Someone recently sent a comment to The Refiner's Fire that was too long to answer in our weekly newsletter. We have therefore posted it here:
QUESTION: I'm just curious as to why you are on the conjunction calendar? This will be my second Yom Kippur and my family and I observe sliver. Thanks for your time. Shalom to all!
OUR RESPONSE: Great question, and actually, we are not on the "conjunction calendar". It looks like it, but it's not. Our calendar is by ALL the signs of the moon. Here's an explanation. Sorry for the length!
The moon "tells" us its age throughout the month. Though unseen at conjunction, that does not change the fact that conjunction is when the moon goes from old to new. (This is why the sighted crescent is wrong. By the time you see the sliver, the moon is already saying "I'm already past new.") Most people today have "forgotten" how to watch the moon for its signs. For example, when the moon is 1/4 way through the "month" it will rise at noon. When the moon is halfway through the "month", it will rise at sunset. When it is 3/4 way through the "month" it will rise a midnight. When the moon is before "new" it rises before sunrise as a waning "sliver" which tells us how long to conjunction. (There is a reason I put the word "month" in quotes - I am talking about the moon's month, not the calendar. The calendar must be "whole days" by the sun, so it can only closely follow the moon's "month" which is not measured in "whole days". (If you require more explanation, please let us know.)
Anyway, the point is that there are MANY signs the moon gives to provide the calendar. Genesis 1:14 says about the sun, moon, and stars: "...let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years." The verse is the only clue to how the calendar is formed, and there are only a couple other verses which give us any other information. Nowhere does scripture tell us how to build the calendar - not the "sighted crescent" nor conjunction. But Genesis does say we are to use the "signs" (plural) and not the "sign" (singular) - and the sighted crescent is but only ONE sign - and the sign it gives us is NOT that the moon is new; rather, its sign is that the month has already begun. (It is a long-held myth, now deeply ingrained in society, that "sighting the crescent was always the way it was done." But that is clearly wrong!)
The reason the sighted crescent is wrong is that the month, by the sliver starts "late". There are two very clear signs, which validated this: First, if it is the 29th or 30th of the Hebrew month, and just as the sun sets, you spot the crescent, your calendar date is just now becoming the 1st of the new month; but just moments earlier, when it was still the last day of the old month, the crescent was there in the sky, but it was just that the sky was too bright for us to see it. But there should not be a "new crescent" on the last day of the old month! That fact alone tells you "uh oh, it's not possible for a crescent to be there on the last day of the old month, so something is wrong. Second, remember when I said earlier that when the moon is at the "middle" of its "month" it rises at sunset? That is the period of the full moon, and since the period of the full moon is at the middle of the moon's month, then then the calendar should also be at the "middle" of the calendar month! (This conclusion is inescapable, yet most people simply do not realize this is a fact.) So the evening the moon rises at sunset the calendar must be changing from the 14th to the 15th or the 15th to the 16th. (Since the Hebrew calendar month is either 29 or 30 days, the "middle" is 14.5 or 15 days. "14.5", by counting, is "in" the 15th day.)
Now, if you start your calendar month by the sighted crescent, then when you see the moon rise at sunset, your calendar will only be on the 13th, becoming the 14th, and, in some cases, since the crescent is NEVER visible reliably each month, the sighted moon calendar is only on the 12th becoming the 13th! If the moon is passing through its middle of the month, and your calendar only says its the 13th or just becoming the 14th, it's another "uh-oh!"
So, with this background, what does our calendar at The Refiner's Fire use? Our calendar says: The first day of the new calendar month begins at the 1st sunset after conjunction. Thus, it is possible, though not usual to see the sliver at sunset the 29th or 30th of the month, even though we know that sunset is the 1st of the new month, and the new crescent will usually be seen at sunset the 1st, which means that the usefulness of sighting the crescent is only to sanctify the new month, not to determine the new month. This may sound odd, but it completely fits with scripture and ancient writings that spotting the new crescent is only a celebration, sanctification of the the new month which the Priests in-charge already knew had begun. Witnesses would come forth to say they saw the crescent, and there was a big celebration of the new month, but sadly, that "morphed" into the myth that the month did not begin till the crescent was spotted.
Many will counter these facts with the argument that "You can't see conjunction, so you don't know when it happened." This is not a true statement. Remember the "signs" - plural? By watching the moon, all the way till you can't see it rise any more before sunrise, it TELLS us how long till conjunction. In fact, by simply becoming familiar with the signs of the old, waning crescent, you can ALWAYS know on what day the conjunction is, and if you actually make some relatively simple measurements of the old crescent in the last few days it is visibly rising before sunrise, you can actually compute the time of conjunction accurate to about 3 hours. This means that in ancient times, by observation alone, the Priests in-charge of the calendar knew which sunset would mark the end of the old month and the beginning of the new month!
Another "counter argument" is usually, "But conjunction is not 'visible' and a 'sign' must be visible." In general, that is a true statement. Most "signs" would need to be visible to be a "sign". But for the moon, since it is ALWAYS visible at some point in EVERY day of the month EXCEPT when it is in conjunction, the absence of the moon IS the sign!
So the way our calendar works is by producing the exact same result as the ancient observers of the moon would have done, except today, in our time, we can calculate to great accuracy the date and time of conjunction so we know which sunset after conjunction is the 1st of the new month. Therefore, we don't have to watch the moon every day like they would have done in days of old, rather, our calendar produces the exact same result as all the signs of the moon would produce by observation.
We know our calendar is correct when the major Holy Days come around - Pesach, Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Sukkot - because they are at the middle of the month. By our calendar, when the 14th becomes the 15th at sunset, the moon will rise at or near full at sunset (depends on where you are in the world). It is a beautiful thing. Especially this Sukkot. For observers in the United States, sunset Sep 27th (14 Tishri) will see a moon rise, then go into a total lunar eclipse - the most VISIBLE SIGN that the moon is in the middle of its month! - and our calendar is at the middle! That night it becomes the 15th - the beginning of Sukkot. By the sighted crescent, which was not spotted till sunset September 15th, when their calendar says it is sunset the 14th becoming the 15th (beginning of Sukkot), the moon, now well past full, will rise over an hour after sunset, and the eclipse will have been 3 evenings earlier - no signs that their calendar is right ... well, because it is wrong.
Believe it or not, this was as brief as we could be. Please be aware that while we think our calendar is "right", we don't argue one calendar over the other because we think it is far more important to observe the Feasts than it is to argue over calendars! If you wish to use the sighted moon calendar, or the traditional modern Jewish calendar, that's terrific. It is far better to know the meaning of the Feasts and to celebrate them! None of us are Levite Priests in charge of the Hebrew calendar, and YHWH never said we all had to figure it out ourselves. So there is nothing wrong with accepting the calendar one wishes to use. Sadly, there are many variations out there. We simply believe in using Genesis 1:14 by recognizing all the signs YHWH gave us.