The Jewish Calendar
The Jewish calendar is based on the revolutions of the moon around the earth, whereas the Gregorian (common) calendar is based on the earth’s rotation around the sun. The lunar year comprises (in a normal year) twelve months each of 29 or 30 days. In a leap year a thirteenth month is added, known as Adar II. A leap year occurs seven times in each cycle of nineteen years; in the third, sixth, eighth, eleventh, fourteenth, seventeenth and nineteenth years. By adding the extra month, the lunar year of 354 days is made to harmonise with the solar year of 365 days.
The Hebrew names of the months were adopted from the Babylonian calendar during the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C.E. The first written calendar was compiled by Hillel II in 359 C.E. The days of the New Moon are considered important days in the Jewish calendar and are known as Rosh Chodesh.
TU BISHVAT Fifteenth day of Shvat
The fifteenth day of Shvat marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. In Israel the custom is to plant saplings and recultivate the land.
The festival commemorates the miraculous deliverance of the Persian Jews from extermination. The accepted time is 485-465 B.C.E. during the reign of Xerxes I. The story is told in the book of Esther: Haman, the king’s chief minister plotted to destroy the Jews of the Empire. He fixed the day by using ‘lots’ as Adar 13. On that day, Esther, the King’s Jewish wife, proclaimed a fast when she interceded with the King for the benefit of the Jews. As a result of her intervention, the King authorised the Jews to defend themselves. In their struggle the Jews overcame their enemies. On the following day, the 14th Adar, they celebrated their victory in Shushan, the capital of Persia.
Features of the festival include reading the Book of Esther and at every mention of the name Haman, “greggers” (rattles) are sounded.
Another custom is the sending of gifts (Mishloach Manot) to friends and the giving of charity to the poor (Matanot La’evyonim).
Pesach is the first of the Pilgrim festivals and marks the birth of our nation. Pesach falls on the 15th day of Nissan and celebrations commence on the previous evening with the Seder service with wine, matzot and traditional foods. During the evening the Haggadah is read in which the story of the Exodus is retold. On the evening of the second day Sefirat Ha’Omer (Counting of the days of the Omer) commences. It is also called Hag Ha’Matzot (Festival of Unleavened Bread) and Zeman Herutainu (Season of our Freedom). It is celebrated for eight days outside Israel (but in Israel for seven days). The name Pesach is derived from the “Passing Over” of the angel of death during the plague of the first born in Egypt. The Egyptian first born were killed whereas the Jewish first born were spared.
COUNTING THE OMER
The 7 weeks from the 2nd night of Pesach until Shavuot is known as the period of the Omer. During the 33 days, no weddings, musical celebrations, performances or hair cutting takes place. According to some (mainly Sephardic) traditions these restrictions occur during the first 33 days; according to others (mainly Ashkenazic) the restrictions begin with the month of Iyar and end just prior to Shavuot. The restrictions are lifted for Lag B’Omer, Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim.
YOM HASHOAH Holocaust Remembrance Day
A universal day of commemoration and remembrance for those who perished in the Holocaust.
YOM HAZIKARON Day of Remembrance
Israel’s Independence Day is preceded by Remembrance Day for those who have fallen in the defence of Israel’s independence. This is marked by special prayer services and visits to cemeteries and memorials. There is a two minute silence throughout Israel in memory of the fallen.
YOM HA’ATZMAUT Israel’s Independence Day
Israel’s Independence was declared on 14 May, 1948 by David Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv. Since then this National Day is celebrated in Israel and in the Diaspora on 5 Iyar.
LAG B’OMER The 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer
The days between Pesach and Shavuot are a solemn period in the Jewish calendar. They recall the suffering the Jews endured under Roman persecution. Joyous celebrations are not permitted during this period. However, Lag B’Omer is an exception because on this day, the plague which had ravaged Akiva’s disciples stopped.
YOM YERUSHALAYIM Jerusalem Day
Yom Yerushalayim marks the anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem in the Six Day War of 1967. Special prayers are read in synagogues and communal celebrations take place.
The second of the three Pilgrim festivals is celebrated for two days outside Israel (and in Israel one day). The name derives from Shavuot (weeks) because it occurs seven weeks after the second day of Pesach. It falls on the 6th day of Sivan. The festival commemorates Zeman Matan Torateinu (The acceptance of the Torah at Sinai). The agricultural aspect of this festival is apparent by one of its other names – Yom Habikkurim. (The festival of the first fruit). In Temple times, Jewish people came from all over the country to offer up their first fruits. In modern times, synagogues are decorated with greenery and flowers. Tradition has it that King David was born and died on Shavuot. The Book of Ruth, telling the story of Ruth, the ancestor of King David is recited because the story took place during the wheat harvest.
THE THREE WEEKS
Commemorating the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem, these three weeks of semi-mourning begin with the 17th of Tammuz when the walls of Jerusalem were penetrated (c.70CE). Restrictions until 1st of Av resemble those of the Omer period with the addition that one refrains from making the shehecheyanu blessing over a new item of clothing or (except Shabbat) fruit. From the 1st of Av to 10th Av at midday, additional restrictions apply including avoidance of meat and wine (except Shabbat) and bathing or swimming for pleasure. (Sephardi customs vary). The period culminates in the mournful 25 hour fast of Tisha b’Av commemorating the destruction of the Temple.
ROSH HASHANAH New Year
Rosh Hashanah is celebrated at the beginning of Tishrei, the seventh month, since this is traditionally considered to be the day on which man was created. On it we renew our commitment to the Creator. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated everywhere (including Israel) for two days. The Shofar (Ram’s Horn) is blown each day of the festival, except on Shabbat. In the afternoon of the first day – unless this falls on Shabbat – it is customary to assemble on the sea-shore, on the banks of a river or near water springs to say Tashlich. Should the first day fall on Shabbat, Tashlich is said on the second
day. Tashlich is symbolic of cleansing oneself of sin.
YOM KIPPUR Day of Atonement
This is the holiest day of the year. It begins in the evening of the ninth day of Tishrei with the Kol Nidrei service. This prayer, composed before the ninth century asks for release of vows or promises made to God that cannot be kept. On this day we do not eat or drink. We spend the day praying for atonement from sin. Some wear white garments as a symbol of purity. It is also customary to light candles in memory of departed relatives. Yizkor (Prayer for the Departed) is recited. A single blast of
the Shofar and the words “Next Year in Jerusalem” ends the fast.
On 15th Tishrei, four days after Yom Kippur ends, we celebrate the third of the Pilgrim Festivals, Succot. Called “The Feast of the Ingathering”, it also commemorates the faith and trust shown by our people in dwelling in Sukot (temprorary dwellings) made for them by G-D in the desert.
It is a mitzvah to live in the Succah. The Lulav (palm branch) is bound up with three Hadassim (myrtles) and two Aravot (willows) and held together with the Etrog (citron) symbolising our gratitude to G-D for all our material bounty.
The final day of Succot, Simchat Torah, marks the end of the annual cycle of the Torah reading, and the new cycle starts with the reading of the first chapter of Genesis. Hakafot – processions with the Torah scrolls, are a feature of the day. Special attention is given to children, who join the celebrations with flags and singing.
Chanukah is the Eight Day Festival (in Israel and the Diaspora) which commemorates the rededication of the Temple in 165 B.C.E. by Judah Maccabee, three years after its desecration by the Syrians. Tradition relates that Judah could only find sufficient pure oil to relight the Menora for one day. However, a miracle happened and the oil burned for eight days. Hence, during the eight-day holiday, candles are lit each night. On the first night, one is lit, on the second night two are lit, and so on until eight are lit on the last night. Chanukah is one of the most joyous festivals in the Jewish calendar and gifts, traditionally of money, are given to children at candlelighting time.
Principal Festivals and Fasts 2023
Festival or Fast
Fast of Tevet
Fast of Esther
Fast of the Firstborn
Pesach day 1*
Pesach day 2*
Pesach day 7*
Pesach day 8*^
Shavuot day 1*
Shavuot day 2*^
Fast of Tammuz
Rosh Hashanah day 1*
Rosh Hashanah day 2*
Fast of Gedaliah
Succot day 1*
Succot day 2*
Chanukah day 1*
Chanukah day 8*
Fast of Tevet
* Indicates also preceding evening
^ Yizkor said these days
2023 I 5783-5784