From the Clergy

Yes, I know. The High Holy Days come late this year. They fall in October. How does this happen? It has to do with the sun and moon and two different ways of calculating Jewish time.

For the record, Rosh Hashanah always falls on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishri, but the key question is: Why does the first day of Tishri always fall on different days on our English calendar?

The answer is that our Jewish calendar is made up of lunar (moon) months but is structured according to a solar (sun) year and the two do not automatically work in tandem.  The lunar months have only 29.5 days per month or 354 days per year (12 x 29.5).

The solar year, on the other hand, requires 365 days. This means the lunar year falls 11 days short of the solar year. To adjust for this deficit, the Rabbis added an extra leap month of 29.5 days. This happens seven times every 19 years. This adjustment enables the two systems to work together.

Whenever the Hebrew calendar has one of these leap months, it forces Rosh Hashanah and the rest of the holidays to come either early or late.  

The Hebrew calendar, by the law, started out as a purely lunar system used by our nomadic ancestors. However, when later generations became farmers and wanted to celebrate the spring and autumn harvests, they were forced to use the solar calendar that tracks the solar seasons. The Rabbis, in developing the combined system more than two thousand years ago, did not want to completely give up the past so they found a way to blend past and present. The solution was not perfect, but the inconvenience is only minor.

If we follow the wisdom of the ancient Rabbis and find a way to blend the past and present, we will emerge even stronger. The challenge is to be willing to live with the emotional inconveniences such an imperfect solution entails. This requires understanding and a great deal of flexibility, both wonderful goals for the New Year 5777.

Rabbi Birnholz