Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Working on the Hebrew Calendar

The Hebrew Calendar has never been my strong point and the same goes for fast days. In general I’m pretty bad at remembering dates, and anyway, growing up, we usually talked about when a holiday would fall out in terms of the Gregorian Calendar. Additionally, the 7 yearly fast days have 6 different statuses and I tend to get confused a bit between those. So consider this post my personal homework, to better organize the Jewish Holidays and fasts in my head...

Yearly Summary

We'll start with a summary of the Jewish Year and it's holidays, fasts, and periods:
  1. Tishrei
    1. Rosh hashana(1st,2nd)
    2. Tzom Gedalia(3rd)- Jewish governor assassinated, 1st temple
    3. Yom Kippur(10th)
    4. Succot(14th-21st)
  2. Cheshvan
  3. Kislev
    1. Channuka begins(25th)
  4. Tevet
    1. Channuka ends(3rd)
    2. 10th of Tevet- beginning of 1st temple seige
  5. Shevat
  6. Adar
    1. Fast of Esther(13th of Adar)
    2. Purim(14th of Adar)
    3. Shushan Purim(15th of Adar)
  7. Nissan
    1. Fast of 1st Born(14th of Nissan)
    2. Passover(15th-21st), start of Omer
  8. Iyar
  9. Sivan
    1. Shavuot(6th), end of Omer
  10. Tamuz
    1. 17th of Tamuz(begin 3 weeks)-city overrun, 2nd temple
  11. Av
    1. 1st of Av-beginning of 9 days
    2. 9th of Av(end 3 weeks/9 days)-both temples destroyed
  12. Elul
    1. Slichos



So that’s a chronological ordering. Now let’s talk conceptual ordering. The holidays basically fit into 4 categories:

1. Regalim

The three regalim, Passover, Shavuot, and Succot relate to stages in the Agricultural year and traditionally involved all of Israel converging on the Temple in Jerusalem

2. Holidays of Tishrei

The Month of Tishrei has it's own group of holidays. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Succot are focused around Hashem judging the world and Am Yisrael.

Note that Succot appears twice, both as a regel and as a Holiday of Tishrei. As Rav Yoni Grossman points out, this dual identity is hinted at by its Mussafim, which include 14 lambs and 2 rams, as opposed to all the other holidays that have 7 lambs and 1 ram.

So which category does Shemini Atzeret fall into, with its 7 lambs and 1 ram? It’s not entirely clear. On one hand, one’s Olat Reiya for Succot can be brought on Shemini Atzeret, so it sounds like it’s part of the Regalim cycle. On the other hand, we have a Rabbinic tradition that the World is judged for rainfall on Shemini Atzeret, so that sounds like Chagei Tishrei.

3. Rabbinic Holidays

Channuka and Purim are rabbinically instituted.

4. Fasts for the Destruction

There are 4 fasts for the destruction of the Temple: Tzom Gedalya, the 10th of Tevet, the 17th of Tammuz, and Tisha be’Av. The latter two form the endpoints of the 3 weeks period of mourning and thus have their own special restrictions, like shaving/cutting hair/listening to music. Tisha be'Av has it's own special status and is the most severe rabbinic fast.

Note that the fast of Esther and fast of first born don’t fall into this category at all. Rather, they are practices connected to the holidays of Purim and Pesach, respectively. Also, the Fast of the First Born is unique in that it only applies to "Bechorot" or possibly their parents, and that it is not generally observed in practice, a strategically-timed siyum being the option of choice for it's annulment.

And, of course Yom Kippur is the only Biblically mandated fast and belongs in the category of Holidays of Tishrei.

So, there you go. Not the most exciting post, but hopefully another step in improving my own observance.

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