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The words of David. Commentary on the Jewish calendar. In the introduction the author writes that the knowledge concerning the Jewish calendar is scattered in the papers of Rishonim and Acharonim (medieval and later scholars), and from generation to generation slowly fades away due to the small number of those who could understand and practice in this area.

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The words of David. Commentary on the Jewish calendar. In the introduction the author writes that the knowledge concerning the Jewish calendar is scattered in the papers of Rishonim and Acharonim (medieval and later scholars), and from generation to generation slowly fades away due to the small number of those who could understand and practice in this area. As the calendar is the basis of the Jewish religious life, the skill of its calculation is inevitable. Therefore, in his paper he decided to collect the complete knowledge about the calendar which was available to him and pass it on to future generations.

Elaborated by Eugeniusz Duda (Historical Museum of the City of Kraków), © all rights reserved

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The Jewish Calendar

The Jewish calendar is lunisolar. The years are counted according to the Earth’s rotation around the Sun, while the Moon's motions are taken into account when determining the months.

On 10 September 2018 (according to the Jewish calendar, on the 1st of Tishrei), the 5779th Jewish year began. This is a conventional calculation based on biblical history. Its starting point is the creation of the world and, more specifically, the day on which Adam and Eve were created. The Bible does not give any dates, but often there is information on how long a given person lived or how old they were when they became a parent. This provided the basis for the estimated calculations of the years.

An interesting fact is that the month of Tishrei, in which the Rosh Hashanah festival is celebrated (literally meaning the "head of the year"), is not the first month in the Jewish calendar at all. Months are not named in the Torah (their names appear later), but they are numbered and the spring month of Nisan is described as the first, while Tishrei is the seventh month.

In the Jewish calendar, months are measured according to the cycles of the Moon and last 29 or 30 days. The birth of a new moon (Rosh Chodesh – literally the "head of the month") has the status of a half-holiday and is accompanied by additional prayers. The full moon always falls on the middle of the month.

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The Jewish Calendar

The Jewish calendar is lunisolar. The years are counted according to the Earth’s rotation around the Sun, while the Moon’s motions are taken into account when determining the months.

On 10 September 2018 (according to the Jewish calendar, on the 1st of Tishrei), the 5779th Jewish year began. This is a conventional calculation based on biblical history. Its starting point is the creation of the world and, more specifically, the day on which Adam and Eve were created. The Bible does not give any dates, but often there is information on how long a given person lived or how old they were when they became a parent. This provided the basis for the estimated calculations of the years.

An interesting fact is that the month of Tishrei, in which the Rosh Hashanah festival is celebrated (literally meaning the “head of the year”), is not the first month in the Jewish calendar at all. Months are not named in the Torah (their names appear later), but they are numbered and the spring month of Nisan is described as the first, while Tishrei is the seventh month.

In the Jewish calendar, months are measured according to the cycles of the Moon and last 29 or 30 days. The birth of a new moon (Rosh Chodesh – literally the "head of the month") has the status of a half-holiday and is accompanied by additional prayers. The full moon always falls on the middle of the month.

However, measuring time only according to the cycles of the moon would mean that the same months, and thus the holidays, would fall on different seasons of the year. Meanwhile, some Jewish holidays are also agricultural in their nature, and in antiquity this was associated with the duty to go on a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem in order to make a sacrifice from the harvest. It was, therefore, necessary to introduce leap years, which would even out the annual cycle of the full circulation of the Earth around the Sun.

The Jewish leap year is called shana meuberet in Hebrew, which literally means “pregnant year” (in Hebrew, the word shana – “year” is feminine, so it does not sound as awkward as its translation into English). The last month (Adar) is then celebrated twice, one after the other, so there are thirteen months instead of twelve. Interestingly, it is not the second, repeated Adar but the one which falls first that is considered as an additional month. The Purim festival, which falls this month in leap years, is celebrated in its full extent during Adar II, while the same day of Adar I is only treated as a half-holiday.

The Shana Meuberet usually falls on every third year (sometimes every second). During a 19-year cycle, the leap year occurs 7 times (it is the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th year). The use of 19-year cycles to synchronize the solar and lunar calendar called the Metonic cycle (from the name of a Greek astronomer from the 5th century BC), is not unique to the Hebrew calendar; the situation was similar, inter alia, in the case of the old, lunisolar Chinese calendar. 19 solar years and 235 lunar months are exactly the same number of days – 6940. The difference is just 2 hours. Therefore, the Jewish calendar diverges from the solar one by 1 day over a span of 216 years.

The names of the Jewish months are not originally Hebrew. They were adapted from the Babylonian calendar after the Jews returned from captivity.

In the table below, the months, along with the holidays falling on them, are listed in accordance with the civil calendar (starting with the month of Tishrei), and not the ecclesiastical one (with Nisan).

Tishrei

 

 

 

 

September/October

 

 

 

 Rosh Hashanah – New Year;

Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement;

Sukkot – The Festival of Booths – referring to the wandering of Jews through the desert

Simchat Torah – The Rejoicing of the Torah – the end of the annual cycle of Torah reading

Cheshvan

October/November

 

Kislev

November/December

Hanukkah – an eight-day celebration commemorating the victory of the Maccabees over the stronger and more numerous Greek army and the miracle that happened after the Temple was retrieved.

Tevet

December/January

 

Shevat

January/February

Tu B’Shevat – New Year of the Trees

Adar

February/March

Purim – a holiday celebrated in commemoration of the events described in the Biblical Book of Esther

Nisan

March/April

Pesach – a holiday commemorating the exodus of Jews from Egyptian captivity

Iyar

April/May

 

Sivan

May/June

Shavuot – a holiday of the Giving the Torah to Jews at Mount Sinai

Tammuz

June/July

 

Av

July/August

Tisha B’Av – a day of fasting commemorating the destruction of the Temple

Elul

August/September

 

A week is an unusual unit of time because, unlike the others, it finds no justification in natural phenomena. Its only source is the Bible. According to the story of God creating the world in 6 days and resting on the seventh day, for Jews, the seventh day of the week – the Shabbat, during which one should abstain from all work, is the Saturday. The Israeli weekend starts on Thursday after work and continues until the end of the Shabbat; Sunday is a working day, the first day of the new week.

In Hebrew, Shabbat is the only day that has its own name. The remaining days have only sequence numbers: the first day (Sunday), the second day, the third day etc.

However, the moment when the Shabbat or any other day ends is not midnight or any other regular time. “And there was evening and there was morning, one day”[1] – says Genesis. The same is repeated in the description of each subsequent day of the creation of the world. First the evening, then the day. Therefore, for Jews, a new day begins with the sunset. In the case of the Shabbat and other important holidays, an hour is added (18 minutes before the sunset on Friday and 42 minutes after the holiday). In the summer, it is late evening but in the winter it can be an early-afternoon hour. At that time, many religious owners of shops or restaurants open their places, having no complaints about the lack of customers.

In all printed Jewish calendars, as well as on websites devoted to holidays, one of the most important pieces of information is the exact time of the start and end of the Shabbat, which depends not only on the date but also on the geographical latitude. In Poland, the main cities that have larger Jewish communities, such as Warsaw, Kraków or Wrocław, are accounted for. 

The same applies to the so-called halachic hour (shaa zmanit). It is a unit used only for religious purposes (determining the time of prayer etc.) It is the twelfth part of the day (between sunrise and sunset), and hence, its length varies throughout the year. Each of the three daily prayers of Judaism – the morning (shacharit), the afternoon (mincha) and the evening (maariv) – should be read at a certain time. Taking into account the length of the halachic hour on a particular day, the Jewish calendar specifies the earliest and the latest time when a given prayer, or even its individual components, may be said.

For a worshipper of Judaism, who, in the backlog of everyday affairs, would not want to forget about their religious duties, in the past, this was probably more complicated and required more attention. Today, the Internet is helpful in this regard. There are a lot of pages where someone may enter their location and check all the important times and the length of the halachic hour, and on portable devices it is possible to install an application that sends reminders for any approaching prayer times, the need to light candles before the holiday or say all the blessings that are related to time.

Written by: Julia Makosz,

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.


[1] Gen. 1.8; Torah. Pięcioksiąg Mojżesza, trans. Izaak Cylkow, Kraków 2006 (reprint).

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Rosh Hashanah

“Good and sweet year!” [Shanah tovah umetukah!] – the 1st day of the Tishrei month (the turn of September and October), which this year took place on 20 September, peals with such wishes. Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year, is not as ludic as it is in most cultures. It is a time of recapitulation and regret for the sins committed against God and people.

“May you be inscribed – in the Book of Life – and sealed for a good year!” [Leshana tovah tikatev v’tichatem!] – this is another traditional greeting on the day in which God opens the Book of Life for those who do good and the Book of Death for sinners, recording in them the future of all mankind, according to the merits and faults of each individual. However, for the ten following days, until Yom Kippur, it is possible to change this verdict by confessing one’s sins and showing remorse for committing them. This is a time of penance, but also hope for forgiveness and being inscribed in the Book of Life.

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“Good and sweet year!” [Shanah tovah umetukah!] – the 1st day of the Tishrei month (the turn of September and October), which this year took place on 20 September, peals with such wishes. Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year, is not as ludic as it is in most cultures. It is a time of recapitulation and regret for the sins committed against God and people.

“May you be inscribed – in the Book of Life – and sealed for a good year!” [Leshana tovah tikatev v’tichatem!] – this is another traditional greeting on the day in which God opens the Book of Life for those who do good and the Book of Death for sinners, recording in them the future of all mankind, according to the merits and faults of each individual. However, for the ten following days, until Yom Kippur, it is possible to change this verdict by confessing one’s sins and showing remorse for committing them. This is a time of penance, but also hope for forgiveness and being inscribed in the Book of Life.

A. Gierymski, The Feast of Trumpets, 1884, National Museum in Warsaw. Public domain


The motif of being cleansed from sins is associated with the custom of tashlikh, captured by Aleksander Gierymski in the famous painting The Feast of Trumpets from 1884, the original of which is located at the National Museum in Warsaw (the third version of the painting is exhibited at the National Museum in Kraków, the second is lost). Tashlikh, or literally “cast off”, is a symbolic gesture of cleansing oneself from sins. It consists of “shaking” all the crumbs out of one’s pocket. It had to be performed over the water in reference to the words from the Book of Micah (7, 19): “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea”.[1].

Celebrations of Rosh Hashanah were inseparably connected with blowing the shofar, the horn of a ram or another kosher animal. It symbolized Abraham’s sacrifice, which was supposed to be made of his own son Isaac, but God, seeing this devotion, changed his will and accepted a lamb as a sacrifice. Hearing the sounds of the shofar was a duty because – according to a belief – they had the power to drive evil away. At that time, God moved from the throne of justice to the throne of mercy, giving sinners the grace of forgiveness. The sounds of the shofar, being a cry for mercy, were confused by a non-Jews with the sound of a trumpet, hence the informal name of Rosh Hashanah, also used by Gierymski in the title of his painting.

Rosh Hashanah is the most universal of Jewish holidays. It concerns all mankind, not only Jews. It is the answer to the question when the world was created and even when time was created... The work of Dawid ben Jakub from the end of the 17th century, whose manuscript is kept in the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków, is devoted to calculating the time according to the Jewish calendar. It is precisely Divrei David [Dawid’s words], in which the author gave all his knowledge on the complicated calendar calculations, that we have chosen to illustrate this week’s issue with. Rosh Hashanah, literally “the head of the year” commemorates the creation of the world, the beginning of everything. Importantly, it concerns specifically the 6th day of creation, on which God created a man, which constituted the ultimate complement of his work.

The subject of the Judaic approach to the issue of time is discussed in a very interesting way by Przemysław Piekarski, in the interpretation presented on the website, entitled Judaism from the inside. Michał Choptiany, in turn, approaches the issue of time from a different perspective in his text River and circle of time. We encourage you to read both texts and continue your journey through our website in the search of inspiration.

 

Elaborated by Kinga Kołodziejska (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums), 
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland.

 
 

[1] Quotation for: N. Kameraz-Kos, Święta i obyczaje żydowskie, Warszawa 1997, p. 43.

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Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the largest Jewish holiday, falls on the 10th day of the month of Tishrei (September/October) and ends the ten-day period of Yamim Noraim – Days of Repentance that commences on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). Yom Kippur has its source in the Torah (Pentateuch of Moses): “And [all this] shall be as an eternal statute for you; in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict yourselves, and you shall not do any work... For on this day He shall effect atonement for you to cleanse you...”[1]. Thus, Yom Kippur is the day of penance and forgiveness, and not, as we often hear in Polish the “Day of Judgement”. The sentence was handed down in Rosh Hashanah, everyone can “appeal” it and improve their fate during the ten Days of Awe. “Repentance, prayer, and righteousness cancel the stern decree”. These two Hebrew words tshuva “repentance” and shuva “return” are the keys to understanding the whole festive cycle from Rosh Hashanah, through Yamim Noraim, to Yom Kippur – the day of repentance and reconciliation.

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Przemysław Piekarski

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the largest Jewish holiday, falls on the 10th day of the month of Tishrei (September/October) and ends the ten-day period of Yamim Noraim – Days of Repentance that commences on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). Yom Kippur has its source in the Torah (Pentateuch of Moses): “And [all this] shall be as an eternal statute for you; in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict yourselves, and you shall not do any work... For on this day He shall effect atonement for you to cleanse you...”[1]. Thus, Yom Kippur is the day of penance and forgiveness, and not, as we often hear in Polish the “Day of Judgement”. The sentence was handed down in Rosh Hashanah, everyone can “appeal” it and improve their fate during the ten Days of Awe. “Repentance, prayer, and righteousness cancel the stern decree”. These two Hebrew words tshuva “repentance” and shuva “return” are the keys to understanding the whole festive cycle from Rosh Hashanah, through Yamim Noraim, to Yom Kippur – the day of repentance and reconciliation. 

The rites are preceded by the ceremony of Kapparot (Yiddish – kapoyres). Formerly, it was common to sacrifice a rooster or a hen. The praying man waved the bird over his head, pronouncing prayers, then the animal was killed and its meat was given to the poor. Today, one more often waves a symbolic bag with money, and a specific sum of money is given to Tzedakah, meaning “charity”.

Maurycy Gottlieb, Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur, 1878, Tel Aviv Museum of Art
Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain


Yom Kippur is the main Jewish holiday. When it falls on a Sabbath, then it repeals its joy and feasting, introducing additional restrictions to the Sabbath laws. In the Jewish tradition, it is called the Sabbath of Shabbaths or com Kippur – a penitential fast. All females over 12 and all males over 13 years of age are forbidden from eating and drinking for over 25 hours. However, elderly people, pregnant women and those in puerperium, as well as ill people, are exempt from fasting, which does not mean that they cannot participate in it, even just partially.

The list of activities prohibited on Sabbath is extended with further prohibitions: eating and drinking, wearing leather shoes and clothing items (belts), bathing and washing oneself, using cosmetics and having sexual intercourse. The day before the festival, one should immerse oneself in the mikveh – a ritual bath and fill one’s stomach. Also, after the prayers on Yom Kippur, “breaking” the fast takes place – usually a collective meal. Rare guests appear in the synagogue, members of the community who have avoided praying throughout the whole year. In Yiddish, they are called yomkipurnikes.

The liturgy of Yom Kippur liturgy is extremely rich and complicated; it is based on texts collected in a special prayer book (the machzor)[2]. With a few breaks in between, all prayers in the synagogue last over eight hours: an evening prayer on the eve of the feast (shacharit and musaf), a morning prayer combined with the “remembrance” of the dead (yizkor), an afternoon prayer (mincha), and the ending (neilah).

The introduction to festive prayers is Kol Nidre, a supplication for the cancellation of all the obligations that one will have carelessly made for God during the year that has just begun, recited in Aramaic. The prayer comes from the 6th century and its melody dates back to the 16th century. Cantors often record Kol Nidre, except during the festival, when it is forbidden. Its filmed version may be seen in the “The Jazz Singer” film, performed by Neil Diamond[3]. In orthodox practice, the prayer looks different than in the film. The cantor standing on a platform (bima) is accompanied, on both sides, by two or three men holding Torah scrolls dressed in white “dresses”. This colour dominates in the synagogue since Rosh Hashanah; the parochet – a veil for the Aron Hakodesh (altar cabinet), white kippahs and tallits (prayer shawls), and many men are dressed in white kittels (wedding outfit). The Kol Nidre formula (Aramaic “all oaths”) is repeated three times, alternately by the cantor and the whole community. Torah scrolls are carried away to the Aron Hakodesh and the proper evening prayer (maariv, arvit) begins and, after it, penitential prayers – slichot.

The morning prayer (shacharit), the additional one (musaf), separated by remembrance for the dead (yizkor) is the longest part of the liturgy (about five hours). It requires concentration, physical endurance (fasting!) and the machzor – a book that accompanies a praying person throughout the entire festival (about 400 pages of Hebrew text).

Some of the prayers involve a confession of sins repeated several times – the viddui. They are recited by all those gathered; each of them also takes upon themselves the sins potentially committed by others. The list of sins is arranged according to the order of Hebrew letters. For every sin one has to hit one’s chest with the right hand. The prayer of Avinu Malkenu (Our Father, Our King) also returns in its full version. A passage from the Torah[4] recalls the duties of the chief High Priest, who represents the entire nation of Israel, and on this one day, in the tabernacle called the Holy of Holies, he pronounces the Name of God YHWH. (Since the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, Jewish believers have been forbidden from pronouncing the Name). In the reading, there also appears a sacrificial lamb, which takes the sins of the whole of Israel and is chased away into the wilderness. 

Yizkor – a prayer for the dead, a reading of the names and surnames of the dead members of the community, usually of whole families. People whose both parents are alive are not allowed to participate in the prayer. They leave the synagogue and return for the common prayer of Av HaRachamim – “Father of Mercy”.

Musaf – an “additional” prayer which is the densest part of the Yom Kippur liturgy. Here, a collective confession of sins – viddui – is repeated along with the prayer of Unetanneh Tokef, previously recited during the Rosh Hashanah, which enumerates the possible variations of each person’s fate during the next year[5]. At the end, everyone repeats: “But repentance, prayer, and righteousness cancel the stern decree”. There is also the remembrance of the glory of Israel from the time of the Temple, the splendour of the chief highest priest, his prayer in the Tabernacle and, at the right moment, all those present fall with their faces to the ground – it is a sight that can only be observed in a synagogue during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

Before dusk, the afternoon prayer called mincha is said. One of the typical elements of the liturgy is reading the book of Jonah, in addition to a fragment of the Torah. The confession of sins – viddui – and Avinu Malkenu are repeated.

The whole liturgy ends with the final prayer of Neilah, culminating in a short blow of the shofar. All those who are by now exhausted by the prayers await this moment. The most perseverant people stay to recite a Havdalah, a prayer that distinguishes a holy day from a working day, in the synagogue and – weather permitting – the blessing of the moon in front of the synagogue.

Sometimes in the community, more often in the family circle, “breaking the fast” takes place – the first meal after 25 hours. 

The festival, even for outside observers, is very picturesque, although, due to a filming and photography prohibition, it can only be seen “live” at a synagogue. However, certain elements of Yom Kippur have been reconstructed in Jewish cinematography (films in Yiddish), but not only. The subject also reappears in painting. The painting by Maurycy Gottlieb from 1878, located at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art is cited most often.

Elaborated by Przemysław Piekarski, PhD, Licencja Creative Commons
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland.



[1] Kpł.16; 29-30, Tora. Pięcioksiąg Mojżesza, translated by I. Cylkow, Kraków 2006 (reprint).
[2] Machzor. Jom Kipur, translated by I. Cylkow. Kraków 2013 (reprint).
[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IEDLZayfdU&t=132s.
[4] Kpł. 16; 1-34, Tora. Pięcioksiąg Mojżesza, translated by I. Cylkow, Kraków 2006 (reprint).
[5] Rosz Haszana – “head of the year”

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Manuscript “Divrei David” of Dawid ben Jakub

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