Did you ever hear the expression "running on Jewish time"? Loosely it means that Jews are notorious for being late to an event. That couldn't be more evident then this time of the year. We have just ushered in the new year of 5781 but what does that mean? Is it the first month of the new year? No. Have we finished reading the Torah for the year? No. And while we are at it, why are we celebrating one holiday after the other at this time of the year. I will leave you to go on about Sukkot. I would like to have some answers as to how our ancestors came up with how we go from one year to the next.
This is what I came up with.
A year in the Hebrew calendar can be 353, 354, 355, 383, 384, or 385 days long.
Regular common years have 12 months with a total of 354 days. Leap years have 13 months and are 384 days long. Months with uneven numbers usually have 30 days, while months with even numbers have 29 days.
In addition to these regular (kesidrah) year lengths, both common and leap years can be a day shorter (cheserah or deficient year with 353/383 days) or a day longer (shlemah or complete year with 355/385 days).
These alterations are designed to prevent Rosh Hashana and other holidays from falling on certain days of the week. In practice, a day is added to the 8th month (Marcheshvan) or subtracted from the 9th month (Kislev).
In civil contexts, a new year in the Jewish calendar begins on Rosh Hashana on Tishrei 1. However, for religious purposes, the year begins on Nisan 1.
No wonder Jews are considered smart. It takes a genius just to figure out what day, week or year we are in at any given time. If we can figure out how we came to the year we are at, it seems to me that a Jew is capable of coming up with the other mysteries of the universe as well.
Happy New Year, I think.
In fact, African Americans have the same idea as "Jewish time" except they call it "C.P. (colored peoples) time." What I think this means is that when people engage in intra-group activities, they are less concerned with the precision that "being on time" demands. Rather, the group familiarity allows lateness to be a sign of comfort and belonging.
I love these figures! So many numbers and so much math, albeit basic. I also have thought about how we have so many moments of beginning: Passover, Rosh Hashana, Simchat Torah. It's as if we're never really beginning or ending. No beginning - or ending - is absolute. We live within multiple frameworks, each with its own time scheme.