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Interfaith Dialogue ( 25 Jul 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Jewish Calendar


By Syed Manzoor Alam, New Age Islam

25 July, 2014

Jewish prayer takes place on a daily basis, but enhanced prayers are recited on holidays. And these holidays are dispersed throughout the Jewish calendar, throughout the year. And what we will have to do to understand the significance of the holidays is to examine the nature of the Jewish calendar.

There is a legend which tells of a Jew who is about to be shifted off to Russia and managed to ask the local Rabbi the following question: is there any possibility of smuggling one book to the isolated neighbouring camp, and if yes, then what should that book be. And we might have imagined the Rabbi suggesting a prayer book, or possibly the Bible but surprising to us (non-Jews) the response was “Take the Jewish calendar”.

A cohesive oneness is very important for the Jews. Unity is important for them; this gives them a sense of one identity. For a Muslim man, may be, sporting a beard is part of his identity, for a Muslim woman, wearing a Burqa may be part of her identity, for a Christian going to Church on Sundays, would be a part of his/her religious identity. But for a Jew, celebrating the holidays, at the same time, all over the world is very important for them as it gives them this unity that binds them together, although this religious community, much like any other community is filled with inter-group clashes.

One thing that is accepted by all the groups is this Jewish calendar. And this is arguably the most important unifying factor in this religious community. Calendar is accepted by all groups practicing Judaism today. So we have to understand how a calendar functions and what its various components are.

The basic characteristic of a Jewish calendar is its system for reckoning time cycles. And this system is commonly described as “lunisolar”; in other words, it goes both by the moon and by the sun, which is rather complicated, to say the least. The months of the Jewish calendar are lunar, and each new month is determined by the renewed conjunction of the moon with the sun. A lunar year, meaning 12 lunar months, extends to approximately 354 days. A solar year, which determines our seasons, lasts for approximately 365 days. The 11-day differential is crucial.

This 11-day difference is crucial for the Jewish calendar because the holidays of the yearly Jewish cycle commemorate, among other things, the seasons of the year and the agriculture status of the fields. And as a result they are determined by the solar year.

‘Passover’, for instance, is by Biblical definition a spring festival. If the yearly cycle were to determine simply by counting twelve lunar months, something interesting would happen to that ‘Passover’; it would slowly creep back from spring into winter, because the lunar year is 11 days shorter.

‘Passover’ was, let’s say, on April 1st. The following year would be 11 days earlier, it would be on March 19th, the following year it would be on 8th and so on and it would slowly creep back into the winter. This is exactly what happens with the Muslim calendar in the month of Ramadan.

The problem then of the Jewish calendar  was to align between the lunar year and the solar year, and this was done by every few years adding a 13th month to the year! So every time, let’s say ‘Passover’ starts creeping back into the winter they would just add, prior to ‘Passover’ a 13th month moving it again back into spring.

In ancient times the decision regarding the announcing of such a leap was taken by religious heads. These heads could have been Rabbis or persons with knowledge of the Jewish institution. They might have been connected to the Temple in Jerusalem, before its destruction.

There was a problem; different bodies came up with different dates. There was no consensus and this led to in-fighting between various groups. One such famous fighting was between the Babylonian authorities and Palestinian authorities.

In second Temple times a radically different calendar was maintained. For instance some of the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ suggest the existence of an almost purely solar calendar that consisted of 354 days. They did this because they wanted the year to have exactly 52 weeks.

In the 4th century, pressure was placed on the Jewish calendar for the first time by an outside source. And this was the new, young Christian Church. And the reason for this was very interesting. Some Christian groups from the Eastern Roman Empire would wait until the Jews proclaimed their ‘Passover’ to know when to celebrate ‘Easter’, because ‘Easter’ happened on ‘Passover’. And this created a very uncomfortable situation. Does that mean, for the Christians, that they would have to wait until some Rabbis gather together to proclaim their calendar for the Christians to know when to celebrate ‘Easter’?

And as a result one very important thing took place. The Church Council of Nicaea gathered and one of its goals was to determine a fixed day for ‘Easter’ that would not be dependent on Jewish calendar anymore. And sure enough they came up with that date, and it would be the first Sunday after a full moon in the spring equinox. By doing this they severed for all time any connection between ‘Passover’ and ‘Easter’.

 The Islamic Calendar and its Jewish Counterpart

Muharram al- Haraam


Ras as Sana

Rosh Hashanah

The prophet Idris lifted to heaven

Adam was created

Joseph saved from well

Rosh Hashhanah

Moses crossed the Red sea

Fast of Gedaliah


Revelation to Moses on Mountain

Jonah came from whale

Erev  Yom Kippur

Roz e Ashura

Yom Kippur

Adam was created

Future ‘Day of Judgement’

Safar al Muzaffar


Rabi al-Awal


Milaad un Nabi


Rabi al Thaani


Jumaada al Awal




1.       Abrahamson. B, Katz. J: The Islamic Jewish Calendar




5.       Isaiah M. Gafni: Great World Religions: Judaism

6.       Goldman, Ari L. Being Jewish, Book Two: The Jewish Year. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000

7.       Greenberg, Irving. The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays. New York: Summit, 1988.

Note- I do not have mastery over this topic. My approach in this article was to read as much as possible, understand this complicated issue and present it to you from the read material.