July 2020 – Jewish Calendar
Thanks for joining me for this video about Jewish Spirituality. We are looking at some elements of Judaism that might not be the obvious ones like our beautiful holidays and traditions, but some of the Jewish values that are the foundation of Jewish life.
So let’s get to know the Jewish calendar.
What? What could be spiritual about the calendar? Isn’t that just a tool for marking time.
Well yes and no.
First you may know that the Jewish calendar is different from what is called the Roman (or Christian or secular) calendar.
Our calendar follows the lunar system, the rotations of the moon, instead of the sun.
Why would that be?
There are lots of midrashim about the contrast between the sun and the moon.
But basically the moon is the more modest, the more subtle, the seemingly less powerful compared to the sun. And that is how our tradition sees the Jewish people compared to the other nations of the world. We’re not too flashy, we’re not out for the big spotlight, but we are powerful because of our humility and our ability to conduct ourselves with a steady light.
So one reason we follow the lunar calendar is because as Jewish nation we have the characteristics of the moon.
In the simple act of having our own Hebrew months, and marking time and years in our unique way, we set ourselves apart.
When the Roman calendar was adopted by the rest of the world during the Roman Empire – 400 BCE, the Jewish calendar remained the same. When there was a split between the orthodox and non orthodox christian church, the Jewish calendar remained the same.
Maintaining a distinct Jewish calendar through over 2000 years infuses Jewish life with a foundation of spirituality of connecting today’s day, month and year with ancestors who have counted time the same way.
Here’s another characteristic of the Jewish calendar – we start the day at night.
Each new day doesn’t start at midnight like the rest of the world, the Jewish day starts a sundown.
Why would we do that? What’s so important about starting the day in the evening?
Well it goes back to the Torah.
In our creation narrative, God blesses each day by saying, “It was night and day, the first day.”
So we follow that pattern of night before day – meaning that the new day actually starts at night.
Starting each day at sundown helps us remember that we are connected to God and to the original family God created in the Garden of Eve – and give our calendar another dose of spiritual power.
Lastly – since we have this unique calendar that follows the moon instead of the sun, our ancestors came up with a unique method for determining when each new month begins.
New month begins when the moon is small. In ancient times look outs would watch the sky at the appropriate times of the month to determine when the first sliver of new moon appears. This sliver had to be witnessed by at least 2 people and then the new month was declared. A shofar was sounded and the message was passed from town to town that the new month was beginning.
In today’s world, we don’t need look outs or the shofar to announce the new month. We have an amazing calendar that’s been calculated hundreds of years into the future.
But this practice of observing the sky monthly, reflects the Jewish value of being in synch with the natural world.
So just like most things in Judaism – the Jewish calendar is deeper and more spiritual than it appears at first.
Our Jewish calendar teaches us about our bond to each other and our ancestors with a shared calendar
Our Jewish calendar emphasizes our ability to mirror God by starting our days at night
Our Jewish calendar reflects our value of connecting to nature with our attention to waxing and
waning of the new moons.
These simple elements add up to great potential for spirituality and meaning in simply following our Jewish calendar.