Want to know the date of Rosh Hashanah? Check your calendar.

You know, the Jewish calendar. If you use one from your local synagogue, or from Bnai Brith, or like the one I have from Jewish War Veterans, it shows both the Hebrew date and the civil date every day.

This month those two dates are identical. Quite unusual, but — check your calendar — there they are. The first day in the month of Av, Rosh Hodesh, coincides with the first day of August. So every day this month will have the same number on both calendars. All the way to the 30th, but that’s where it ends. August 31st will be the first day of Elul. Because, of course, the Hebrew months follow the cycle of the moon, and therefore last only 29 days, 12 hours and about 45 minutes. No 31-day months in lunar cycles.

Many centuries ago our ancestors adjusted the Hebrew calendar — or “intercolated” it if you will — to reconcile with the solar year by inserting a whole extra month 7 times each 19 years. A Talmudic sage named Shmuel reported that he knew the orbits of the sky as well as he knew the streets of his home town of Nehardea — except for comets (see Gemara B’rachot 58b), and he gets much of the credit for this adjustment. This year of 5771 being one of those leap years, we find Rosh Hashana coming out at the very end of September. But the adjustment also assures us that our calendar will coincide with the seasons. New Year in the fall. Passover in the spring. Etc.

And this year, the 9th day in Av — the fast day Tisha b’Av — falls on the 9th of August. Check your calendar.

Other calendars abound in the world. Just a few examples: the Chinese and Persian New Years both take place in the spring, and of course Chinese New Year celebrations last a week at that time and feature gala parades. The dominant Church and civil calendar of the world is the Gregorian, which replaced the older Julian calendar for technical reasons. But the Eastern Orthodox countries still use the Julian, so their holiday dates differ from the Western Christian holidays by a few days. The Samaritan calendar is also an adjusted lunar calendar like the Hebrew one, but has 11 leap years in 19, so their Passover does not coincide with the traditional Jewish observance. And most of the Muslim world uses a primitive lunar calendar that does not align with the seasons at all.

Interestingly enough, the Hebrew calendar now used by Jews throughout the world provides for the same Torah reading to be read on the same Sabbath everywhere. American visitors to Ethiopia found Jews there whose language they could not understand, and whose living conditions shocked them, but when they took out the book they used for a Torah and read the exact same passage as was scheduled in the American synagogue, they had an instant bond.

Are you Jewish? Check your calendar.

On another level, while we will start year #5772 this fall, we traditionally start counting months in Nisan — in the spring, like the Chinese!

Want to know about particularity and accommodation? Check your calendar.

And remember, this year Rosh Hashana does not come late. September is early. Anyway that’s a couple of months away. Enjoy the rest of the summer.


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