Sacred Calendar

Jewish Passover Out of Season!

The following article by Dr John Zucker appeared in the Jewish Chronicle April 11. 1997.   You will see that - in certain years, (i.e. 1997, 2005) it agrees with Stewarton Bible School (SBS) as regards Pesach (Passover) occurring a month before the date given in the Jewish calendar.


"Is Pesach this year (1997) later than it should be, according to the dictates of the Torah?
The straight answer is yes.

But if April 22 - on which the first day falls - is considered late, think ahead to the year 2005, when the first day will fall on April 24. Indeed, in some years - 1929, 1948 and 1967, for example - Pesach began on April 25. To understand why it is biblically inappropriate for the festival to fall so late in the year, one has to consider the conditions governing its date.

The Torah specifies two criteria:
“The festival of matzot,” it says in Exodus 34:18, “shall be kept… at the appointed time in the month of Aviv.”
In Leviticus 22:6, the appointed time is given as the 15th of the month. ‘Aviv’ means spring, so it is necessary to determine what is meant by the first month of spring. The first month is required on the principle that a mitzvah should be performed as soon as possible.

Although the Jewish festivals are placed in specific lunar months, the ‘tekufot’, or seasons, are governed by the solar calendar. The lunar month which is designated as Aviv is dependent on a civil date. It is generally accepted that the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere is when the length of the day - which has been increasing steadily since December 21 - equals the length of the night. This occurs on March 21 in a normal civil year, and March 22 in a leap year.

How does one know which lunar month includes the first day of spring? In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 13b), Rabbi Samuel, the son of Rabbi Isaac, states that the first day of spring should occur in the lunar month while the moon is still waxing. The moon grows from new to full in the first 14.5 days of the month. If a Rosh Chodesh (new moon) occurs at any time between the sixth and the 20th March, then on the 21st March the moon will still be waxing and that month is designated as Aviv.
If this is not the case, the next lunar month is chosen. The earliest date Pesach can occur is March 21, and the latest it should occur is April 20. Yet an examination of the calendar from 1920 to 2019 shows the earliest date to be March 26. Instead of the festival falling between March 21 and April 20, this century has seen the first day being celebrated between March 26 and April 25.

Future calendars reveal a gradual shift of Pesach - and, consequently, of the other festivals - to progressively later dates. In the century from 2950 to 3050, the first day of Pesach will be found to fall between March 31 and April 30.

What is happening? And, more importantly, is it possible to rectify the situation? The origin of this glitch lies in the fixed Jewish calendar that has been in use for the past 1,650 years. The calendar attempts to correlate the solar year - the time the earth takes to go round the sun - with the lunar month, during which the moon circles the earth. The year determines the seasons, while the months - in their appropriate seasons - determine the festivals. The present fixed calendar is based on the premise that 19 solar years are exactly equal to 235 lunar months. Dividing 19 into 235 gives 12, with seven remaining. Thus, in every 19-year cycle, seven years acquire an extra month, which is why we have Jewish leap years every 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th year cycle.

The 19-year Metonic cycle is named after the Greek astronomer , Meton, who devised it around 430 BCE. It was well known to the rabbis of the Talmud. When, in 350 CE, the Roman authorities limited the authority of the Nasi - the spiritual leader - in Eretz Yisrael, regarding the proclamation of Rosh Chodesh, Hillei 11, the then Nasi, instituted the present fixed calendar, based on the Metonic cycle. Although it was remarkably accurate for its time, it is not exact. The 235 lunar months exceed the 19 solar years by a little more than two hours. Spread over 1,000 years, this totals some 4.5 days. One thousand years ago, the first day of Pesach would have fallen, on average, four or five days earlier than now, in the correct solar time span as dictated by the Torah.

Is it possible to remedy the present situation, and to halt the gradual shift of Pesach? In his book, Rabbinical Mathematics and Astronomy, Dr. W.M. Feldman suggests a new basis for a fixed Jewish calendar. He demonstrates that if, in a cycle of 334 years, 123 of them were leap years, the differential between the Jewish and civil calendar would amount to no more than 39 mins. It would take 12,500 years to accumulate a one-day discrepancy, instead of 230 years it takes under the present system. Feldman proposes constituting the 334-year cycle as a series of 19-year minor cycles, with the odd 11 years forming the beginning of the next major cycle. If Feldman’s 334-year cycle had been employed over the past 1,650 years, instead of the present 19 year cycle, there would have been one less leap year.

To make the festivals less movable in the future, and to accord more accurately with the requirements for Pesach to fall in the month of Aviv, one designated leap year would have to lose that status. The next most suitable year for this purpose would seem to be 2005 (5765). By making it a regular year instead of a leap year, Pesah would commence on Saturday, March 26, instead of Sunday, April 24. The year 5765 would be the 89th year of a 334- year cycle, the 13th year of the fifth 19-year cycle within the larger cycle. From this basis, future dates could be computed, demonstrating that Pesach would be confined to its designated Torah place for the foreseeable future. The year 2005 is sufficiently far ahead to enable one to compute, and to adjust to, the new system. Even the most forward-looking parents will not yet have booked their son’s barmitzvahs!"

Dr. John Zucker
(Jewish Chronicle. April 11.1997)

Stewarton Bible School Comment

As you can see, we in SBS agree with Dr Zucker when he says that, according to the Torah, the Passover this year (1997) as held by the Jews, is a moth later than it should be. He makes the point in his opening statement when he writes:
“Is Pesach this year later than it should be, according to the dictates of the Torah?
The straight answer is yes.”

Dr. Zucker also realises that if Passover is a month late, so are all the festivals in that year! He writes:
“Future calendars reveal a gradual shift of Pesach - and, consequently, of the other festivals - to progressively later dates.”

This means that every group that follows the Jewish calendar in 1997 will keep all the festivals a whole month late! You will agree that this is an extremely serious matter. That is why the Stewarton Bible School has for many years proclaimed the message, that the Jewish Calendar - in certain years - is out by a whole month: not to mention the one or two day differences which occur in other months. I am very pleased that Dr Zucker’s article appeared in the Jewish Chronicle. It is a paper with a wide circulation in the UK.

However, I do not agree with him when he says that we should adopt Dr Feldman’s proposed solution to the problem. It’s unwieldy to say the least. Much rather would I stick to the guideline we in SBS have been following for the past 25 years: which is ‘to select the new moon nearest the spring equinox to begin Abib.’   It’s simple and will always be right.

I trust that this additional information will prove useful.

In Messiah's Name

Elder: David B Loughran

Stewarton Bible School, Stewarton, Scotland

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