month of the Exodus was in the month when the season was changing to Spring, and the commandment is to “keep it in that month”.  The commandment is decidedly NOT to go look at the barley and then “hold” the start of the new year if you don’t think it was green enough!

Claim:  The Hebrew Calendar leap year is determined by the application of the Metonic Cycle.
Discussion: The Metonic Cycle is so named because over the centuries of observation of the moon and sun it became understood that in the span of 19 solar (i.e., tropical) years there are exactly 235 lunar months (within just a few hours).  (A lunar month is properly called a “synodic” month, and is about 29.53 days long.) The cycle is named after the Greek astronomer Meton after he introduced the cycle in the 5th century BCE, though the cycle was also known to Babylon astronomers long before Meton.  The Metonic Cycle is used to determine which year in the modern Hebrew Calendar is to be a leap year.  Using the cycle, a leap month is inserted every 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th years.  The problem is, though the Metonic Cycle is certainly valid over the entire 19 years, within any given cycle of 19 years the proper year to include a leap month may not be the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, or 19th!  You will see this problem in 2016, when the modern Hebrew Calendar, by the rigid application of the Metonic Cycle, inserts an unnecessary leap month and has 1 Nisan at sunset April 8th, 2016, causing Pesach to fall a full month late!  (The 1st of Nisan in 2016 should fall at sunset Mar 9, 2016, making Pesach fall properly at sunset March 23, 2016.)  It is simply wrong to assign the Metonic Cycle to the “real” moon!

Claim:  The Hebrew Calendar must alternate months of 29 and 30 days.

Discussion: In general, this is a true statement because alternating months of 29 and 30 days does closely match the average lunar synodic period of 29.53 days.  But in reality, and by observation alone, you can discover that this “rule” simply does not fit the “real” moon!  Even if you knew nothing about precession of the lunar orbit around the earth, you can observe that some months are “short” while some months are “long”.  Not by "whole" days of course! (Indeed the shortest synodic period is around 29.26 days and the longest around 29.84 days.  When the moon’s orbit is in the “longer” side of the average, it is possible that the calendar months may need 2 or even 3, 30-day months in a row to have the “1st” fall on the correct day each month.)  But the modern Hebrew Calendar only uses the “average moon” year-round and the calendar very often “misses” the correct day for the 1st of the new month.  The modern Hebrew calendar also fixes the number of days in 5 of the months to 30 days, and in another 5 months, they are fixed to 29 days.  But in reality, a month which is today only permitted to have 30 days, may only require 29 if going by the real moon, and a fixed 29-day month may need a 30th day if going by the real moon.  (Worse, the modern Hebrew Calendar artificially “postpones” the 1st day of the 7th month to “control” the weekday on which Yom Kippur falls, then adds or subtracts days in 2 other months to control the length of the year!) Again, with all due respect to the rabbis and sages, these "rules" are wrong!
By these examples, hopefully you can see how it is man who has made a mess of the Hebrew Calendar! The expectations of the calendar are very clear in scripture even though no scripture provides the “formula”.  The expectations are these:  The sun determines the day, the moon determines the month (and thus the appointed times), and the sun and moon together determine the year.  (Note: While some will argue that Psalm 104:19 which says: “He made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting”, means that the moon determines Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, this is simply not the case.  The English word “seasons” is not the meaning of the original word  למועדים  (l’moedim) in Hebrew, which means “appointed times”.  Read Leviticus 23, and see how it is that the “moon marks the moedim”!  Many moedim are specified by a precise day of the Hebrew month, i.e., “appointed times”!)

So I have illustrated but four examples of man-made “claims” which are demonstrably erred.  You may now be asking just what is correct?

A “correct” calendar will establish the month of Nisan at the proper New Moon (as determined from Jerusalem, of course.)  It is known that all ancient peoples understood the four seasons.  Even Genesis 8:22, attributed to the time of Noah, names the seasons: “So long as the earth exists, sowing time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night will not cease.”  It is also clear that ALL these attributes are determined by the sun alone.  Again, simple observation of the sun proves this.  So understanding, at the time of the Exodus, they knew full-well that the sun determined the seasons, and that when the original Pesach came, it was the "time of the year for spring", that is, it was the “month of spring” -  the “month of spring” was first, then Pesach happened.  So the commandment to “keep Pesach in the month of Aviv” is clear.  Pesach is on or after the Spring Equinox, and the New Moon of Nisan is the new moon that makes that happen.  Here is the rabbinic interpretation of Deuteronomy 16:1, “Guard the month of spring, and make [then] the Passover offering.”  To do otherwise would mean “make the Passover offering, then spring begins” and that would clearly be contrary to scripture.

A “correct” calendar will begin the Hebrew month on the correct day.  The correct day is the 1st sunset after lunar conjunction.  The period of the lunar conjunction, in Biblical times would have been ascertained by watching all the signs the moon has to offer – and there are many - and not just a single, unreliable sign such as the new crescent.  If a month needed a 30th day, then you had a 30th day. The day after that would be the 1st.  Nothing has really changed since those days when they had to watch the moon-signs except today we are blessed with the ability to calculate not only the period of the conjunction, but we know the exact time of conjunction!  Thus, we can build the “correct” calendar months and years in advance.

That’s it.  Those two “guides” establish the proper Hebrew calendar (IMHO).

What should you do about all this?  Well, it’s up to you, but the most important thing is to observe the commanded moedim!  (The moed were listed at the beginning of part 1.) But since you are not charged with keeping a “correct” calendar, your only responsibility is that you follow the Hebrew calendar you trust!  I use that word “trust” carefully.  By “trust”, I mean that you should not simply “go with someone's calendar”, rather, you should carefully investigate the “rules” of the calendar and assess if you agree or not.  Blindly following a ridiculous calendar makes you guilty of laziness and ignorance.  YHWH does not want his people to be ignorant!  Scripture is full of the merit of obtaining wisdom!  The modern Hebrew calendar is pretty good in that it is typically pretty close to reality, but as I have indicated here, it is set by “rules” and those rules are actually indefensible – and will be clearly wrong in 2016.  The “sighted moon” calendar is very wrong every month, as is holding off the 1st month of the year by the ripening barley.  I did not even mention any of the problems with the silly “Lunar Sabbath” calendar as it is just too far out!      

Though the Hebrew calendar is actually pretty simple, and obviously necessary for the proper keeping of the moedim, it’s truly a shame there is no “common” ground on the right way to keep the calendar!  Some have commented to me that the modern Hebrew calendar should not be questioned and simply “accepted” by all “for the good of the community”.  But I can’t in good conscience advocate keeping a calendar that is demonstrably wrong, but I also can’t expect  anyone to adopt MY idea of what makes a proper calendar! After all, I am not a Levi, and I, too, am not charged with keeping the calendar for others, nor do I have any authority to specify the “proper” Hebrew Calendar!  I do recommend the “Wheel of Stars” calendar of Andrew Gabriel Roth, and we publish it annually on The Refiner’s Fire ( for anyone interested. 

What do I do since my calendar of choice differs from the traditional? Pretty much nothing!  I observe the moedim on the dates I believe are correct, and if my synagogue is observing the moed on different dates, I’m happy to participate in the moed with them on their date of choice!  After all, as I mentioned,  the important thing is to observe the commanded moed, not to argue over the dates! Battling and taking “sides” over calendar issues is counterproductive, yet the commandment to keep the moedim at their proper times was important enough for YHWH to have specified it in scripture, so my recommendation is to just be a good steward of the Word, and if you don’t know – learn! Proverbs 4:7! 


  1. Father separated light from darkness, called the light "day," and said that it was good.

    Day neither begins with darkness (i.e. sunset), nor does it include darkness ("24-hour day"). Those ideas are Babylonian, wholly absent from scripture.

    "And there was evening, and there was morning, a day one.." <-- The go-to proof-text, right?

    The Hebrew word translated as "evening" is ereb, which is derived from an unused root meaning, "to grow dark." How does that work for a day beginning with darkness? It doesn't.

    Another popular defense for the notion that day begins with darkness: "God called the light from darkness, so the darkness was there first."

    Of course, Father, in whom there is no darkness, preceded the darkness. In the beginning, there was light -- i.e. The Creator.

    Day = light, friends. That's a foundation of rock to build upon.

    1. Thanks for the comment Stephen, but I think you should think about this some more. Even in the Hebrew scriptures, the concept of "yom" (day), depending on the context means the "daytime", i.e., when it is "daylight", or a "whole day", i.e., from one complete rotation, sunset to next sunset.

      If you can't agree that the "day" begins with darkness at sunset then why does Leviticus 23:32 tells us to observe the Yom Kippur "from even to even shall you celebrate your sabbath"? [Here, "even" in Hebrew is "ereb", meaning dusk]. So this is literally saying "observe Yom Kippur from dusk to dusk (sunset to sunset)"! By your reckoning, the scripture should say "...observe Yom Kippur from sunrise to sunset, only the daytime." And there are many more "proof texts" besides the "day count" in Genesis 1.

      While you say "Day = light", the Hebrew word for "day" is "yom" and yes it means "the 12 hours of daylight", or "daytime", but is also means "time", "year", "age", "ago", "season", "ever", and other meanings dependent on the context!

      May I ask, why you are "boxing-in" the Father? While I agree with you that "there is no darkness" in the Father, you seem to think that only "light" was good, and that "dark" is bad. But in His realm, darkness and light are equally good!

      Yes, "light" is good: Yahweh said: “Let there be Light”, and saw that it was good (Genesis 1:3-4), and Yeshua said He is the “light of the world” and that whoever followed him would not walk in darkness [meaning without hope] and have eternal life. (John 8:12). Indeed, light triumphs over dark.

      But "darkness" is also very important to Yahweh: The covenant with Avram was made in darkness (Genesis 15:7); Pesach took place in darkness (Exodus 12:12); Yeshua rose in the dark (John 20:1). In fact, Yahweh dwells in darkness (Exodus 20:21, 1 Kings 8:12, Psalm 18:11), and the very creation itself began in darkness, (Genesis 1:2), and ends in darkness (Revelation 20:11). If darkness is this important to the Father, I seriously question your denial that the "whole day" does not include the dark part!

    2. "The tenth day of this seventh chodesh is the day of atonement."

      On that day, the people held a sacred assembly and made food offerings. Additionally, the high priest entered the most holy place, sacrificed a burnt offering for himself and the people, and sent a goat into the wilderness.

      These things were done on the tenth day of the seventh chodesh -- i.e. when the sun was up, during the light of the day.

      Father also instructed the people to afflict their souls and do no work, beginning the evening of the ninth day. This was in preparation for Yom Kippur and the events of that day, which began the following morning.

      The same rabbis who would have us believe the tail of the day is a head, would also have us believe the tail of the year is also a head. It's deception, brothers and sisters. "Come out of her, my people."

      Liam, you said, "darkness and light are equally good." How can you make such a claim? Father divided the light from the darkness, saw that the light was good, and called the light day.

      "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."

    3. Thanks for your comments Stephen.

      How can I make such a claim? Exodus 20:21
      To you: Isaiah 5:21


  2. Based on this excellent analysis, what date at sundown should Yom Kippur begin in 2016?

  3. Good question! The various calendars for 2016 will be a mess! In 2016, the New Moon which falls on March 9th means March 10th is 1 Nisan, and thus, the 7th month, Tishri, is on 1 September, making Yom Kippur begin at sunset, Saturday, 10 September, 2016. Thus, all day Sunday, 11 September, 2016 is Yom Kippur. (Note that traditional Judaism says that Yom Kippur can't fall on a Friday or Sunday in any year. But this is a rabbinical addition, not scriptural. So the traditional Jewish calendar, if needed, "postpones" the start of Tishri so Yom Kippur will not fall on Friday or Saturday. We don't believe in "postponements".)

    The traditional Jewish calendar for 2016 has an unnecessary 13th month (Adar II) for the Hebrew year ending, so it has 1 Nisan falling on April 9th, therefore Yom Kippur is not till Wednesday, October 12th. (The traditional Jewish calendar, in use today, uses the rigid application of the Metonic cycle, and in 2016 it fails as the intercalated month is not required.)

  4. Hello,
    I am new to observing the Appointed Times and the Hebrew Calendar. And honestly some of the scientific and biblical truths are over my head, so please bare with me. I have much to learn.
    Could you expand on the metonic cycle? If the metonic cycle is valid over the entire 19 years, but the proper year to include a leap year may not be the 3rd,6th,8th,11th,14th,17th,or 19th year, then how is a leap year to properly be determined? Could you explain why the traditional Jewish calendar of this year 2016, incorrectly adds a leap month, causing Passover to fall a month late?
    I was also viewing your calendar and noticed FirstFruits falls on a Friday. As far as I have observed the last couple of years, the Jewish calendar always has FirstFruits fall on a Sunday, the day after Shabbot. I assume this is because of Lev 23:11. Why do you not have FirstFruits fall the day after Shabbot? Is this because Pesach is a High Shabbot? Honestly, I have not educated myself on what a High Shabbot is, so any information you can give me about that as well, I really appreciate.
    Thank you so much for taking the time to answer questions.

    1. Lori,

      Thank you for these very good questions. My answer was destined to be too long to post in a reply in this blog, so I wished I had your email address - then you did contact us via email! So, thank you for your email, and I will email you soon with much discussion answering your questions.