Someone said something this week that made me think.
‘Rosh Hashana is late this year’
This year Rosh Hashanah does not fall till the end of September, but it is actually perfectly on time – every year without fail on the first day of Tishrei it is there.
So what did my friend mean? And we all say it.
What they meant was that we view the year through the Gregorian calendar and therefore view the times of the chagim based on the secular months they fall in. There is nothing wrong with this, the Gregorian calendar is used across the world and it is how we function in our jobs and our everyday lives.
It does of course raise the challenge of the duality of our lives – living Jewishly (Tishrei) while being part of the wider world (September). The solution is of course to infuse September with Tishrei – which in essence means living our lives with Torah guiding our daily lives.
The Parsha says it very simply – ‘And now, O Israel, what does the Lord, your God, demand of you? Only to fear the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to worship the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul. To keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes, which I command you this day, for your good.’ (Devarim 10:12-13)
It is interesting is that the Gregorian calendar is named after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in October 1582. The calendar was developed as a correction to the Julian calendar, shortening the average year by 0.0075 days to stop the drift of the calendar with respect to the equinoxes. To deal with the 10 days’ difference (between calendar and reality) that this drift had already reached, the date was advanced so that 4 October 1582 was followed by 15 October 1582.
The Jewish calendar has been fixed since the 4th century CE and has yet to be ‘corrected’. It was a remarkable piece of calculation by Hillel the Elder.
As the lunar year is about eleven days shorter than the solar year and we use the 19-year Metonic cycle to bring it into line with the solar year, with the addition of an intercalary month every two or three years, for a total of seven times per 19 years.
Even with this intercalation, the average Hebrew calendar year is longer by about 7 minutes than the current mean Gregorian calendar year, so that every 238 years it will fall a day behind the mean Gregorian calendar year. Which is why chagim are gradually getting ‘later’.
So, Rosh Hashanah is perfectly on time this year, soon Rosh Chodesh Elul will announce the start of the Teshuva process and we will hopefully begin our return to our Creator and His Torah.
‘You shall teach them to your children to speak with them, when you sit in your house and when you walk on the way and when you lie down and when you rise.’ (Devarim 11:19)
We live in a 24/7 society, so let’s put our time to good use!