Monday, February 9, 2015

Why is the Hebrew Calendar not “certain”? (Part 1 of 2)

Upon initial discovery that there are “God commanded Holy observances” required of all who accept YHWH as their God, (the 7th Day Sabbath, Pesach, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Shavuot, Yom Teruah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot), most soon pose the question: “When are these observances? 

The 7th Day Sabbath is obvious, but the others depend on the calendar of the Bible – the so-called “Hebrew” or “Jewish” calendar – the term can be used interchangeably.  Our modern civil (Gregorian) calendar is perfectly fine for keeping the man-made holidays such as “Christmas” and “Easter” (neither of which meet any of the required observances listed above), but the civil calendar has no way to establish and identify the commanded feasts!  So one must turn to the Hebrew calendar.   

Anyone just getting into the Hebrew (Biblical) calendar, having never before seen it is usually somewhat bewildered and confused!  The source of that confusion is simply a lack of “familiarity”.  After all, we are, the world over, very familiar with and comfortable with the “common” calendar in use today.  The modern civil calendar with its repeating 12 months, January to December is very well understood, as are the number of days each month which simply varies between 30 and 31, except of course, for February which has 28 or 29 on a regular cycle of 4 years, with the year length fixed at 365 days or 366 if  a leap year.  There are even cute mnemonics to help one remember the number of days in each month. For example:

30 days hath September,
  April, June and November,
All the rest have 31,
  Excepting February alone
(And that has 28 days clear,
  With 29 in each leap year).

Indeed, because the civil calendar is a “daily fact of life”, most people have at least some understanding WHY February is the only month with 28 days, and why a “leap day” is periodically needed, though I will not address these topics here.

But, when trying to understand the Hebrew calendar, one is quickly accosted with the “month” determined by the moon, a “year” of either 12 or 13 months, months varying between 29 and 30 days  (never “31” or “28”), and the “1st day” of each month somehow depends on when the moon is considered “new”, and number of days in a year can be as few as 354 or as many 385!  Oy!

Let me stop here and state that the Hebrew Calendar is not that hard! The difference is simply this: Our “world” calendar today is the Gregroian calendar – and is based on the “year” solely by the sun, i.e., it is a purely “solar calendar”.  It has no relationship with the moon.  That’s why the civil year has a fixed 365 days, and in leap years, 366. (Any skilled person, simply watching the sun can determine this very same “year”.)  The 366-day leap year keeps the calendar “in-sync” with the sun by adding one day every so often (on a well-known schedule).  But the Hebrew calendar is both a solar calendar and a lunar calendar because it keeps track of the months by the cycle of the moon, and the year by the sun (and moon).  The Hebrew calendar is thus a “lunar-solar” (or lunisolar) calendar. To keep the "year" by the moon, in-sync with the sun, a whole leap month must be intercalated every 2-3 years rather than a single day.

Once you understand that the Hebrew calendar is lunisolar, it becomes easier to understand why the leap year is a whole month, why months have only 29 or 30 days, and why the start of the month is with the new moon. 

But here is the problem:   Everywhere you look in this INTERNET age, there are “different” Hebrew calendars! And it seems everyone is saying “theirs” is the right one!  Some even declare their calendar as “God’s Calendar”, or the “Creator’s Calendar”.  The INTERNET is FULL of such nonsense! Some argue the 1st day of the Hebrew month is by “sighting the new crescent moon”. Some say the new month begins with the conjunction of the moon.  Some say the 1st Biblical month of the year must be by the new moon when the barley crop is beginning to ripen.  Some say that Pesach can fall before or after the Spring Equinox, while others say Pesach must be after the Spring Equinox.  Still others come up with bizarre interpretations of scripture which require the 7th Day Sabbath to fall on certain, invariant dates of each Hebrew month (the so-called “Lunar Sabbath)!  Even the modern, “traditional”, Jewish Calendar in effect today applies extra-biblical “rules” for calculating which day is the new month, and inserts or removes days as needed to prevent Yom Kippur from falling on a Friday or a Sunday.

So it does beg the question:  “Why is the Hebrew Calendar not ‘certain’?”

Well, it’s a trick question, because the Hebrew Calendar IS certain.  It’s man who has made a mess of it!

Before I go on, let me clarify something.  Nowhere in scripture do we find ANY instructions for maintaining the proper calendar!  Nowhere!  So please don’t believe ANYONE who insists “their” calendar is the true “Biblical one”!  All scripture assumes that the mechanism for keeping the calendar is already known.  Scripture never states that the 1st day of the new month is determined by the sighting of a crescent new moon! (One “scholar” actually dares to say, and I quote: “Contained within the first phrase of Deut 16:1 is in fact a command to sight the first visible crescent of the moon.” I have to shake my head at that!)  Scripture never states how many months there are in a year.  Scripture never tells us exactly how to establish the month of Pesach.  Scripture does not even provide the names of the months! (It’s true, the names of only 4 months are mentioned in Scripture! They are Aviv, Ziv, Ethanim, and Bul – and today none of those names are commonly used!)  Scripture never says Yom Kippur can’t fall on a Friday or a Sunday.  Scripture never says the 7th Day Sabbath is tied in any way to the moon.  This list could go on and on, but I hope I’ve made my point.   ALL Biblical calendars rely on just a few key scriptures which only provide clues to establishing the calendar. It is this fact alone that we really must rely on what has been handed down through the ages by the Jewish sages on how the calendar was managed.  Unfortunately, that is also not entirely clear!

The Scripture highest on the list of “key” to the calendar is the month in which the Exodus began.  This is mentioned in Exodus 12, verse 2: “You are to begin your calendar with this month; it will be the first month of the year for you.”  The commandment “anchoring” Pesach to this month is also found in Exodus.  The night of Pesach is the late afternoon of the 14th of the Hebrew month of Aviv (now called “Nisan”), Exodus 12:6, and Pesach is to be “kept in this month”, perpetually, in remembrance of that night (Exodus 12:14, Leviticus 23:5, Deuteronomy 16:1).  All other commanded observances are tied to the 1st month, and they follow the annual Pesach observance.

So the “proper” way to establish the Hebrew Calendar is to: Establish the month of Nisan.  If you do that right, you have the whole calendar. There.  The Hebrew Calendar actually IS certain! 

In the next segment, (Part 2), I will discuss some of the claims of how the Hebrew Calendar is to be determined and provide a brief explanation of the problem with the claim, and end with a suggestion about how to deal with this calendar problem.


  1. Is the Hebrew calendar certain? In Genesis the Bible tells us in Genesis 1:3, Let there be light and 4 God divided the light from the darkness 5 and God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night, and the evening and the morning were the first day. God worked in the light and then the evening and morning followed were the first day. Doesn't this mean that our days are to be sunrise to sunrise instead of sunset to sunset? Isn't the faith forward moving towards the light? This matches our bodies circadian rhythms as well as plants and all creation in fact. When we look at days being sunrise to sunrise, this makes perfect sense over sunset to sunset. Can you explain?

    1. Good points for discussion! I don't know if I can explain to your satisfaction, but I'll give it a go! Scripture plainly says, starting in Genesis 1:5, "...and there was evening and there was morning, one day." Indeed, in the original Hebrew, the meaning follows that order: evening first, then light = one full day. So it seems without further argument that the complete day is from darkness to light, then back to darkness, i.e., sunset to sunset.

      And since the first three "days" were completed without the sun, and the sun was not even "placed" to separate the daytime from the nighttime on the earth till the fourth day (Genesis 1:14-19), it seems that a stretch to say our days (on earth) must be from sunrise to sunrise, when the "day" was already defined without the sun! (Indeed, all we know from Genesis 1:3-5 is what it says. We can't even assume that by verse 5 that the sun or the earth were yet in their final form, or that the "sun" was producing the light of verse 3!)

      I'm a little puzzled by your statement: "God worked in the light"! In the first 5 verses you quoted, we find: "1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (It was dark.) "2 The earth was unformed and void, darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water." (it was still dark, yet God was "working".) "3 Then God said, 'Let there be light"; and there was light.' (Aha! We have light now to separate light from the darkness). So I would think that God does not need light to do His work! It seems light was created for us, not for God! Indeed, in Revelation 21 & 22 say that in that future, there will be no need for the sun or moon because God Himself will provide the light for those who were saved.

      I must admit, I don't know what you mean by "Isn't the faith forward moving towards the light?", so I can't address that. But when you say: "This matches our bodies circadian rhythms as well as plants and all creation in fact. When we look at days being sunrise to sunrise, this makes perfect sense over sunset to sunset", what I see in your words is a "Greek mindset". While a sunrise to sunrise day may make perfect sense in chronobiology, The "day" is not set to our circadian rhythm. Genesis 1:14 says the sun, moon, and stars are for "for signs, seasons, days and years" - nothing about "for human activity which typically begins at sunrise."

      While society can have any day it likes (our modern "day", for example is midnight to midnight), If you think about ancient society, without clocks, and only the sun, moon, and stars to look at, a sunset to sunset "day" makes more sense! Consider: The moon establishes the "month", and the sun clearly establishes the "day", in order to tell which day of the month it is, it makes more sense to consider the "day" ending and the new day beginning at sunset because when the moon is new, a new month has begun, and a "new" moon cannot be seen at sunrise! (Though I don't agree with the "sighted crescent" for determining the 1st day of the Hebrew month, the new moon reasoning still holds).


  2. Lunar Shabbatharians violate the 4th commandment.

  3. The Shabbath is the 4th commandment .


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