So here we are at the very beginning of September. The weather begins to change. School starts up. And Jews, like me, expect until mid or late September to prepare for the Days of Awe. We want more time to reflect on this year's Teshuvah -- Repentance. Mother's and grandmothers feel like they are still in summer.
Surprise! The Jewish Calendar says Tishri 1, Rosh Hashanah, the New Year 5774, is Sept. 5. Hence, Labor Day will see many briskets going into the oven. Chickens will be roasted. Gefilte fish will be chopped made into pieces and boiled. Round Challot will be baked. Apples and honey will be purchased. A cacophony of aromas will fill our homes.
Rabbis, like me, will race to finish sermons. Cantors will vocalize and practice the special holiday melodies.
Yup, Rosh Hashanah is just too early this year! But of course, it is not! It is right on time! So how come it is so early? And when will it ever happen again as early as Sept. 5?
The Blogger, BZ, citing articles by Jonathan Mizrahi, Stephen P. Morse and Remy Landau, helps us to understand what is causing the early celebration.
First, the reader must understand that the Hebrew calendar is lunar as opposed to our societal Gregorian calendar that is solar.
Our solar calendar is 365.25 days in length. The lunar calendar is approximately 354 days in length. In order to almost even out the lunar and solar years, Jews add seven leap years in every 19 years. In each of those leap years, a month of 29 or 30 days is added to the calendar.
Unfortunately, the leap years do not totally equalize the calendars. There is a slow drift going on in the Jewish calendar. Let me quote BZ to explain the problem:
"235 lunar months add up to 6,939 days 16 hours 595 parts. (In Jewish calendar math, "parts" are the basic subdivisions of an hour, instead of minutes and seconds. There are 1,080 parts in an hour, so 595 parts is about 33 minutes.) In the Gregorian calendar, 19 solar years (on average) are 6,939 days 14 hours 626 parts. That's about a 2-hour difference. So the Jewish holidays (on average) shift about 2 hours later during each 19-year cycle, which adds up to a full day every 231 years."
For those of you still reading, you can see that the lunar calendar is drifting. BZ explains:
"However, because of the aforementioned calendar drift, this is true only locally, for the present couple of centuries. The earliest Rosh Hashanah used to be Sept. 4 (which means Purim on Feb. 23, and so on for the rest of the holidays), but that happened for the last time in 1766. The last Sept. 5 Rosh Hashanah (until we loop all the way around, of course) will be in 2089; after that, the earliest will be Sept. 6."
I hope that helps you understand the early start of this year's Jewish New Year. But to put it simply it is to keep the calendars as aligned as possible.
One other note, living in my 66th year, I have come to realize that the lunar calendar often suggests seasonal change even more than the secular calendar. I am expecting an early fall season. I hope I am wrong.
Finally, one other fact should be mentioned concerning this year's relationship of the Jewish to the secular calendar. This information is especially important if you have Jewish family or friends.
This year we Jews will be celebrating what might be called Thanksgivikkuh. Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah coincide. To celebrate, you might consider making or tasting sweet potato latkes topped with brown sugar and melted marshmallows.
Well, I will not be around the final time Rosh Hashanah falls on Sept. 5 again. I pray many of you celebrate this coming year in health and happiness and that you are there to celebrate Rosh Hashanah on Sept. 5, 2089.