The Significance of the Jewish/Hebrew Months

Many people around the world use the Jewish calendar- also known as the Hebrew calendar- to mark specific Jewish holidays and rituals. The calendar is lunisolar, meaning that it developed to coincide with the lunar and solar cycles. The calendar also follows guidelines that were set in Jewish scripture. Even though it is mathematically complicated, the Jewish calendar possesses a fascinating history. In this article, you can discover more about:

  • The formation of the Jewish calendar
  • The months that make up the Jewish calendar
  • Important Jewish holidays and rituals that occur in each month
  • The history of the Jewish calendar
  • The Formation of the Jewish Calendar

People all over the world use the Jewish calendar to mark religious dates and holidays. Civilians in Israel also use the calendar for agricultural and domestic purposes.

As mentioned before, the Jewish calendar is lunisolar. It strictly follows the phases of the moon. While the average lunar cycle lasts about 29 and a half days, the months of the Jewish calendar are either 29 or 30 days long.  

The complexity of the calendar is shown when looking for the number of days in a full year. There is no set number of days per year in the Jewish calendar. It ranges between 353 days to 385 days. This construction prevents holidays, especially Rosh Hashana, from falling on certain days of the week. 

To ensure that the Jewish calendar corresponds with the solar calendar, rabbis have developed a system involving leap years. In a 19-year cycle, one month is added to the calendar seven times. Therefore, over 19 years, there are seven leap years. Leap years take place during the third, sixth, eighth, 11th, 14th, 17th, 19th years of the cycle.

Each month of the Jewish calendar begins with the sighting of the new moon, called the Rosh Chodesh. “Roch Chodesh” translates directly to “head of the month.” The Jewish calendar begins with Rosh Hashana, which means “head of the year.”

The Months That Make up the Jewish Calendar

The Jewish calendar consists of 12 months every regular year and 13 months every leap year. The first month is called Nisan and contains 30 days. The months’ of the calendar alternate between 29 and 30 days. The following is a list of the months that appear in the Jewish calendar.

  • Nisan
  • Iyar
  • Sivan
  • Tammuz
  • Av
  • Elul
  • Tishrei
  • Marsheshvan, also known as Cheshvan
  • Kislev
  • Tevet
  • Shevat
  • Adar

Marcheshvan and Kislev can contain either 29 or 30 days. This alternation prevents Rosh Hashana from falling on certain days of the week. After Kislev, the months continue their variation, starting with 29 days in Tevet.

Rosh Hashana, the religious holiday that marks the Jewish New Year, regularly occurs in the month of Tishrei. Israeli people who use the calendar for domestic purposes consider this to be the first month of the year. However, Nisan is the first month of the calendar for religious purposes. 

Important Jewish Holidays and Rituals That Occur in Each Month

The design of the Jewish calendar allows for many Jewish observances and rituals to take place. While there are many religious occasions throughout the year, here are some of the most important ones and when they typically occur. 

Passover- Passover observes the Exodus of the Jewish people from enslavement in Egypt. It is an important celebration on the Jewish calendar. It lasts for seven or eight days, beginning on the 15th day of Nisan. 

Rosh Hashana- This is the marking of the Jewish New Year. It occurs on the first two days of the month of Tishrei. These days commemorate the creation of Adam and Eve. Rosh Hashana also begins the ten days of repentance that ends with Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur- Celebrated on the tenth day of Tishrei, Yom Kippur is known as the Day of Atonement. It is usually a full day of fasting and prayer. 

Sukkot- This holiday takes place to remember the forty years that the Israelites traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land. It lasts seven days, and Jewish people are supposed to live in temporary shelters during this time. It is a significant holiday that begins on the 15th day of Tishrei. 

Chanukah- Also commonly known as Hanukkah, this religious occasion is an eight-day celebration that commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Greek army. The festival also remembers the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem as a result of the success. Chanukah begins on the 25th day of Kislev and ends on either the second or third day of Tevet. On this holiday, Jews light the menorah.

Purim- A holiday celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, it marks the liberation of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian empire. 

While scripture permits work on some religious occasions, some holidays require full dedication to the rituals. Jewish people cannot work on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. However, they are permitted to work during Chanukah and some days during Passover.

The History of the Jewish Calendar

The earliest developments of the Jewish calendar relied solely on the lunar cycle. Therefore, the calendar coincided with the moon’s appearance. Since then, the Jewish calendar has evolved and now has more influence from mathematical calculations. 

The very first year of the Jewish calendar, in all of history, began in 3761 B.C.E. This date marks the creation of the world. According to the Jewish calendar, we are currently living in the sixth millennium. 

The use of the Jewish calendar began right before the Jewish people fled from Egyptian enslavement- right before the Exodus. In the Book of Exodus in the Torah, God tells the Jews to mark each month of the year. He also says to celebrate the beginning of each month. As a result, Rosh Chodesh- the beginning of each month- is considered a minor holiday.

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