Is the Jewish Calendar Biblical? Should we follow the Jewish calendar? Is it the same as the Christian calendar? Is either the same as the Biblical calendar? Those coming into an understanding of Torah soon run into these questions as they seek to be obedient to YHWH (God) and restore His holy days and appointed times.
Usually what happens is they go from following the Christian calendar (Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, etc.) along with the secular calendar (New Year’s, Independence Day, and the various days of your particular nation) to following the Jewish calendar, thinking that they are now following the Biblical calendar. But this is only partially true.
The modern Jewish calendar is a mixture of holy days (holidays) found in the Bible as instituted by YHWH (God), along with many more traditional holidays that have been added over the centuries to commemorate various important events in Judaism. These traditional holidays are not found in the Bible, and the reason is that most of them post-date the Bible.
So one question that believers coming into Torah have to wrestle with is whether or not it’s ok to follow extra-Biblical holidays. In some regards, this is no different than something like Thanksgiving. Click to read more about holy days vs. holidays.
The focus of this lesson is on the various calendar systems that pertain to YHWH’s (God’s) holy or set apart days and times. The two main calendar types that the various groups of Judaism and the Hebrew Roots Movement follow are lunar and solar calendars. This does not mean that either camp ignores the sun or moon in their reckoning; it just refers to the main emphasis of their system. Let’s take a look at each.
Lunar Calendar Systems
This is the most prominent system by far. This is what traditional Rabbinic Judaism follows. Rabbinic Judaism is what most folks think of when they think of Judaism (although we will examine another Jewish group below). In this system, the moon is used to determine the start of each month. But there are differences of opinion as to when the new moon begins.
Sighted or Sliver Moon
The majority who follow a lunar calendar system base it on the sighted moon. The sighted moon, as its name implies, indicates that the new moon and month begins when the first sliver of light can be seen after conjunction (dark moon). This is usually one or two days after conjunction.
Each month has either 29 or 30 days. Because the annual lunar cycle is shorter than the solar cycle, Rabbinic Judaism has intercalated a thirteenth month into their system. This simply means that they regularly add an extra month so that the seasons (spring, summer, fall, winter) stay in their proper places on the calendar.
Hillel II instituted this system of intercalation or fixing the calendar in the fourth century AD/CE. Hillel was the leader of the Sanhedrin, the legal body within Judaism. Before this time, the sliver moon had to be physically sighted by priests from various hilltops in Israel who then reported back to Jerusalem via a system of fires set on top of the hills.
But since Hillel II created the fixed calendar, those who follow it no longer have to wait for physical confirmation to know when a month or year begins. And you can know in advance which months have 30 days and which have 29.
Many Hebrew Roots or Messianic believers follow the Hillel II calendar of Rabbinic Judaism. Some do so to have solidarity with the Jewish people or because they believe that the decree of Hillel II was the last official act of the Sanhedrin and is thereby binding.
However, some groups still hold to the position that the sighted moon is the only legitimate means to determine the new month. Among them are some Hebrew Roots believers as well as Karaite Jews. Karaites are a very small minority within Judaism who reject Rabbinic teachings and rulings and choose to only follow the written Torah (as opposed to the Oral Torah that Rabbinic Jews follow in addition to the written Torah). Some academics believe that the Karaites go back to the Sadducee sect of Judaism found in the new testament and other Second Temple literature, while it is widely believed that Rabbinic Judaism goes back to the Pharisee sect.
Nehemiah Gordon is an example of a modern Karaite. Michael Rood is an example of a Messianic who follows the sighted moon reckoning. They are convinced that it is the Biblical method. One objection by some believers to this position is that the sliver moon is a symbol of Islam as seen on the Muslim flag.
Conjunction is when the moon is completely black, that is, there is no visible light. It is the dark moon. For people who hold this position, the conjunction of the moon is the determining factor to knowing when the month begins—the new moon.
A minority of Messianics hold to the conjunction moon position and do not follow the Hillel II reckoning of the traditional Jewish calendar. 119 Ministries is an example of this position.
Another minority position is that of the lunar Sabbath. This is still a conjunction-based calendar, but this position states that the weekly Sabbath is not on what we call Saturday, and there is not necessarily only seven days between the last Sabbath of the month and the first Sabbath of the new month. Rather, the Sabbath falls on the 8th, 15th, 22nd, and 29th days of the lunar-based month. The day of the new moon is not counted as a workday in this system. This is why a weekly cycle of seven days is interrupted, causing the day of the week to change for Shabbat. So while it is always on the 8th, 15th, 22nd, and 29th days of the month, the day of the week changes from month to month.
We have also heard of a few Messianic believers who believe that the full moon is the new moon and start of the month. And as is the case with any belief or group, there are surely variations within all of the above positions.
Although it seems like a minor point to someone unfamiliar with the various calendar options in Judaism and Hebrew Roots, which moon to follow is a very big deal to folks within these groups and is the cause of quite a bit of debate that often leads to divided fellowship.
Solar Calendar Systems
The other calendar system practiced by some is the solar-based calendar. This is sometimes known as an Enochian calendar (named after the calendar found in the book of I Enoch). It is also known as the Dead Sea Scrolls calendar or the Jubilees calendar because of the calendar literature we find in the Qumran writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls sect of Judaism, which included at least parts of Enoch and Jubilees in addition to their own calendar writings.
In this system, the sun determines the start of the year and, therefore, the start of the first month called Aviv in the Bible. There are a fixed number of days each month totaling 364 days per year. Four of these days are considered marker days that coincide with the spring and fall equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices. Each of the twelve months has exactly thirty days, following this pattern:
30, 30, 30, marker day (summer solstice)
30, 30, 30, marker day (fall equinox)
30, 30, 30, marker day (winter solstice)
30, 30, 30, marker day (spring equinox)
This calendar system goes back to the creation week of Genesis where we are told that YHWH (God) worked at creation for six days and rested on the seventh day. It is on day four that YHWH (God) created the sun, moon, and stars. This is very important to adherents of this system. Since days–and therefore months and years–are determined by the sun, and since the sun was created on the fourth day, then the fourth day of creation is the first marker day (spring equinox) and/or the first day of the first month. Using our modern names for the days, this means that Wednesday was either the spring equinox and Thursday was the first day of the first month, or Wednesday was both the spring equinox and the first day of the month, depending on your interpretation.
The Dead Sea Scrolls sect held that the fourth day of the week (what we call Wednesday) was the first day of the first month of the new year. This would make the first Sabbath fall on the fourth day of the first month every year. Some Messianics hold to this view while others believe that while the fourth day of the week was indeed the spring equinox, the month began on the following day (what we call Thursday). This would make the first Sabbath fall on the third day of the first month every year.
Either way, there is still another division within proponents of the solar-based calendar. And that is the question of when the spring equinox occurs each year and whether to follow it strictly or just use the closest Wednesday to it. In other words, since the spring equinox does not always fall on a Wednesday, do you start the year on the actual day of the equinox (or the next day), or do you go with the spring equinox closest to Wednesday?
If you go with the Wednesday closest to the equinox, then the seventh day will always fall on our Saturday and all of the Biblical holy days will always be on the same days of the month each year. But if you follow the actual equinox, then in every year in which it does not fall on Wednesday, Shabbat will not fall on our Saturday. So believers who follow this position can potentially have Sabbath fall on a different day of the week of our modern calendars every year. Many who hold to this position believe that the times and seasons that started in Genesis have been thrown off by YHWH (God) as a punishment for disobedience, thereby causing the confusion. But that YHWH (God) will restore the sun, moon, and stars either as part of the tribulation or at His return.
Clear as mud, right?
This is why some Hebrew Roots believers throw up their hands and opt to simply follow the traditional Jewish calendar even though they know that Hillel II created it and that it differs from the Bible at points. This is also why there is often division within the Hebrew Roots Movement that sometimes leads to the breaking of fellowship.
At the very least, it makes it very difficult for believers to keep the Biblical holy days together since when you start the new year determines all of the feast days for the year. This is why you will sometimes see believers keeping the fall feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles or Booths) for an extended period of more than just the eight days found in the Bible. This is done to accommodate believers who follow various calendar systems and their subdivisions.
What One Torah believes
We lean heavily toward the position that we are experiencing the consequences of the sins of our ancestors and of our own sins within institutional Christianity. We are inclined to believe that the Jews who came back from the Babylonian exile brought with them many of the pagan ways of their captors.
Some would disagree with us. They would say that if there were significant problems with the calendar, Jesus (Yeshua) would have addressed it. Others argue that He did address it through the calendar He kept, which they would argue was different than the Temple calendar of His day.
Is the Jewish Calendar Biblical?
There are no easy answers. This is why we don’t break fellowship over calendar issues. Serious students of the Scriptures can come to differing conclusions. We will continue to study and pray and wait for YHWH (God) to straighten it out.
If you are new to Torah, our advice is to take it slow and easy before drawing any conclusions about the calendar. We recommend studying as much as possible and keeping an open mind and a teachable heart. Our position is to always ‘eat the chicken and spit out the bones’ as they say.
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