Hebrew Bible

Up to Date: The Hebrew Calendar

The Hebrew calendar, also called the Jewish calendar, differs greatly from the Gregorian calendar. It is used today to calculate the Jewish holidays, along with other important dates like Hebrew birthdays, brit milah, anniversaries, and one’s bar mitzvah Torah portion.

Why do the Jewish holidays always change date year to year? How does the Rabbi figure out the bar mitzvah portion? 

There is an entirely separate Jewish calendar that is the basis for every Jewish holiday, birthday and anniversary, and the weekly Torah portion, (‘parasha’ in Hebrew), along with so much more. This is everything you need to know to get caught up on the basics of the Hebrew calendar.

 

Significance of the Month
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The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, unlike the Gregorian and Julian calendars that are solar despite the English word month comes from 'moon'. The Hebrew months track the lunar cycles, with the kalends always having the new moon and the ides having the full moon. In fact, the word chodesh (month) in Hebrew is of the same root as chadash (new). 

Since lunar and solar calendars are two separate systems, it might seem like the Jewish holidays bounce around the calendar unpredictably, but they are always at a fixed date on the Hebrew calendar.

Hebrew months are also more significant than solar months. Each of the months is associated with particular characteristics both related to the physical environment, as well as a deeper spiritual consequence.

Even the first day of the month, known as Rosh Chodesh, is considered like a type of holiday. People greet each other chodesh tov (lit. “good month”) and there are special insertions into the daily recitations of the Amida prayer as well as into multiple food after-blessings. Particular readings recited from the Torah are read out in synagogues in the morning after an especially musical service.

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Hebrew Months’ Origin
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The unique Hebrew calendar is referenced throughout Torah, but the usual way is by numbering the months, e.g. “on the first day of the 7th month", similar to how the days of the week are said in Hebrew. A possible exception to this is chodesh ha-aviv, literally ‘the month of spring’, which refers to Nisan, though whether this was meant as the name or just reference is debated.

Another three names for months are named in Hebrew, found in the Book of Kings. Note that the numbering always started with Nisan:

Ziv, 2nd month (modern Iyar), meaning 'brilliance; radiance'.

Ethanim, 7th month (modern Tishrei), meaning 'enduring; ongoing'.

Bul, 8th month (modern Cheshvan), meaning 'produce'.

The terms for months now came from Babylon where the Jews were exiled, but the dating has not changed. 

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Each Month
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Tishrei

Season: Early autumn. September-October

Spiritual Note: Renewed connections to G-d, and new beginnings 

Notable Occurrences: The Biblical holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah; mankind was created on the first day of this month

 

Cheshvan

Season: Autumn. October-November

Spiritual Note: Rest and reflection

Notable Occurrences: The only month without special holidays or associated mitzvot (commandments)

This is when we switch to praying for rain in Israel to fall. 

 

Kislev

Season: Autumn. November-December

Spiritual Note: Light in darkness

Notable Occurrences: Hanukkah starts during this month!

 

Tevet

Season: Early winter. December-January 

Spiritual Note: Mercy

Notable Occurrences: The month starts during Hanukkah, and contains a fast commemorating the siege of Jerusalem

 

Shevat

Season: Winter. January 

Spiritual Note: Rebirth

Notable Occurrences: The kabbalistic holiday of Tu B’Shevat, a new year for trees.

 

Adar

Season: Winter/Early Spring. January-February-March

Spiritual Note: Increasing joy (which is a mitzvah!)

Notable Occurrences: The holiday Purim; when there is a leap year, a second Adar is added

Moses died during Adar. 

 

Nisan 

Season: Early spring. March-April

Spiritual Note: Liberation, freedom

Notable Occurrences: The biblical holiday of Pesach (Passover)

The Jewish nation entered the Land of Israel

 

Iyar

Season: Spring. May 

Spiritual Note: Blossoming, second chances

Notable Occurrences: Holidays of Lag B’Omer and Pesach Sheni; a full month of counting the Omer

 

Sivan

Season: Spring May-June

Spiritual Note: Settledness, completeness, peace

Notable Occurrences: The Biblical holiday of Shavuot, when Am Yisrael received the Torah

 

 

Tammuz

Season: Summer. June-July

Spiritual Note: Mourning; a reduction of joy

Notable Occurrences: 17th of Tammuz, the start of the Three Weeks of mourning

 

Av

Season: Summer July-August

Spiritual Note: This month is marked mainly by tragedy, but one day, G-d willing, the birth of Moshiach (the Messiah)

Notable Occurrences: The commemorative day of Tisha B’Av and the holiday of Tu B’Av

Both 1st and 2nd Temples were destroyed on the 9th of Av.

 

Elul

Season: Summer. August-September

Spiritual Note: a month of repentance, mercy, and forgiveness

Notable Occurrences: Blowing the Shofar each day; anticipating the High Holidays

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Leap Year: Adar 2
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The Hebrew calendar normally has 355 days, which would be too few in order to keep the months connected to their proper season. Unlike the Islamic calendar, which moves around and does not connect months to seasons, the Hebrew calendar adds a leap-month 7 times every 19 years, roughly once every three years.

This leap month is added after Adar and simply referred to as Adar 2, or in Hebrew Adar Sheni or Adar Bet. On a leap year, all celebrations and anniversaries during the month of Adar are celebrated in the second Adar, including Purim, keeping the days between it and Passover the same every year.

Likewise, celebrations like Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah events are only held on Adar 2, even if there was no Adar 2 on the year the child was born. Conversely, if one is born in the leap month, everyone still celebrates on a regular Adar when there is only one. Hebrew birthdays and wedding anniversaries are also commemorated in that same manner.

 

Get ready for all of this year's joyous and meaningful moments with Judaica for holidays!

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