18. November 2022
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Calendar, Calendar!

by Hannah Landsmann
While the year 5783 in the Jewish calendar has just recently started, the year 2022 is drawing to a close. At the latest when the first advent calendar doors are opened, one should arrange for a new calendar, provided that one does not want to rely on the digital or prefers to write. With handwritten entries in a calendar, there is at least a bit of the feeling of being able to inscribe oneself into one’s era.

© Weiss
This small object is a replica from the museum shop of Istanbul Archaeological Museum. It is the calendar of Gezer, dating from the 10th century BC and written in ancient Hebrew, which was named after the ancient city about 50 kilometers from Jerusalem where it was found. This calendar gets by with just a few lines and regulates time through nature, planting and harvesting. Its dimensions are likewise modest: 11.1 x 7.6 cm.

The Jewish calendar originated during the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC. The months are calculated according to the moon and the year according to the sun. The Julian-Gregorian calendar used around the world is based on the duration of one orbit of the earth around the sun. Its name derives from Julius Caesar, who introduced this system, and from Pope Gregory XIII, who had it finalized around 1580. With 365 days, the calendar year does not correspond exactly to the solar year, necessitating the insertion of an additional day every four years. A lunar year, on the contrary, is based on the basic unit of time from one new moon to the next. The lunar year is eleven days shorter, so that fixed points such as public holidays fall in different seasons. Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, can fall just as easily in summer as in winter.
Because the Jewish Pesach festival has to fall in the spring due to the stipulations of the Torah, the two systems are brought together in the Jewish calendar with the insertion of eleven days. In a 19-year cycle, an additional month called Adar II is added after the month of Adar. Such a year is called a “pregnant” year. Adar is the sixth month in the Jewish calendar and falls in February or March.

The poet and philosopher Salomo ibn Gabirol, whose Arabic name is Suleiman ibn Yahya, lived in Moorish Spain in the 11th century and describes the lunar cycle in “A Crown for the King.” A new month begins with the new moon, the first day is called “Rosh Chodesh” and is a “minor” holiday or semi-holiday. The greeting of the new month comes from a time when the stars and their course in the sky remained inexplicable to humans and were interpreted as deities. The new moon acquired special importance at the time of the Second Temple, built around 515 BC, when the proclamation of the New Moon became the basis for fixing the holidays in the calendar. Moreover, the calendar forged an important bond between the Jewish women and men of Jerusalem and those in the diaspora, the scattering of the Jewish population to areas outside of Jerusalem. Such a diaspora has existed since the Babylonian exile.

© David Peters
As long as one could not astronomically calculate the new moon with certainty, the council of elders met on the 30th day of each month in the morning. Two credible witnesses had to confirm having seen the new crescent moon. Signal fires and mounted messengers also announced the beginning of the new month outside of Jerusalem. Because one could not count on the messengers always being able to be there in time, Rosh Chodesh was celebrated for two days, which also led to an additional second “safety day” being celebrated in the diaspora communities to this day. The only exception is Yom Kippur, which is a long day of fasting, requiring 25 hours of abstinence from food and drink.

The Jewish calendar was not fixed until the year 359 AD by the patriarch Hillel II. The Babylonian exile community had become an inner-Jewish authority and was competing with the Palestinian community in Jerusalem. Judaism was to remain viable even without a country and without a central sanctuary, and the calendar helped to comprehend it as an “abstract” entity.
Since the founding of the State of Israel in May 1948, the Jewish calendar and the civil Julian-Gregorian calendar have both applied. Since July 18, 2018, the Jewish religious calendar has been the state calendar. All holidays, including non-religious ones, are counted in this way. Because the Julian-Gregorian calendar is decisive on an international level and in tourism, Israelis simply use both systems in parallel.

Maße der Zeit, Publikation anlässlich der gleichnamigen Ausstellung im Jüdischen Museum Wien. Vienna, 1997.
Publisher: Jewish Museum Vienna
Editors: Dr. Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek, Mag. Hannes Sulzenbacher