Stewarton Bible School

Part 2 ... File 6 of 10

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Question 6

Why do the festival dates in the calendar printed by SBS sometimes differ a day or two from the dates shown in the popular Jewish calendar?


SBS does not use the popular Jewish calendar because it is influenced by certain human rules and traditions which result in the sacred festivals being celebrated - in certain years - on the wrong dates. Let me now - respectfully - explain further. As pointed out previously, in ancient days the sacred calendar was not published or printed in advance. The beginning of a month was determined by a first sighting of the new moon and the remainder of the month was simply counted to from that first day. This system worked well enough for centuries. In his famous book The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar Arthur Spier explains on page 2 how a change came about.

"In the early times of Israel's history the beginnings of months were determined by direct observation of the moon; the first days of the months being announced by the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, after witnesses had testified that they had seen the new crescent and after their testimony had been thoroughly examined, confirmed by calculation and duly accepted. The communities of Israel were then notified by kindling night fires on the mountains and later by messengers…

This method of observation and intercalation was in use throughout the period of the second Temple (516 BC - 70 AD) and about three centuries after its destruction as long as there was an independent Sanhedrin. In the fourth century, however, when oppression and persecution threatened the continued existence of the Sanhedrin, the patriarch Hillel 11 took an extraordinary step to preserve the unity of Israel. In order to prevent the Jews scattered all over the surface of the earth from celebrating their New Moons, Festivals and holidays at different times he made public the system of calendar calculation which up till then had been a closely guarded secret. It had been used in the past only to check the observations and testimonies of witnesses, and to determine the beginning of the spring season.

In accordance with this system Hillel 11 formally sanctified all moons in advance and intercalated future leap years until such time as a new Sanhedrin would be established in Israel. This is the permanent calendar according to which the New Moons and Festivals are calculated and celebrated today by the Jews all over the world. It also applies certain rules by which the astronomical facts are combined with the religious requirements into an admirable calendar system "

The motives of the patriarch Hillel were, without a doubt, admirable; and for subsequent centuries Jewish communities around the world derived great gain from his work. Nevertheless locked into his system of calendar calculation lay FOUR ERRORS which in certain years clash with the requirements of astronomy and the law of the Most High. It is these four errors which periodically result in the wrong days being celebrated as God's festivals. What are these four errors?

1. Incorrect Equinox Dates
The first error is a purely mathematical one concerning the length of the solar year; a seemingly insignificant matter of 16.5 minutes a year. But which now, 1700 years later, has resulted in wrong Equinox dates being used in the selection of the 1st and 7th months of the year.

2. The Metonic Cycle
The second error is the association of the Jewish calendar with the Lunar Cycle of Meton, a cycle borrowed from the pagan calendar-makers of Greece.

3. Rule for Beginning 1st Tishri
The third error is the adoption of a man-made rule which dictates that the festival month of Ethanim (Tishri) must begin on the day of a conjunction. When applied, this rule directly conflicts with the ancient practice of literally 'looking out' for the new moon each month. The new moon, incidentally, is never visible at the time of a conjunction. Proof of this is given below.

4. Human Traditions
The fourth error is the adoption of several human traditions which do not allow the festival month of Ethanim (Tishri) to start on a Sunday, Wednesday and Friday; and the festival month of Abib (Nisan) starting on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Concerning these traditions the Jewish Year Book says this:

Let us now examine these four errors; which are, in fact, closely related to each other.

The first error is the use of incorrect equinox dates. Let me explain. There lived in the third century a Talmud scholar and astronomer by the name of Samuel Yarhinai. According to Samuel the length of the tropical (sun) year is approximately 365 days 6 hours. Yarhinai divided this time by 4 and assigned 91 days 7 hours and 30 minutes to each of the four seasons. Then by successively adding this time to any given equinox or solstice, Yarhinai reasoned that all the equinoxes or solstices of the following years could be arrived at. And once the date and time of the autumnal equinox was established for any given year, it would be a simple matter to select the new moon nearest it to begin Tishri (Ethanim). Having selected Tishri's new moon it would then be a simple matter to count to Nisan which in ordinary years is the seventh month from Tishri. That, basically, was the method adopted and published by the patriarch Hillel.

Believe it or not, Samuel Yarhinai's simplified method would have worked well enough if the year was exactly 365 days and 6 hours in length. The fact is, it is not. The correct length of a year is 365 days 5 hours 46.069 minutes: which is about 14 minutes less than Yarhinai's approximation of 365 days and 6 hours. As a result, the times of Samuel's equinoxes began to drift away from the true equinox times at the rate of about 14 minutes a year. This seemingly insignificant annual discrepancy of a few minutes added up to about one day in every century. And today, 17 centuries later, Yarhinai's equinox dates have moved some 16.5 days away from the true equinox dates of March 20/21 and September 22. According to Yarhinai's calculations the equinox dates are now April 7/8th and October 7/8th: which any high school student knows is a long way adrift from the true equinox times.

When Yarhinai's formula was first used in determining the autumn and spring equinox dates, it was useful enough; because the 14 minute discrepancy really made no difference at all to the selection of Tishri's and Nisan's new moons. In those early years the correct new moon was selected to begin Tishri and all the sacred festivals were in step with the agricultural seasons. But now, 17 centuries later, that 14 minute annual discrepancy has accumulated to about 16.5 days; and in the calendar of Hillel the autumnal equinox supposedly occurs on October 7/8th and the spring equinox on April 7/8th. As a result the wrong new moons (those closest to these incorrect equinox dates) are chosen to begin the Festival month of Ethanim (Tishri) and by effect, Abib. (Nisan). When this happens all the Festival dates in the Jewish calendar in that particular year are celebrated a month late! They are all out of step with the agricultural seasons and crops in Israel.

The Jews, of course, know all about Yarhinai's formula and its ill effect on the sacred calendar. They knew about this error long before SBS did. What is Israel doing about this? The answer is, the nation of Israel is currently awaiting the election of a new Sanhedrin to authorise a correction to the Jewish calendar. I quote again from Speir's book, page 227:

"The Tekufoth of Samuel, (Yarhinai) which are based on the length of 365.25 days for the solar year, deviate considerably from the true astronomical time. They are 17 days later than the astronomical equinoxes and solstices in our century, a difference which grows by 1 day almost every 100 years. The rebirth of the State of Israel rekindles in us the hope that a new Sanhedrin, recognised by the whole people of Israel, will be established again in our time. It will be the task of the Sanhedrin to make a decision as to when and how the sanctified calendar of Hillel 11 is to be modified in accordance with the requirements of astronomy and the Torah."

The second error concerns the use of the Metonic Cycle. About the year 433 BC the Greek astronomer Meton of Athens discovered that after a lapse of 19 years (235 lunar months) the phases of the moon recurred on the same day of the same month, within a few hours. For example if a new moon occurred on the 1st January at 9a.m. in one year, then 20 years later when the next cycle began a new moon would again occur on 1st January within a few hours of 9a.m. (subject to leap year disturbances). Meton concluded, that if the dates of the new moons are known in any one 19 year cycle, they are known for all subsequent cycles. In the course of time Jewish calendar makers began to use the Metonic Cycle to regulate the sacred calendar and after a few changes the following seven years in the cycle were declared to be leap years with 13 months each: the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years. Ordinary years would have 12 months; leap years would have 13 months. This inflexible pattern of years and leap years was not used prior to the Dispersion, simply because at that time leap years were determined by the Sanhedrin on the evidence of the natural conditions mentioned in the answer to Question 1.

Some time after the Dispersion of Israel from the Promised Land, Hillel's new system, which was regulated by the Metonic cycle, superseded the age-old practice of assessing the natural conditions mentioned earlier. SBS is most certainly not condemning Hillel and his associates for making use of the Metonic cycle and the formula of Samuel Yarhinai while the Dispersion lasted. The scattered Jews had no other choice but to use a calendar based on the best calculations available at the time. But the circumstances have now changed. Israel is back in the Promised Land and the continued use of the Metonic cycle (which is still used in the pagan calendar of Greece), in the sacred calendar is being challenged. The time has come to unhitch the sacred calendar from the Metonic Cycle. Nor should we program ourselves into thinking that the sacred calendar must of necessity continue to be governed by the Metonic cycle. It need not be, for three very good reasons.

  1. The 19 year Metonic cycle is not absolutely accurate. New moons in corresponding cycles do not occur exactly on time! Were you to compare conjunction times in one cycle with those of subsequent cycles you will see how that, like Yarhinai's formula, there is a growing time difference which in years to come will distort the calendar.
  2. Extremely accurate computer printout of the moon's movements renders dependence on the Metonic Cycle obsolete.
  3. The Metonic cycle was first used in the pagan calendar of ancient Greece. On that score alone it is unacceptable in the sacred calendar.

Let us now consider the third: the rule concerning the choice of the first day of Tishri (Ethanim). The Jewish rule is:

"Rosh Hasanah must be on the day of the molad (conjunction)."

This rule is out of step with ancient Israel's method of starting a month with the sighting of the new moon. New moons, as stated previously, are never visible to the naked eye on the day of the molad (conjunction), but become visible many hours later. Consequently, every time this rule is applied, all the autumn festivals in that particular year are held on the wrong dates. They are celebrated one and sometimes two days earlier than the true dates hallowed by the Almighty's presence.


Now let us look at the fourth error resident in the Jewish calendar. We'll begin with examining how the Jewish calendar makers arrive at Rosh Hashanah (Tishri 1st). I quote again from Speir's book, page 218-219 para 11.

"The calendar follows this rule:

Rosh Hashanah, the first day of Tishri,
must be on the day of the Molad. (conjunction)

There are exceptions, the so-called Dehioth (postponements) which take place in four specific cases. They are:
a) When the Molad Tishri occurs on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday, Rosh Hashanah is postponed to the following day.
b) When the Molad (conjunction) Tishri occurs at noon (18 h) or later, Rosh Hashanah is postponed to the next day, or if this day is a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday, to a Monday, Thursday or Sabbath because of Dehiah (a)
c) When the Molad Tishri of a common year falls on a Tuesday, 204 parts after 3 A.M., i.e. 3d 9h 204p or later, Rosh Hashanah is postponed to Wednesday and, because of Dehiah a., further postponed to Thursday.
d) When in a common year succeeding a leap year the Molad Tishri occurs on Monday morning 589 parts after 9 A.M. i.e., 2d 15h 589p or later, Rosh Hashanah is postponed to the next day...
Note: In more than 60% of all years Rosh Hashanah does not occur on the day of the Molad but is postponed to one of the Dehioth. Therefore the Dehioth are actually not the exceptions to the rule but the rule...

Dehiah (a) mainly fulfils the following three religious requirements:
Yom Kippur (Tishri 10) shall not occur on the day before or after the Sabbath
and Hoshana Rabah (Tishri 21) shall not occur on the Sabbath.

Now what does all this mean? It means that the month of Tishri, though required by the Jewish rule to start on the day of the conjunction, actually starts in 60% of all years a day or two later because of the Dehioth. Strangely enough, the effect of these Dehioth (postponements) almost matches those made by SBS when we allow at least 24 hours after a conjunction for a first sighting of the new moon. But what of the remaining 40% of years when a postponement is not made and Tishri is begun on the day of the Molad? Without question this results in Rosh Hashana (the Feast of Trumpets) being celebrated a day or two earlier that God intended.

Let us now take a closer look at the two human traditions that distort the sacred calendar. I quote from the Jewish Year Book:
"The chief disturbing influence in the arrangements of the Jewish calendar is to:
prevent the Day of Atonement from immediately preceding or immediately succeeding the Sabbath, and Hoshana Raba, (Tishri 21) from falling on the Sabbath."

First Tradition
The first tradition concerns that staggering injunction: that the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) shall not precede or succeed the Sabbath. In other words: 'The Day of Atonement shall not occur on a Friday or a Sunday.' You may examine the Bible from cover to cover and you will not find a single verse to support this tradition - not one! It is a human tradition through and through and its result is to move the most important day in the sacred calendar (the Day of Atonement) from its divinely appointed position! To achieve this the calendar makers prevent the month of Tishri from starting on a Wednesday or Friday:

The Second Tradition
This tradition concerns a rite called the Waving of the Willows. It takes place on Hoshana Raba (21st Tishri), a date which, according to Jewish tradition, must not coincide with the weekly Sabbath (Saturday). To accommodate this tradition the month of Tishri is not allowed to begin on a Sunday; for if it did then Tishri 21st would fall on the weekly Sabbath, which the tradition doesn't allow.

The final outcome of the above 2 tradition-backed amendments to the calendar is, that the Feast of Trumpets (1st Tishri) is never allowed to fall on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday! This means that in three out of seven years (42% of years if we apply the law of averages) the Feast of Trumpets in the popular Jewish calendar is moved from its God-appointed position. As a result all those believers who use the popular Jewish calendar will be celebrating the autumn feasts in 3 out of 7 years on the wrong days!

Moving Abib's 1st day
In addition to the foregoing, there is yet another set of alterations being applied to the calendar in certain years; to the 1st day of Nisan (Abib). Consider this astonishing fact:

Every time this man-made rule is applied (and again according to the law of averages that would be three times in every seven years) all the spring festivals and the Feast of Pentecost would be celebrated on the wrong dates.

These, then, are the man-made rules and traditions which distort the popular Jewish calendar and make it different from the one published by Stewarton Bible School. Pause dear reader and try to measure the seriousness of these unauthorised modifications to the sacred calendar. Do you suppose that the Holy One of Israel is pleased with them? We think not. That is the reason why we have pressed ahead with the corrections mentioned in this booklet.

NOTE: Having read the above answer, the reader is reminded that though Stewarton Bible School publishes these facts about the errors in the popular Jewish calendar, I am, nevertheless, 100% for Israel and its people.

SBS Home   Calendar Page   Booklet Index

Author: David B Loughran
Stewarton Bible School, Stewarton, Scotland
Updated: August 1998